Memorandum of Conversation With Various Congressmen, by the Secretary of State 1
Subject: Near Eastern Armament Situation
I received the Congressmen at their request. The meeting lasted about an hour.
Representative Tauriello, as spokesman of the group, said that many members of Congress had received mail and visits from constituents who were concerned by the sale of arms by the United Kingdom to [Page 126]the Arab states, particularly Egypt. The Congressmen present in the room were interested in Israel and believed that anything that happens there affects the US. They moreover feared that arms being acquired by Egypt were seeping into the other Arab states. The Congressmen recalled what had happened in Palestine in the past and were afraid that this bloody history would be repeated. Mr. Tauriello added that there were many people in Congress who believed that those who control the purse containing the money destined for England under the ECA program should have something to say about this situation. Israel was in no condition to stand an arms race. The Congressmen would, therefore, like to find out what the Department’s policy on this problem was.
Another Congressman observed that the relationship between Israel and the Arab states was only that of an armistice. He added that the United Kingdom was supplying Egypt with offensive weapons and said he understood that an Israeli application for armaments was being “kicked around” in Washington. This application had to be acted on, he said.
A third Congressman declared that he believed that Israel was the one state in the Near East upon which the US could rely. He understood that the UK was shipping US surplus military material to the Arab states.
Another Congressman stated that he understood that Israel had applied for training facilities in this country for certain Israeli officers, and that no action on this had been taken. Why was this so?
Still another Congressman said that the contention had been offered that arms were being furnished to the Arab states for internal security reasons. This, he thought, did not hold water. Any over-armed country will use its arms, and the victim would be Israel, not the Soviet Union. The Congressman added that if the UK could use its own funds to send arms to the Arabs, it obviously needed no further help from the US.
At this point Representative Tauriello declared that there was a growing sentiment in the House that if the UK continued to arm the Arabs an amendment should be offered in the House to cut the ECA funds destined for the UK.
I said that there was a great deal of misinformation being spread about concerning the question of arms for the Near East. We had received from Israeli and Arab sources inaccurate and exaggerated reports concerning the quantities and types of arms either possessed by, or on their way to, one side or the other. The Department found itself in the middle of these contradictory recriminations.[Page 127]
I said that our policy, as long as the United Nations Palestine arms embargo was in effect, had been to ship arms to no country in the Near East. We had influenced the United Kingdom not to ship arms either. When the arms embargo was lifted,4 Ambassador Austin in the Security Council had stated the US position that the US did not wish to see an arms race take place in the Near East. The US would only permit the exportation to the Near East of such arms as it considered necessary for internal security and legitimate self-defense.
I continued by saying that there were two problems involved. One was the Arab-Israeli relationship. The other was the problem of the defense of the Eastern Mediterranean, which was a matter of gravest importance to the US and UK. The British had fought two wars in the Eastern Mediterranean, and were well aware of the importance of the vital oil supplies in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Suez Canal, the route to India, also played an important role in British strategic planning. The above factors applied equally well to the US. Therefore, the US and the UK were convinced that it was necessary to have in the Near East some kind of defensive forces which might do their best to hold on to the territory as long as possible. We realized that no Near Eastern state could counter a major Soviet thrust, but perhaps the Soviet satellite nations would be used to invade the Near East. A strong Egyptian army would in this case certainly be much better than no Egyptian army. Under the circumstances, the UK had a modest program of providing the Near Eastern countries with arms to repel an attack. These arms were not in very great amount.
I said that if there were no Soviet threat to the Near East, it would be best for the states in the area not to be in possession of heavy military equipment. However, under the circumstances, we had to see that Egypt could do something. If Egypt had no arms, we would have to occupy the country in case of a war. These were the main considerations of our policy.
I then emphasized the close cooperation between the US and the UK on this matter. I said that we were well informed concerning British plans, and that our military people believed the British plans to be desirable.
With regard to Arab-Israeli relations, I stated that we were following this matter closely, both through our own representatives in [Page 128]the Near East and through United Nations observers in the area. Our information was that the Near Eastern trend was away from war toward peace. The Israeli-Jordan conversations were a good example of this. I added that we had been having conversations with Egyptian representatives and were convinced that Egypt, as well as Israel, had no aggressive intentions. None of the other Arab states were in a position to make war. At this point I said that we might have to work out some special arms arrangement with Saudi Arabia, because of our interests in Dhahran. However, there was no question of any aggression by Saudi Arabia. I mentioned Saudi fears of a Hashemite attack.
I then turned to the Israeli application for arms. I said that we had sent to Israel more arms than we had sent to any Arab state, and perhaps more than we had sent to all the Arab states together. In no case had we sent aggressive equipment. I said that the Israelis had recently made two applications. One was for arms they could obtain commercially. We were not “kicking around” this application, but were in close consultation with the National Military Establishment, which before making a decision desired a full picture of the military situation in the Near East and full information concerning availability of equipment from commercial sources in this country. There was some possibility of favorable action on parts of this Israeli application.
The other Israeli application, I continued, was for arms which were only available out of US Government stocks. This was a difficult problem. We had prior commitments to the MDAP countries, Saudi Arabia, and the Chinese Nationalists, all to be filled from a reserve of arms which was far smaller than that necessary to fill any one of these requests. I thought that there was not much hope that the Israelis would get anything substantial on this application. Here again the Defense Department had to make a determination. I emphasized that the above was confidential and that I hoped there would be no talk about it.
I then said that some Israelis did not seem to be concerned with the military situation. One high Israeli official had recently told me that he was more preoccupied with the economic problems facing Israel and hoped very much that it would be possible to obtain another US loan. This official had added that it was not desirable to give assistance only to Israel, but thought that the Arab states should also be aided since Israel’s prosperity depended upon that of the whole area.
At this point I asked Mr. Rusk if he had any additional comments.[Page 129]
Mr. Rusk said that what happen to North Africa and the Near East was of overriding importance to the US in terms of the security situation vis-à-vis the USSR. It was essential to maintain communications with the Far East, and the bases in the Near East were of vital importance in any effort to deny the Near East to the USSR. It was also important that the attitude of the people in the area not be hostile to the US.
Mr. Rusk thought it was essential to remember the scale of the military situation in the Near East. The UN had made its arms embargo effective as far as the Arabs were concerned, but not regarding the Israelis. It had not taken the Israelis long to establish military superiority over all their neighbors, even without a great quantity of arms. The Israelis had qualitative superiority over the Arabs. Basically, this situation had not altered. Mr. Rusk mentioned that General Riley had reported that no state in the Near East wanted to resume the war or was in a position to do so. Mr. Rusk thought that the US and UK could take pretty effective action to prevent any attempts to resume the war.
I then asked Mr. Hare if he had any comments.
Mr. Hare said that in some quarters it had been contended that the UK had not been helpful in encouraging peace negotiations in the Near East. The Department knew that the British had energetically urged King Abdullah to come to terms with the Israelis. With regard to the Israeli officers who desired to train in this country and who had been mentioned earlier in the meeting, Mr. Hare stated that some were here and others would be coming. The exact number was determined by the National Military Establishment.
A Congressman then asked if Mr. Bevin’s policy toward the Palestine question had changed. He recalled Mr. Bevin’s previous hostile attitude toward the Jews in Palestine.
I said that the British had been very helpful concerning Jordan. There the situation was difficult. Off the record, I said there were three forces in Jordan—the King, the Cabinet, and the people. The desire of these elements for peace with Israel descended in strength in the same order. I said that I believed Mr. Bevin was as concerned as we were for peace in the Near East. There was no advantage to the US or UK in continuing an uneasy situation.
Representative Roosevelt inquired whether at the forthcoming Foreign Ministers’ meeting5 the three representatives could not [Page 130]frankly state the reasons why their countries were shipping arms to the Near East, and declare that their nations would take every possible step to prevent the resumption of the war in Palestine.
I said that I thought this was an interesting suggestion which I would be glad to consider.
Another Congressman inquired whether I had had discussions with Mr. Bevin on Near Eastern arms since the Palestine arms embargo had been lifted. I said that I had.
Still another Congressman asked what quantity and categories of arms were being shipped to the Arabs by the UK. I replied that we had this information but that I could not make it available. I added that the only important shipments were going to Egypt.
A Congressman asked why the UK did not ship arms to Israel. I said that the Israelis seemed to look to us for arms. I added that the UK was not shipping to the Arabs anything which we were sending to the UK. The Egyptians, moreover, were paying for the arms they acquired.
Representative Roosevelt inquired whether the balance of power was shifting in favor of Egypt. I replied that our military authorities had informed us that it was not.
The question was then asked whether any funds being provided the United Kingdom by the United States were being used to facilitate the manufacture of arms destined for Egypt. I said that my impression was that this was absolutely not the case. Broadly speaking and off the record, our difficulty with the UK was in just the opposite direction. We were having trouble persuading the UK that they must help us share the responsibility of defending the free world. The UK was naturally concerned with its own economic situation and had asked us whether we preferred to see it become self-supporting or help us with world responsibilities. They could not do both. I had told them that they had got to do both.
Representative Tauriello inquired why the UK had recognized Communist China. I said that I thought that I might soon be in a position to say “I told you so” to Mr. Bevin on this, but that, of course, I would not do so.
A Congressman stated the opinion that the Israelis must have had some basis for their protest to the Department on the rearming of the Arabs. I replied that as I had said before, there was much misinformation on the Near Eastern arms situation. The Israeli protest had in my opinion been exaggerated.
- Drafted by Stuart W. Rockwell, Officer in Charge, Palestine-Israel-Jordan Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs.↩
- Raymond A. Hare, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs; John C. Elliott, Acting Chairman, Policy Committee on Arms and Armaments; Harold W. Glidden, Division of Research for Near East and Africa.↩
- Also attending were Democratic Representatives Hugh J. Addonizio (N.J.), William A. Barrett (Pa.), Andrew J. Biemiller (Wisc.), Edward Breen (Ohio), Chester A. Chesney (Ill.), Earl Chudoff (Pa.), L. Gary Clemente (N.Y.), Harry J. Davenport (Pa.), James J. Delaney (N.Y.), Isidore Dollinger (N.Y.), Herman P. Eberharter (Pa.), William T. Granahan (Pa.), William J. Green, Jr. (Pa.), James J. Heffernan (N.Y.), Louis B. Heller (N.Y.), Raymond W. Karst (Mo.), Augustine B. Kelley (Pa.), Edna F. Kelly (N.Y.), Arthur G. Klein (N.Y.), Christopher C. McGrath (N.Y.), John McSweeney (Ohio), Abraham J. Multer (N.Y.), Barratt O’Hara (Ill.), Harry P. O’Neill (Pa.), T. Vincent Quinn (N.Y.), Peter W. Rodino (N.J.), John J. Rooney (N.Y.), Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., (N.Y.), Anthony F. Tauriello (N.Y.), Sidney R. Yates (Ill.), and Republican Representatives Jacob K. Javits (N.Y.) and Henry J. Latham (N.Y.).↩
- For documentation on the United Nations Security Council resolution of August 11, 1949 lifting the embargo on arms shipments to the Palestine area, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, pp. 594 ff.↩
- Reference is to the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the United States, United Kingdom, and France at London in May 1950; for documentation, see vol. iii, pp. 828 ff. For text of the Tripartite Declaration on arms shipments to the Near East, see p. 167.↩