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John F. Kennedy Administration: Summary of Eshkol Reply To Kennedy Letter

(November 9, 1963)

This is a memorandum from Department of State Executive Secretary Read to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, McGeorge Bundy, summarizing Israeli Prime Minister Eshkol's letter on Israeli security concerns.

The enclosed letter from Israeli Prime Minister Eshkol is a reply to the President's letter of October 3, 1963. The main points are:

1. Appreciation for the United States commitment to deter or halt any aggression on Israel;

2. Need to strengthen this commitment in view of the evolving situation in the Near East;

3. Need to keep pace with U.A.R. missile progress to maintain deterrent against aggression;

4. Imbalance between Israeli and U.A.R. armored and naval forces;

5. Financial burden of maintaining a deterrent balance exceeds the capacity of small states such as Israel;

6. Hope that Israeli appraisal of arms balance to be given November 12 in Washington will receive earnest and positive consideration.

The thrust of the letter is that in the absence of a formal U.S. security guarantee, Israel must seek alternative means to assure its security in the face of U.A.R. missile and sophisticated weapon development and its conventional arms build up. Mr. Eshkol concluded that Israel will not possess the necessary capacity in the near future to deter aggressive U.A.R. moves without considerable help in obtaining ground-to-ground missiles, tanks and increased naval power.

The Eshkol letter clearly is designed to set the tone of the November 12 U.S.-Israeli talks on U.A.R. missilery proposed by the Secretary to Mrs. Meir as a result of their meeting September 30. On November 12 the Israeli Deputy Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Military Intelligence will give Israel's appraisal of U.A.R. military capabilities. We understand they intend to concentrate on the urgent need for secret U.S.-Israeli staff consultations and on making the November 12 talks the base for future discussions.

The care and thoroughness that has characterized Israel's preparations for the November 12 talks, beginning with Foreign Minister Meir's meeting with the President December 27, 1962 and ending with Prime Minister Eshkol's letter, suggested that Israel all along may have discounted the possibility of obtaining a U.S. security guarantee and even now entertains little hope of obtaining missiles from the United States. Israel, however, may want to have our refusal in hand for public use in justifying open collaboration with the French or in explaining some new development in its existing missile or nuclear development programs.

In the November 12 talks we hope through open and frank responses to convince the Israeli representatives of our sympathetic interest in their security concerns and of our genuine desire to help Israel to the best of our ability. We will press the view that U.S. ability to deter aggression against Israel makes less imperative the need for Israel to maintain clear military superiority over the U.A.R. in all fields and underlines the futility of large expenditures of time, effort and money on a spiralling arms race. We will stress that Israel's acquisition of missiles could result in a Soviet supply of missiles to the U.A.R. and that a missile race increases the chance of a missile exchange in which Israel as a small, compact target would inevitably suffer most. Consistent with the President's letter of October 3, we wish to avoid moving toward 1) joint contingency planning, 2) further periodic military consultations, 3) sales of missiles and sophisticated weapons or 4) sales of heavy, offensive conventional weapons.

The Department prefers to defer a reply to Prime Minister Eshkol's letter pending the conclusion of the November 12 talks and the receipt of the further communications he said he would send regarding Israel's security concerns.

Marion A. Baldwin

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.