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Lyndon Johnson Administration: U.S. to Sell Jordan Arms Publicly and Israel Secretly

(February 27, 1965)

Israeli Prime Minister Eskol reminds the United States of the political ramifications of the US selling arms to Jordan publicly, while selling to Israel secretly.

Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

Tel Aviv, February 27, 1965, midnight.

1057. For the President, Rusk and McNamara. Personal from Harriman.

Part I.

Fourth meeting with Eshkol today moved up closer to broad meeting of minds, though it hard going.2

While Israelis still hard keep bargaining till we concede as much as possible, they finally got down to brass tacks after emotional session yesterday when they first saw our terms in cold print. (Eshkol said no risk of their disclosing this draft since it much too damaging to Israel.) Komer later told Peres no agreement possible unless all our desiderata met.

Then at fourth session I laid it on line about only alternative to US/Israeli agreement, precisely as outlined in Sections II and V of Presidential instruction. I made clear consequences to Israel and US if Jordan lost to West because US decided against arms deal in light Israeli opposition or because Israelis fiddled while Rome burned. Asked immediate answer.

While Prime Minister was shaken, he said heart of matter was what US could provide Israel. He appreciated proposed major change US policy to direct sales to Israel as well as Arabs, but how could he convince his Cabinet? He couldn't say that he agreed to actual US sales to Jordan, which would promptly be publicized by Arabs and then seized upon by his political foes, in return for generalized and secret promise US in principle agreed to unspecified direct sales to Israel at some future date--and this only in return for series of Israeli undertakings which could be political dynamite for him. He urged we forget about other US requests, and focus on central problem of precisely how US could concretely demonstrate this change in policy simultaneously with Jordan arms sale.

Eshkol reviewed deterioration Israel's deterrent posture since Washington intelligence talks almost year ago, citing new USSR/Egypt arms deal, new specter of coordinated Arab action through Unified Arab Command, and cancellation German/Israel arms agreement. This created two acute problems as how Israel's increased security needs to be met and how he could bring his Cabinet and electorate along with him if he did what President Johnson requested.

To meet security need, Israel must have hardware--planes and tanks. He couldn't go to his Cabinet and get even their tacit support of US arms sales to Jordan (however friendly an enemy) without showing them Israel could get its hands on hardware too.

Since a deterrent balance was essential, Israel's first need was bombers to create counter-threat to Soviet Badgers and IL-28's in UAR, Iraqi, Syrian hands. What Israel would really like was US Phantom, but he realized this impossible. Next he would buy Mirage IV, but with electronics it cost $5 million per copy. So Israel had decided best bet was old 1954 model B-66, which it understood US now phasing out. Since Israel's resources were so limited, would we let Israel buy 75 of these at cheapest second hand price ? (Peres had told Komer in morning that reason for 75 was that US spare parts production had ceased; so Israelis would cannibalize some for spare parts.) Peres noted B-66 good for conventional payload.

Second was Israel's need for tanks, which had been fully agreed in previous Washington talks. Now Bonn had backed out. He must tell Cabinet that at least Israel's previously accepted tanks needs would be met regardless, especially since threat of US tanks in Jordan must now be added to that from Soviet tanks in Arab hands.

Even if he agreed that the US should sell $50 million in arms to Jordan, we must also see his political problem. He couldn't say merely that the US sold tanks to Jordan because this was better than Soviet tanks in Jordan. So there must be some public "conjunction" between what US sold Israel and US sold Jordan. When it came out that we had made arms sale to Jordan, he must be able to tell his public we were going sell arms to Israel too. Once it became known that we were selling tanks to Jordan he must be able say we were doing same for Israel. Finally, because of new deterioration Israel's security position he must at least be able to say US would sell surplus B-66 planes to Israel too. He couldn't meet his acute political problem without some such coordinated disclosure. Part II follows.


1 Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 12-5 ISR. Secret; Flash; Exdis/Tan. Received at 5:26 p.m.

2 A more detailed account of the meeting was transmitted in telegram 1091 from Tel Aviv, March 2, supplemented by a memorandum of conversation drafted on March 19. (Both ibid., POL 7 US/HARRIMAN)

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.