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Lyndon Johnson Administration: U.S. Urges Israeli Cooperation on Missiles

(June 17, 1966)

This letter from the State Department encourages Israel to dismantle some of its weaponry in hopes of reciprocity from the Arab states. Its purpose is to avert an Arab-Israeli arms race, fueled by the Soviet Union and worsening the Cold War.

Airgram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel/1/


Washington, June 17, 1966, 8:26 p.m.

Israeli and UAR Offensive Missiles

Tel Aviv's 1229 and A-1000/2/

1. The Department agrees with Embassy Tel Aviv that Prime Minister Eshkol's stand on the missile question is eminently reasonable and encouraging. We consider it provides a basis for further efforts to resolve this aspect of the UAR-Israel arms race. However, before considering how this question might best be handled further in both Tel Aviv and Cairo, we believe it would be helpful to clarify the kind of UAR undertakings which Israel would consider acceptable, and the kind Israel would be prepared to make in return. This is the more important in view of the Israeli estimate of the UAR missile program which implies that acquisition of gyros is the sole obstacle to activation of a 50-60 missile UAR stockpile. If Eshkol, whether or not he is firmly convinced of the accuracy of this estimate, feels his actions must be governed by it, the question of undertakings may involve verification and/or destruction.

2. What we have in mind would be some sort of private statement by each side, through the US or in some other manner, that each is prepared to abandon both indigenous offensive (meaning surface-to-surface ballistic) missile activities and acquisition of such missiles from abroad. To see how feasible this might be, Embassy Tel Aviv is requested to approach Eshkol along the following lines soon after his return from Africa:

A. We are gratified at the Prime Minister's statesmanlike position on the missile question evidenced in the May 24 conversation.

B. We believe this may afford an opportunity to encourage the UAR to abandon its missile program if Israel were to do likewise. We would have in mind that neither nation would (1) import offensive missiles or parts or (2) make such missiles or parts. We would assume that private declarations, either through the US or in some other manner, would be acceptable. (FYI. It would be helpful to have as precise a statement from Eshkol as possible on these points. End FYI.) If Eshkol resists committing Israel on its indigenous program the Embassy may state that continuing research work in either Israel or the UAR would presumably not be precluded. However, missile production and testing would have to be foresworn.

C. You should mention in low key that US information on the UAR missile program does not support the Israeli assessment handed to Ambassador Barbour on May 24. If discussion ensues on this question, you may say that, for example, our information indicates the UAR is having trouble with numerous aspects of its program, including structural problems, guidance difficulties, other design problems, and skyrocketing costs of research and development.

D. If Eshkol raises questions about either verification or destruction, you should seek his reasons. You may suggest that he remain flexible on these questions for the moment, until UAR views can be ascertained. You may point out in this connection that we recognize these questions may become problems but that we think such factors as the rising costs and poor progress of the UAR missile program, as well as Cairo's presumed desire for Israeli restraint, might make some mutually advantageous arrangement possible.

3. FYI. The Department is giving careful thought to possible modalities for enabling Israel and the UAR, should some private understanding be attained on non-introduction of missiles, to carry off the matter publicly without undue repercussions should the two countries so desire. End FYI.

4. For Cairo. The Department would appreciate the Embassy's comments on possible modalities that might help enable Nasser to make a private self-denying declaration of some sort on missiles. On what basis might some public position be desirable and feasible? It occurs to the Department that the UAR leadership may already have given thought to this subject, what with the lagging progress of its current missile program, its growing economic headaches generally, and the prospect that as things now stand Israel will probably be in position to deploy offensive missiles long before the UAR can demonstrate a capability to do so.


/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 12 UAR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Wolle; cleared by Symmes, Brewer, Rochlin, Toumanoff, Garthoff, Sisco, DePalma, and Acting SCI Deputy Director J. Wallace Joyce; and approved by Davies. Also sent to Cairo and repeated to Paris and London.

/2/See Document 293 and footnote 3 thereto.

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.