Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Deputy Director for International Security Affairs ( Ohly )

Participants: Mr. Abba Eban—Ambassador of Israel
Dr. Moshe Keren, Counselor of Embassy
Mr. John H. OhlyS/ISA

I met with the above named individuals at their request, and the Ambassador stated that the purpose of his call was to acquaint me, as he was endeavoring to acquaint the officials of all agencies of the U.S. government, concerning Israel’s belief as to the importance which the [Page 581] great powers should attach to the Near East and, more particularly, to the potentialities of Israel as a factor in the security situation in that area. History has indicated that this part of the world was almost always involved in any great war, and he was sure that the same would be true in the future. He hoped, therefore, that the United States would attach a higher priority to its security than was apparently presently the case, at least so far as one could tell from the relative emphasis on other parts of the world in statements of American officials and in the public press.

Assuming the correctness of the foregoing hypothesis concerning the essentiality of the Middle East, he said he wished to stress certain factors about Israel which in his opinion indicated that Israel might contribute importantly to international security. He then went through in some detail the various points which were made in the memorandum submitted by Israeli Foreign Minister Sharett to the Secretary of Defense on December 23, 1950. In particular he emphasized the following:

that during the war with the Arab States in 1948, Israel had mobilized 90,000 men out of a total population of 650,000, a degree of mobilization that he did not believe had ever been equalled elsewhere. Since the population had increased to 1,250,000 and would further increase within 3 years to around 2,000,000, it would thus be possible for Israel if necessary to mobilize some 200,000 men. These men would be well prepared, since although the standing army was small, the country had a system of compulsory military service running from 18 months to 2 years.
Israel had industrial potential of two types which should be valuable in the efforts of the free world to build up large stocks of military equipment. In the first place there were facilities engaged in or capable of production of various types of light military equipment up to 6-inch mortars. These facilities had a capacity far in excess of requirements of the Israeli forces and this excess could be made available for MDAP purposes. In the second place, there were certain facilities presently engaged in civilian production which were capable of conversion to military purposes. For example, a factory now manufacturing milk cans could be readily converted for purposes of manufacturing shell cases.
Israel had various services such as ports, installations and airfields which if improved could be of considerable assistance in the event of a conflict which affected the Middle East.

The value of the foregoing manpower, industrial potential and services was dependent in some degree upon outside help. In his opinion, the strengthening of Israel in these respects by a small amount of outside assistance would be of considerable importance in terms of increasing the ability of Israel not only to defend her own territory but in terms of her ability to participate in defense of the Near East as a whole. While feeling that the possibilities of cooperation among the states in the form of a collective security arrangement of [Page 582] any kind were nonexistent at the moment, this did not appear to be a reason for holding back in strengthening those portions of the area which had the vigor, manpower, facilities and will to make a contribution to Middle Eastern defense. In response to a question as to what other portions of the Middle East might in his judgment fall in the same category as Israel, he stated, after some hesitation, that apart from Turkey and Iran he would include Jordan, since British interest in Jordan gave a base of strength on which to build, as was not present in other Arab countries.

The Ambassador then alluded to General Robertson’s projected trip to Israel.1 He said he understood that there must be an allocation of responsibility as among the great powers for the defense of particular areas of the world. It was his opinion, however, that if a decision had been reached that the British should have the responsibility in the Middle East, that this was not wholly realistic because the British could not undertake the task alone. It would be preferable to have a joint Anglo-American scheme for the defense of the area. Psychologically also, because of the past problems of Britain with the Israeli, it would be easier for the latter to cooperate in a defense scheme if the United States was also associated, although he did not wish to give too much emphasis to this point, since the bitterness of several years ago toward the British had to a large extent disappeared. From another psychological standpoint however, United States association would be of considerable importance because, as he put it, a country which feels that it is holding the hand of a giant has a much greater will to resist aggression and to take steps in preparation therefor.

The Ambassador then turned to the general supply situation of his country. This he said was affected by two factors. In the first place, the land isolation of Israel due to the attitude of the bordering Arab States made the country almost wholly dependent for essential materials on continued operation of the sea lanes. In the second place, the vast immigration that had been taking place and would continue to take place for the next few years had made it impossible to build up stocks of material or to increase indigenous agricultural and industrial production at the same rate as the population growth. The country had no substantial stockpiles of crucial materials and would be in a desperate situation if some aggravation in the international situation should cut off its commerce. In the latter event, the effects would be felt in certain segments of the country in a very few weeks and before long serious paralysis of the country’s life would commence. In addition, the same results would flow in a less aggravated form, whenever the sources upon which Israel depended cease to be open and free. Thus the establishment of control and priority systems by the United States and other countries in connection with the current defense [Page 583] effort was already affecting Israel’s ability to obtain several crucial items. In this latter connection he cited the importance of sulphur to the Israeli fertilizer industry and the fact that they were now having difficulty in obtaining the amounts of sulphur required. His government was therefore seeking ways and means for stockpiling a year’s supply of certain critical materials such as food (wheat and cattle feed grains), fuel oil, cotton (for its textile industry), etc. In addition his government was seeking some form of assistance in obtaining the priorities and allocations necessary to obtain those particular controlled commodities which were necessary for the life of his country’s economy.

Summing up his presentation, he argued that the potentially major asset which Israel presented could be realized by a relatively minor effort and that it was thoroughly in the interest of the United States to make a real effort to help Israel help itself.

I reverted to his statements concerning the industrial potential of Israel for arms manufacture and stated that our attaches in Israel who had been asked to learn more about this capacity had some difficulty in obtaining requested information. They could not, without invitation from the proper Israeli officials, visit and inspect the plants which the Israeli government had stated might be available. The Ambassador replied that he felt that Colonel Hertzog, the Military Attaché here, and who is now in Israel in connection with General Robertson’s visit, will have some information on this matter when he returns. The Ambassador went on to say that Colonel Hertzog was also bringing back with him an up-to-date list of the specific requirements of the Israeli forces.

In response to a question, the Ambassador said that there was no longer the same degree of danger or the same degree of fear of danger as a year ago that hostilities would be resumed by the Arab States. He stated, moreover, that the flow of arms to these States from other countries had appreciably lessened and that these Arab countries were now receiving virtually no heavy equipment. He felt that the political attitude of the West, coupled with the disunity among the Arab States themselves were the factors which prevented further hostilities, but emphasized that any grave international situation or the outbreak of war would recreate a local danger as opportunists sought to capitalize on the situation.

In the course of the conversation he made several other significant remarks. In the first place he stated that his government had been able to obtain substantial amounts of light equipment but it had been unable to obtain heavy equipment such as artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, jets, tanks or recoilless rifles. In the second place, speaking about the British in Egypt, he expressed the view that it would not be possible at any time over the next few years for the British to work out satisfactory [Page 584] arrangements for the maintenance of military facilities and military forces in Egypt. He considered it remarkable that the British had succeeded in working out the present modus vivendi.

  1. General Robertson arrived in Israel February 19.