The Secretary of Defense (Johnson) to the Acting Secretary of State

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Dear Mr. Secretary: This is with further reference to your letter of 6 April 1949 concerning the provision of American technical assistance in the organization and training of the Israeli Army.

You will recall that on 30 April 1949, I forwarded an interim informal reply1 to your letter in which I set forth the conclusions of a legal study by the Secretary of the Army of the questions involved, and stated that I was seeking the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on broad policy considerations that were involved. I now have the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and have, in addition, discussed this matter, among others, with Mr. Eliahu Elath, the Israelian Ambassador.

Based upon the legal study of the Secretary of the Army, the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my discussions with Mr. Elath and consideration of this general subject in my office, I believe the following factual conclusions may be stated in response to the several questions contained in your letter of 6 April 1949.

It would be impossible for a retired officer of the regular Army to participate as an individual in the provision of technical assistance in the organization of the Israeli Army. This follows from the provisions of Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution which forbid any person holding any office from accepting any emolument, office or title of any kind from any foreign government, or its other agencies or instrumentalities.
It would be legally possible for a Reserve officer not on active duty to accept a position with, or engage himself as, a military adviser [Page 1088] to the Government of Israel, provided he did not actually enter the military service of Israel, and provided that such action did not at the time contravene that provision of the United States Code which states that any citizen of the United States who accepts and exercises a commission to serve a foreign government in war against any state with whom the United States is at peace shall be fined not more than two thousand dollars, or imprisoned for not more than three years, or both.
It would be possible for a Reserve officer not on active duty to resign his commission and accept a position with, or engage himself as, a military adviser to the Government of Israel, provided that such action was not at the time in violation of the aforementioned provision of the United States Code.
A military mission to Israel could be established by the President under the authority of the Act of 19 May 1926, as amended. The authority to take such action exists only “during war or declared emergency”, but for the purposes of the particular law, World War II has not been terminated. Thus, although as indicated in your letter of 6 April 1949, permanent authority for the establishment of such a mission is lacking, interim authority does exist. Moreover, the draft of foreign military assistance legislation prepared by the Foreign Assistance Correlation Committee provides for the deletion of the clause quoted above so that this legislation, if enacted, would permit the establishment of such a military mission in peacetime.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion, and I concur, that from the standpoint of the National Military Establishment, the only suitable method of providing the kind of technical assistance requested would be through a military mission. Although legally possible, as indicated above, we do not think it advisable that this government should, in any wise, sponsor or support the acceptance by Reserve officers, or by Reserve officers who have resigned their commissions, of positions as military advisers to the Government of Israel. Therefore, if the Israeli Government should undertake to employ such individuals, it should be made abundantly plain that such employment is in no wise under the sponsorship of the United States Government, and that such individuals cannot be supplied with assistance or support of any kind by the National Military Establishment. The reasons for this position can be concisely stated: In the first place, we could not associate ourselves with any arrangement which attempted to establish a military mission by indirection at a time when, for reasons hereinafter discussed, the official establishment of such a mission would be inadvisable. In the second place, we believe it would be anomalous to have any element of expressed or implied United States Government sponsorship of such individuals in a situation where United States military control over such individuals was completely lacking.

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Similarly, we do not believe it would be advisable at this particular time to establish a United States military mission to Israel, although such action might well be desirable at a later date. From a military standpoint, and as indicated in my letter to you of 16 May 1949,2 it would be advantageous to foster the orientation of Israel to the United States. From a military point of view, however, this should not include the initiation of any action, such as the establishment of a military mission to Israel, which might expose the United States to the possibility of overt involvement in the Jewish-Arab conflict. Our strategic interests in the Middle East would certainly suffer if Israel should become involved in a resumption of the armed conflict with her neighbors after our establishment of a military mission with the Israeli Government. Consequently, any action of this kind would be inadvisable until after conditions with respect to Israel and the Arab League have become so stabilized that risk of further conflict in that area is remote. It should be added, moreover, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that the Israeli Army is not presently in any dire need of foreign technical assistance in its organization and training.

Whenever conditions in the Middle East are stabilized, we are of the opinion that, should the Government of Israel still desire a military mission, the over-all question of military missions to the nations of the Middle East should be taken up with the British Government, in view of the fact that the United States and United Kingdom have generally similar security interests in this area. In addition, if such a military mission were to be established, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the view, in which I concur, that its personnel should consist of active duty officers, rather than retired officers.

In arriving at the foregoing conclusions, we have recognized that the policy of the United States Government toward Israel is one of friendly support, and our opinions with regard to the question of technical military assistance are, therefore, offered solely from the military point of view and without specific knowledge as to what the limits of present governmental policy may be. However, within these limitations, we recommend that definitive action on the Israeli request be deferred until stability in the Middle East area has been assured, and until, at that time, the British attitude on the larger question of technical military assistance to the various nations in that area has been explored.

Sincerely yours,

Louis Johnson
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed, but see the last paragraph of the enclosure to Secretary Johnson’s memorandum of May 16 to Admiral Souers, p. 1012.