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Ronald Reagan Administration: Letter to Israeli PM Begin Offering Reassurance of Support for Israel (Begin Response)

(February 16, 1982)

On the day the Knesset voted its resolution condemning U.S. arms sales to Jordan President Reagan, in a letter to Prime Minister Begin, pledged to maintain Israel's "qualitative technological edge." Calling Israel America's 'friend and ally," he added that "there has been no change regarding our military supply relationship with Jordan." In his reply, Mr. Begin explained in detail the nature of the Iraqi and Jordanian hostility to Israel and ennumerated their military strength.

His Excellency
Menachem Begin
Prime Minister of the
State of Israel

Dear Menachem:

Recent press reports have presented incorrect and exaggerated commentary regarding U.S. military assistance policies for the Middle East.

I want you to know that America's policy toward Israel has not changed. Our commitments will be kept. I am determined to see that Israel's qualitative technological edge is maintained and am mindful as well of your concerns with respect to quantitative factors and their impact upon Israel's security.

The policy of this government remains as stated publicly by me. Secretary Haig's and Secretary Weinberger's statements on the public record are also clear. There has been no change regarding our military supply relationship with Jordan, and Secretary Weinberger brought me no new requests. Any decision on future sales to Jordan or any other country in the region will be made in the context of my Administration's firm commitment to Israel's security and the need to bring peace to the region.

Israel remains America's friend and ally. However, I believe it is in the interests of both our countries for the United States to enhance its influence with other states in the region. I recognize the unique bond between the United States and Israel and the serious responsibilities which this bond imposes on us both.


Jerusalem, February 16, 1982

President Ronald Reagan
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President,

The Knesset yesterday adopted the following resolution:

"The Knesset:

1. Expresses its profound concern at the U.S. Defense Secretary's offer to supply F-16 aircraft and improved ground-to-air Hawk missiles, from which the ban on their mobility will be lifted.

2. Declares that the supply of such sophisticated weaponry to the forward state on the Eastern front of the states refusing even to negotiate peace with Israel, and maintaining a state of war with her, constitutes a grave threat to Israel's security.

3. Calls on the U.S. government to refrain - in keeping with the President's declarations and the resolution of Congress - from thus gravely imperilling Israel's security. "

Eighty-eight members voted in favor, three Communist members cast their vote against and seven members abstained. I am able to state that in absolute figures, the eighty-eight years actually represent ninety-nine. This is a rare case in our free, democratic and rather vociferous Parliament of non-partisan consensus and in fact, a vote of national unity. It demonstrates, as stated in the Knesset resolution, the deep concern of our people and its elected representatives.

Permit me to say, Mr. President, that I do not understand why it was necessary for the Secretary of Defense to make his worrying statements, and indeed his anti-Israel declarations or, at least, innuendos, whilst he was visiting Arab countries all of which, but for one, are in a state of war with us and are even preparing for war against us. But, of course, if Secretary Weinberger sees fit to make such statements, so negative from our point of view, in such places - it is not for me to ask him to refrain from doing so, at least in the future.

What is decisive for us is the actual subject matter. Allow me to elaborate.

Jordan and Iraq are now joined, in fact, by a common command. Jordan is supporting Iraq in the war against Iran, even going so far as to resort to the well-known technique of mobilizing "volunteers" for the battle-front on the side of the Iraqi forces. Those "volunteers" are, in truth, trained soldiers. We witness the old Russian practice first adopted during the Spanish Civil War.

The hostility of Iraq towards Israel is unlimited. When Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria signed Armistice Agreements with us in 1949, Iraq stood alone in refusing to do so, even though its forces fought on many fronts against the State of Israel. now for the benefit of Iraq, Jordan has established an Akaba-Baghad land bridge and is actually sending its troops to the Iraqi-Iranian front. And who has the decisive influence in Baghdad? As we know, it is Russia, not the West.

Moreover, we dare not ignore Saudi Arabia, which a week ago declared, on its own initiative, that it is a confrontation state against Israel.

Syria, for its part, is in conflict with Jordan. Damascus supports the Khoumeini regime. Long experience has taught us, however, that whenever war is thrust upon us, all our enemies join forces in carrying out their aggression. Thus during the Yom Kippur War, Saudi forces, as well as those of Jordan and Morocco, fought against Israel on the Golan Heights, aided by Cubans and North Koreans.

In speaking, therefore, of our northern and eastern fronts, we are obliged to take account of at least four potential enemies who may attack us - Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. It is for this reason, Mr. President, that I wish to share with you the following basic facts and figures:

Jordan will have in the near future one thousand and seventy-two tanks, one hundred and seventy first-line aircraft and six hundred and seventy-seven heavy guns.

Iraq - four thousand tanks, four hundred and ninety-six first-line aircraft and two thousand, six hundred and sixty heavy guns.

Saudi Arabia - four hundred and eighty tanks, one hundred and seventy first-line aircraft, and seven hundred and eighteen heavy guns.

Syria - Four thousand tanks, six hundred and ten first-line aircraft and two thousand heavy guns.

In aggregate, those four countries, all of them hostile towards Israel, refusing to make peace with Israel, and maintaining a state of war against our country will, in the near future, possess the following inventory.

Tanks - nine thousand, five hundred and fifty-two. First line aircraft - one thousand, four hundred and forty-six. Heavy guns - six thousand and fifty-four.

Mr. President, should Jordan receive from the United States a quantity of F-16 aircraft and an additional supply of Hawks which will be mobile (contrary to the recommendation of Congress) we, Israel, will be in direct, real and severe danger. We do not speak of this grave potential problem out of fear. If attacked, we shall defend ourselves under all circumstances by counterattack and, with God's help, we shall again win the day. Our concern, Mr. President, is not victory. It is casualties. And I do not have to explain what, in this generation of the Holocaust, casualties mean to us. I am, therefore, bound to ask, can there be justice or justification in enabling our enemies to shed our blood en-masse.

Forgive me, Mr. President, my candor, but it was out of this concern that we in Parliament yesterday joined hands, supporters of the administration of the day and its opponents alike, because all of us are deeply perturbed. If those sophisticated weapons are to be supplied to Jordan, just as similar ones have already been committed to Saudi Arabia, what will become of the qualitative and quantitative edge you were so kind to promise me to maintain so that Israel might deter aggression and prevent war which is what all of us so deeply wish.

I can only repeat, dear friend, the appeal I made to you yesterday from Knesset:

Let it not happen. I speak, perhaps, of one of the gravest issues we have faced ever since the renewal of our statehood.

I have no option but to share with you on behalf of the people of Israel - as demonstratively attested to in our parliament yesterday - our deep concern. I rely on your understanding and friendship, Mr. President, that the danger of which I write will not come into being.

Yours respectfully and sincerely,


Sources: Public Papers of the President