John F. Kennedy Administration: Review of Israeli Security Concerns
(May 14, 1963)
Our usual straightforward and thoroughly friendly conversation then ensued. I commented on how BG's 13 May speech in effect criticizing the US for "denying" arms to Israel didn't even mention the Hawks. Gazit got the point. We then discussed the current "hullabaloo" (his word) over US/Israeli relations. He said flatly that this hullabaloo was likely to get worse unless we did "something" to meet Israeli security requirements. I asked him if this meant we were being threatened with an increase in the already substantial Israeli pressure on us for new security guarantees, etc. unless we caved. Gazit replied that their concerns were a fact of life with which we would have to live, that the Israelis had not inspired in any way the current noises from Javits et al. on the Hill, but that we must recognize the genuine concern of the top-political level in Israel over the growing Arab threat.
We discussed the threat; he agreed that it wasn't immediate, though we might have different views as to how distant it was. But the Israelis felt that they must anticipate a possible future problem of great magnitude by getting now some further reassurances. We would get today a second BG letter; it was rather long but added up to Israel's desire for a formal defense pact plus arms aid. Any such alliance relationship would naturally entail US provision of arms to Israel, as to our other allies. To my comment that there seemed to be no early need for more arms, he granted that the chief value would be as a psychological warning to the Arabs that the US meant business in its security commitment.
Gazit asked me why we were so reluctant to go beyond the terminology of the old Tripartite Declaration. Why were we so unwilling to move at this juncture in the direction Israel wanted? I saw at least three categories of reasons: (1) we naturally did not like to be pressed so hard, though this was least important; (2) we did not see why there had to be precipitate action, in view of our common understanding that the crunch if any would come some years in the future; and (3) we always wanted to look at the cost to other aspects of our Near East policy. These were hardly illegitimate considerations on our part. Gazit still wondered why we did not go all the way now instead of this business of half measures and restatements of existing policy. If Truman in 1949 had made a defense pact with Israel and provided the Israelis with arms, we would have had none of the unfortunate developments in the intervening period. He thought that an open defense arrangement between Israel and the US would not necessarily undermine US influence with the Arabs and would settle once and for all the question of Israeli security.
I said we by no means pooh-poohed the possibility of a gradually increasing threat to Israeli security, though it was hard to see any drastic qualitative change in the situation which necessitated moving as fast as they seemed to desire. Indeed I thought too much "hullabaloo" might even be counterproductive in its effect, since US officials tended to react adversely when confronted with what almost seemed to amount to a propaganda campaign. These were serious matters, and ought to be discussed seriously and privately on a diplomatic level--without leaks to the press or propaganda gambits.
It seemed to me that we were caught in a vicious circle; public Israeli statements were picked up and replayed here; because of their alarmist and somewhat exaggerated nature, we had to rebut at least in part. Even the BG-Kennedy correspondence had to be devoted partly to such argument and rebuttal. Instead of continuing this kind of arm's length debate, with the risk of injured feelings on both sides, it might be better to begin some form of a quiet dialogue on the diplomatic level, which could encompass all issues of mutual concern. Among these were the possible repercussions of a change of regime in Jordan, the current Arab-Israeli arms balance and prospective changes, and the question of advanced weapons, as well as BG's request for a defense pact and further conventional arms. Stressing that this was strictly my own personal idea, I reminded Gazit that he had frequently suggested some such exchange, and had complained that we kept them too much at arm's length to permit frank discussion. Gazit felt that such a dialogue could be useful. Indeed if we could agree shortly to begin discussions, say on the 25th of June, we could have "a month of quiet" for both of us to get ready.
I suggested to Gazit that if we were to engage in frank discussion, there ought to be certain ground rules understood in advance. In my personal opinion, (1) it should be clear that the conversations would be entirely private; (2) there ought to be a moratorium on propaganda maneuvers; (3) it ought to be understood that during the discussions neither side would take actions which would put the other on the spot (I did not develop this further); (4) it ought to be agreed that we would discuss all issues that either one of us wanted to bring up.
Gazit felt that it might be useful to hold a meeting soon to discuss whether we could agree on ground rules for such a dialogue. He did not seem to think there would be much of a problem. He further suggested that a good way to begin might be to send someone in the President's confidence quietly to Israel for discussions there. He was sure that this could be kept from public notice. I agreed that something along this line might be useful at some point, but perhaps not at the outset.
I also reminded Gazit of our deep concern with nuclear proliferation of any kind; as an opener, I mentioned their stalling on Dimona. I said I could well understand why they might be inclined to use our request for periodic inspection as a bargaining counter, but that they should realize this sort of thing raised suspicions on our part. Were I in the Israeli government I would have recommended offering immediate inspection on a one-time basis, while reserving on the larger issue of periodic visits. Again stressing that I was speaking personally, I asked whether recent statements by BG, Dayan, and others about the need to strengthen Israel's defenses, plus Israel's campaign against Nazi scientists, could be part of a campaign to justify Israeli development of nuclear weapons, or to threaten this as an alternative if we didn't come through with a security pact. Gazit grinned.
I further mentioned the adverse official reaction here when BG and others both publicly and privately called into question our aid to the UAR. A number of Israeli officials including Harman, Eban, Peres and Gazit himself had indicated in the past their understanding of this policy. For them now to take issue with it was in effect to call into question the judgment of the President and the US Government. Gazit felt that they had recently changed their evaluation on this point. I wondered if the Israelis thought that US aid to Nasser increased the threat to Israel, or whether they really feared that at some future date our ties with Nasser would become such as to inhibit us from coming to Israel's support. If so, this was nonsense. I rehearsed some of the arguments for our aid to Nasser.
To sum up, Gazit seemed to be putting me on notice that the Israelis were determined to get something out of the US in the way of greater security reassurances. However, I also feel that the Israelis are interested in the idea of serious, private discussions (which seem to me inevitable anyway) and might be willing to relax their pressures if we will engage in them under some such conditions as I suggested.
Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.