Lyndon Johnson Administration: U.S. and Israel Negotiate Aircraft Sale
(February 12, 1966)
Memorandum of Conversation/1/
Washington, February 12, 1966.
Meeting Between Secretary McNamara and Israeli Foreign Minister Eban on Saturday, February 12, 1966
Foreign Minister Eban
DASD/ISA Townsend Hoopes
After the usual amenities, the Secretary opened the meeting by saying the US is operating in the Middle East "on very slender margins" and that there are accordingly several things we definitely cannot do: (1) we cannot be a major arms supplier to Israel or any Arab country; (2) we cannot sell to any country a sophisticated airplane like the A-6; and (3) we cannot sell supersonics of any kind to Jordan unless Israel concurs in the sale and effectively supports it among its friends in the United States, both in and outside of Congress. He stressed the point that, in the absence of Israeli concurrence and support, the US would not sell aircraft to Jordan.
The Secretary said that, if Israel can meet that basic condition and certain others, the US is prepared to sell Israel 24 A-4Es and to give it an option to buy an additional 24, either now or later. The Secretary said the cost of such airplanes would be approximately $26 million for 24 and that credit terms would be the same as those which governed the Hawk purchase (10% down; 3-1/2% interest; and a 10-year repayment). He said that four additional conditions would attach to our willingness to make this sale: (1) that Israel agree to continue to look to Europe for the bulk of its aircraft requirements and not regard the US as a major arms supplier; (2) that Israel reiterate its undertaking not to be the first power in the Middle East to manufacture nuclear weapons, and its acceptance of periodic inspection of Dimona; (3) that Israel agree not to use any US-supplied aircraft as a nuclear weapons carrier; and (4) that Israel agree to full secrecy on all matters until the USG decides when and how to publicize.
Mr. Eban said he could respond immediately to certain of the conditions, but would have to consult his Government on others. He agreed fully that Israel should not ask the US to be a major supplier of arms; indeed he had encountered an "obverse problem" in Paris, where the French had expressed concern that Israel might be turning to the United States as its major supplier of aircraft. He said that Israel desires to maintain its French link. He said that Israel does not intend to build nuclear weapons, "so we will not use your aircraft to carry weapons we haven't got and hope we will never have."
Regarding Israeli acquiescence in and support of the proposed US sale to Jordan, he asked what this would mean in terms of action by Israel. He said that public statements approving a Jordanian sale would be difficult; on the other hand, if either there were no publicity about either sale, or equal publicity about both, he was reasonably sanguine that Israel could accept and privately support a Jordan sale. Secretary McNamara said the US had received unwarranted pressure from Israeli supporters on the tank arrangements, and did not want a repetition of this. He said Israeli acquiescence is the crux of the US sale to Jordan, and we would have to have assurances that the Government of Israel would prevent its American friends, both in and outside of Congress, from making emotional charges.
Mr. Eban turned to Ambassador Harman to ask what arrangements had governed the tank deal (March 1965). Ambassador Harman said that, at the conclusion of US-Israeli negotiations in Tel Aviv, he was instructed to inform "a limited number of Israeli friends in the US" of Israel's acquiescence in the sale of US tanks to Jordan. He explained that the trouble came only when the sale of tanks to Jordan was inadvertently disclosed through an official American publication. Because the Israeli sale was not similarly disclosed, there resulted a disparity in public knowledge which made it difficult to restrain Israeli supporters in this country.
Mr. Eban said once more that if the publicity or non-publicity were symmetrical, he would see no serious problems about Israeli acquiescence. He went on to say that, on technical and military grounds, Israel had concluded that the two tank deals produced a good net result for Israel. He could not say whether 48 A-4Es as against 36 F-104s would add up to a similar net benefit for Israel, but he would like to put that question to his Government.
He continued that Israel had wanted the A-6 because of its far greater range, and he spoke of the vulnerability of the Israeli Air Force owing to its limited number of airfields. The Secretary said that in this age every air force is partly vulnerable, and that total security from surprise attack is not attainable. Colonel Ron said the Israeli Air Force desires the A-6 because it can carry three times the bomb load of the A-4. He added that the A-4 was, after all, an unsophisticated airplane and would be more so by 1970. Mr. Hoopes interjected that General Weizman last October argued at great length that he wanted the A-4 precisely because it was unsophisticated. The Secretary said he understood the A-4 had been the primary object of the Israeli efforts.
The Secretary said that the United States needs a prompt answer to its offer. He said that Israel can, if it likes, defer a decision on the second 24 aircraft, or take all 48 at one time. Mr. Eban asked what the delivery dates would be if the original order were for 48. The Secretary said he would have to examine this question, but that the first 24 could be delivered in calendar 1968, with the balance perhaps in 1969 or 1970. Mr. Eban asked what the terms of the Jordan sale would be; the Secretary replied "cash on the barrelhead." Ambassador Harman asked about proposed deliveries of the F-104s to Jordan. The Secretary said this would be slower, in the 1968-71 time frame, and would depend on the availability of UAC cash.
Mr. Eban said he would have the details of the meeting cabled to his Government at once, and that he would see his Prime Minister on Thursday (17 February).
Discussion was then concluded on the aircraft question, and there ensued a short informal discussion of the situation in Vietnam.
The meeting was convened at approximately 4:40 p.m. and was terminated at 5:10 p.m.
Deputy Assistant Secretary
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL ISR-US. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Hoopes on February 15. Copies were sent to, among others, Rusk, McNamara, General Wheeler, McGeorge Bundy, Komer, and McNaughton. Briefing material prepared for the meeting is filed with a February 12 memorandum from Hoopes to McNamara. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1266, Israel 452)
Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.