CFM Files: Lot M–88: May FM Meeting, C & D Series, Box 149
Report Prepared in the Department of State1
Subject: Arms Shipments to Arab States and Israel
To obtain British and French agreement to a course of action designed to minimize the possibility of harmful developments arising out of the shipment of arms to the Near Eastern states.
When the United Nations Security Council on August 11, 1949 lifted the embargo on arms shipments to the Palestine area, representatives of the United States, France, and Great Britain in the Council said that their respective countries did not wish to see an arms race take place in the area. The United States subsequently decided to permit the export of reasonable amounts of military material to Israel and the Arab states, but in view of our wish not to be drawn into an arms race, it was also decided that these shipments should be limited to such equipment as we might consider necessary for the maintenance of internal order and for legitimate defense. Under [Page 136] the above policy the United States has been granting export licenses for arms shipments to Israel and to the Arab states.
The British Government, which is governed in its Near Eastern arms export policy by principles similar to those underlying American policy, has been permitting the shipment of military equipment to the Arab states and in particular to those Arab states with which the United Kingdom has treaty relations. In the case of Egypt, the United Kingdom has plans for a form of Anglo-Egyptian military partnership to defend the Near East in case of Soviet aggression. These plans call for the strengthening of the Egyptian army and the shipment to Egypt of a certain amount of heavy military equipment, including heavy tanks and jet planes. We are not well informed concerning French arms shipments to the area.
The British shipments of arms to the Arab states have become generally known, and the Israeli Government has charged that this action is encouraging the Arabs to resume hostilities against Israel. In particular, the Israeli Government has strongly criticized the United States Government for not attempting to prevent the shipments. In view of the acquisition by the Arabs of additional military equipment, the Israeli Government has formally requested the Department to facilitate the acquisition in this country by Israel of a considerable amount of heavy military equipment, to be used for defensive purposes.
Reports we have received from responsible sources in the Near East have led us to the opinion that in the area there is a gradual trend away from war toward peace and that no party is making preparations to resume hostilities. Moreover, we believe it to be in the security interests of the United States that the Near East be militarily strengthened for defense against possible Soviet aggression, and that the countries in the region obtain their arms from reliable and friendly sources. It is also in the security interests of the United States that the position of the United Kingdom in the Near East be maintained and strengthened by those arrangements set forth in the current plan for Anglo-Egyptian military cooperation.
Therefore, we have interposed no objection to the principle of the shipment by the United Kingdom of arms to Egypt and the other Arab states within the framework of the plans for Anglo-Egyptian and other Anglo-Arab military cooperation.
The British are going forward with their plans to set up the system of Anglo-Arab military cooperation. The French are apparently shipping some arms to Syria.
Although we believe that no party to the Palestine dispute is preparing to resume hostilities, and although we think that the trend in [Page 137] the Near East is away from war toward peace, the situation in the area continues explosive because of the high passions which were aroused during the Palestine conflict, and there is the remote possibility that some spark might set off warfare. Although the strengthening of the Near East through Anglo-Arab military cooperation is the element of the greatest importance in the present situation, the relationship between the Arabs and the Israelis is also important. This latter element also figures prominently in the American domestic political scene, since there are many active sympathizers with Israel in this country who believe that if the Arabs receive new arms they will resume war with Israel. These sympathizers have accused the Department of encouraging the Arabs to resume hostilities by not persuading the British to cease their military shipments. They are also conducting a campaign to persuade the United States Government to facilitate the acquisition by Israel of heavy military equipment in this country. The Department does not believe that this Government should be placed in a position of being expected to furnish to any one state in the Near East a piece of military equipment to match every piece of military equipment acquired by any other state in the Near East as this in effect would be participating in an arms race.
In order to lessen the remote possibility of an outbreak of hostilities and reduce the present tension over this issue, the following recommendations are made.
It is recommended that the Secretary discuss this subject with Mr. Bevin and Mr. Schuman, as follows:
- The Secretary might wish to impress upon Messrs. Bevin and Schuman the latent danger of the renewal of hostilities in Palestine and the explosive nature of the Near Eastern situation in general.
- He might also suggest to Messrs. Schuman and Bevin that the US, UK and France make public declarations that they will not [Page 138] permit the shipment of arms to any Near Eastern country unless the purchasing country give to the supplying country formal assurance to undertake no aggression against any other Near Eastern state.
Discussions with Mr. Bevin:
- The Secretary might wish to suggest to Mr. Bevin the desirability of a review of the arms program planned for Egypt in order to make absolutely certain that it does not exceed that required for the attainment of the UK’s political and military objectives.
Discussions with Mr. Schuman:
- The Secretary might wish to point out to Mr. Schuman the desirability of a US-French exchange of information on the quantities of arms both nations have permitted to go to the Near East since the UN Palestine arms embargo was lifted on August 11, 1949, and which they may subsequently permit to go. We have already approached the French Embassy here with this suggestion, but we have the impression that the French reaction is not favorable. We already have a reasonably satisfactory arrangement for exchanging information with the British on this subject.3
- This report, FM D D–2a, was drafted by the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs and fully cleared within the Department as a statement of policy in preparation for the May Foreign Ministers meeting in London. It is a slightly revised version of an earlier draft, dated April 3, which may be found in CFM Files, Lot M–88, May FM Meeting, C & D Series, Box 149. Lot M–88 is a consolidated master collection of the records of conferences of Heads of State, Council of Foreign Ministers and ancilliary bodies, North Atlantic Council, other meetings of the Secretary of State with the Foreign Ministers of European powers, and materials on the Austrian and German peace settlements for the years 1943–1955 prepared by the Department of State Records Service Center.↩
- The Joint Chiefs of Staff informed the Secretary of Defense on May 2, 1950, that they concurred in this position paper but thought it desirable to enlarge the scope of the suggested tripartite discussions by including all the basic propositions underlying U.S. policy toward Israel and the Arab states listed in paragraph 15 of NSC 47/2, which the President had approved on October 20, 1949 ( Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, p. 1436. Of particular interest was the subparagraph therefrom that stated: “The difference between the new Israeli State and the neighboring Arab states should be reconciled at least to the extent that Israel and the Arab states would act in concert to oppose Soviet aggression.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff specifically recommended that the following words be added to the first paragraph of Section A of the Recommendations: “In this connection it would be well to stress the importance of concerted action on the part of the three Governments in the Near Eastern situation.” They also suggested the following addition to the second paragraph: “Such public declarations further should point out the need for Israel and the Arab states to act in concert to oppose any aggression from outside the Near East.” (Memorandum of May 2, 786.56/5–250)↩
- On April 24, Secretary Acheson proposed to President Truman that the United States, United Kingdom, and France issue a joint declaration on arms shipments to the Near East. When the State Department’s plans for a joint declaration were described to the President, he replied that he believed such a declaration would remove the objections which he had to the draft NSC report on United States Policy Toward Arms Shipments to The Near East, NSC 65/1 (see footnote 6, p. 135). (Memorandum by Assistant Secretary of State McGhee to Acting Secretary Webb, May 17 (484A.118/5–1750)) The subject of arms shipments to the Arab states and Israel was subsequently placed on the agenda of the Foreign Ministers meeting at London in May; see editorial note, p. 141.↩