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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Discussion with Israeli FM Abba Eban on Vietnam & Foreign Aid

(February 9, 1966)

President Johnson explained the U.S. position vis a vis Vietnam. He explained that if the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam than Israel would see the U.S. as giving up on smaller countries, an assessment which Foreign Minister Eban agreed with. Israel emphasized that it would not need American aid if not for the security situation -- created primarily by Soviet arms -- and that American aid could help prevent a Vietnam-like situation in Israel. Israel emphasized to the U.S. that it needed American aircraft, and discussed American aid and financing the nuclear desalting plant. The U.S. emphasized that it did not want Israel to quiet domestic criticism on U.S.-Israel policy and, instead, only utilize official channels.

Memorandum for the Record/1/

Washington, February 9, 1966.


President's Talk with Israeli Foreign Minister Eban


The President
Foreign Minister Eban
Ambassador Harman
Mr. Komer

The President warmly congratulated Eban on his assumption of the Foreign Ministry. He recalled their friendly association when Eban was Ambassador in Washington, and looked forward to a close future relationship.

The President then discussed at length our current position on Vietnam in the light of the Honolulu meeting. He made clear that in helping the GVN we were showing how we would live up to our commitments to small countries as well as large. Israel would rightly be the first to be frightened if the U.S. were to "cut and run in Vietnam."

Eban strongly agreed, saying that small states like Israel had an obligation to stay strong and stable enough that they would not become Vietnams, and thus create special problems for the United States. He went on to say that if it were not for Israel's security problem--created primarily by Soviet arms--Israel would no longer need U.S. aid.

Because of its special situation, however, Israel still hoped it could rely on the United States. Eban then raised Israel's current concerns over aircraft, 1966 economic and food assistance, and the desalting matter. He hoped that some of these matters would come to a head soon. He emphasized that Israel would still place the bulk of its arms orders in Europe. But sometimes it had needs which the Europeans could not meet, as in the case of intruder-type aircraft. Israel needed about 45 of these. In asking for them, Israel was not "changing gears" and trying to make the U.S. its chief arms or plane supplier.

On economic aid, Eban cited Israel's pride in its economic progress; it only needed aid because of its security burden. He noted that all this aid was on a loan basis. As to desalting, Eban reminded the President of the latter's own great interest in the matter. However, all that Israel was suggesting for the moment was the procedural step of appointing one high-level official from each Government to look at the tricky financial problems of how to finance the nuclear desalting plant.

The President assured Eban that we would try to evolve something satisfactory on these scores. He wanted to do everything he reasonably could for Israel. In fact we didn't even want to subsidize Jordan, except that this helped Israel. We had no desire to be arms salesman to Israel either, but he didn't want the Israelis to feel insecure. It might be that a balance of arms was after all the best way to avoid unrest in the area. We would also look at economic aid. The President added that he was as anxious as the Israelis on the desalting matter. However, he had been up to his ears on Vietnam and with the new Congress. He would try, nonetheless, to come up with specifics shortly.

The President concluded by telling Eban that he looked forward to very close relations with him personally, and with Israel. He wanted to do everything he could, consistent with our national interest. "Let's deal frankly and freely with each other on top of the table" and keep from batting issues around in the newspapers. He added that we always seemed to have a problem with well-meaning friends of Israel who attempted to help our relations along. He asked Eban to tell them "to stop coming in the back door, or writing, or sending telegrams, or talking to the newspapers." We and the Israeli Government together could handle these matters. The President said he had great confidence in Prime Minister Eshkol and saw nothing that was going to disturb our relations.

Eban replied that his Prime Minister had had complete trust in the President ever since their meeting in June 1964; he heartily reciprocated the President's sentiments. The President then took the Foreign Minister out to be photographed by the press.


/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. V. Secret. According to the President's Daily Diary, the meeting took place from 11:15 to 11:35 a.m. at the White House. Evron was also present. (Ibid.)

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.