Lyndon Johnson Administration: U.S. Cool to Israeli Arms Requests, Hot on Nuclear Inspections
(January 21, 1966)
Memorandum From the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Komer) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/
Washington, January 21, 1966.
I am putting my talk today with Israeli Minister Evron in the form of a memo to you, because of the sensitivity of the matters discussed.
He said that Harman will be leaving no later than July. Evron either didn't know or wouldn't say who would replace Harman.
He also broached the question of an Eshkol visit this year. My first instinct was to counsel waiting till 1967 but then I reflected that it's an election year and the President might be interested. So I was noncommittal, except for saying that a visit would be a lot easier if our other business had been satisfactorily settled beforehand so that no one felt that Eshkol would be coming with a shopping list.
After I gently reproved Evron (who is the soft salesman of the Israeli Embassy) for the press and pressure campaign of recent vintage, we got down to cases. He thought that Golda Meir's replacement by Eban would greatly decrease the decibel level of Israeli diplomacy and make things easier all around.
On planes, I told him that Israel had made a grievous error in trying to take a whole arm when we extended a hand. When we grudgingly said last March that up to 24 planes might just be feasible as a bonus if none were available in Europe, the Israeli response was the Weizman approach asking us in effect to take over supply of the whole Israeli airforce--with an initial commitment of 210 planes. This had led us to draw right back into our shells. If they wanted to increase the chance of a helpful response, I would advise them to inform us officially as soon as possible (preferably before Eban got here) that, while they still thought the Weizman proposal was the most sensible, they now recognized our reluctance to become the prime Israeli airforce supplier. Therefore, they would continue to seek primarily European sources. However, they did have a much smaller requirement for low-level intruders which they hoped we would supply. They should also tell us that they recognized (as they had on tanks last year) the importance of forestalling Soviet supply of aircraft to Jordan by a sale of our own. I could make no promises as to whether an approach along these lines would unfreeze the aircraft matter, but in my view it was the only promising way to get us to take a second look. I also said that, were I an Israeli, I would not ask for more than the 24 aircraft mentioned last March, and simply express hope that we might later make a further sale of like magnitude. I think he got the drift.
Then I pointed out that if Mr. Eban wanted to have a constructive visit, instead of being put on the defensive about Israel's nuclear posture, it would be highly desirable to give us an affirmative answer on the next Dimona inspection before Eban arrived. Otherwise, as Barbour had told Eban, this would be No. 1 on the agenda of everyone to whom Eban spoke./2/ Evron and I agreed that another inspection was inevitable, and that it would be more sensible to agree on it now than to go through the usual series of acrimonious high-level exchanges. However, he pled Eshkol's problem with the new faces in his cabinet, plus Eshkol's worries about Peres. These problems might force a brief delay, until Eshkol could bring his cabinet around. I replied that Peres should be no problem since he and BG were the very ones who originally set up the inspection arrangements. Nor could I help but feel that renewed pleas about Eshkol's political difficulties were largely evasions. After all, we had just given him a year's grace on these grounds. If, however, Eshkol did have a short-term political problem, he would be wise to acquiesce right now in an inspection within a month or so, and candidly explain why he asked for this brief delay.
Evron advised that we keep a close eye on Israel Galili, new Minister without portfolio from Mapai's coalition partner Ahdut Avoda. Eshkol had wanted to make him Defense Minister, and in Evron's opinion he might well be the next PM.
Evron asked about economic aid. I indicated that this was a difficult decision for us, because of the President's desire to cut back wherever possible in order to finance Vietnam and the Great Society at the same time. Many in the USG argued strongly that Israel could not justify any economic aid. But I hoped that, if the Israelis would relax, we might be able to come at least part way toward them.
I deliberately took the above tack on planes and Dimona, because in my judgment circumstances will probably demand that we end up selling some aircraft to the Israelis. If so, it is far wiser for us to soften them up on certain conditions precedent (on proliferation, on not making us prime suppliers, and on not expecting too much economic aid) than to give way piecemeal and end up getting less than otherwise. If I'm wrong, no harm has been done.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. V. Secret.
/2/Barbour told Eban on January 18 that the most important matter on the agenda was arranging the next U.S. visit to Dimona. (Telegram 716 from Tel Aviv, January 19; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, AE 11-2 ISR)
Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.