199. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, March 15, 19561


  • Israel Arms Request


  • U.S. Government
    • The Acting Secretary
    • Mr. MurphyG
    • Mr. RussellS
  • Israel Government
    • Ambassador Eban
    • Minister Shiloah

Ambassador Eban called at his request. He said that he wished to give the Acting Secretary the Israel Government’s thinking in the aftermath of the Anderson mission. He said that despite the lack of concrete progress toward a settlement the mission had been necessary and desirable. He said that the conclusions which had to be drawn from the outcome of the mission were somber. It had proved what the IG had thought all along, i.e., that peace with Israel is not in Nasser’s calculations. Nasser’s objective is leadership in the Arab world. He hopes to achieve this hegemony by a policy that is (1) anti-Israel, (2) anti-Western, and (3) based on playing off the West against the Soviets. This was the IG analysis immediately following the Soviet-Egyptian arms deal. Secretary Dulles had commented at that time that he did not reject that thesis, that time would tell. Ambassador Eban said that now the correctness of the analysis must be clear to all. Nasser had attempted for a while to create the impression of cooperating in the effort for a settlement, but it is now obvious that he is not willing to have any meeting. He cites public opinion as making a settlement impossible but he himself creates that public opinion. He has retreated from his position of helpfulness in getting Arab agreement to the Jordan Valley Plan. He now cites the Syrian Government as an obstacle but there has been no change in the Syrian situation since he first made his promise of help. While he has been misleading us about his attitude toward a settlement, he has consolidated his position with Saudi Arabia and Syria, instigated riots in Jordan, and has been attacking the Baghdad Pact. It has been clear to the IG that the ending of the Anderson mission would be a decisive moment. If the ending was one of success there would be great hope for the future. If it failed, the situation would be worse than before because the possibility of peace would be eliminated as a component of the situation. The [Page 368] Ambassador said that the Israel Prime Minister feels that immediate efforts must be directed not to achieving peace but to preventing war. Israel’s desire to add to its defenses is, therefore, greater than ever. The Arabs are getting stronger while Israel is held down by an embargo. Not only has there been no progress on the IG request of November 16,2 but even routine requests which had previously been granted are now being turned down. Israel is, therefore, in a situation where its defensive capacity is not only not being increased but is in danger of being weakened. The Ambassador said that he feels that at this moment when the Anderson mission has failed the U.S. has a moral commitment to help Israel; first because of the statements which the President and the Secretary have made from time to time that they would give “sympathetic attention” to Israel’s request and, secondly, because of Israel’s dire need resulting from recent concentrations of Egyptian and Syrian forces on Israel’s borders. The Ambassador said that the IG drew two conclusions from all of this: (1) it should discuss with the State Department the problem of Israel’s increasing vulnerability in concrete terms, e.g., if Israel gets 12 Mysteres from France it would feel that it should get specifically and immediately from the U.S. 24 F86 fighters and some anti-tank guns; and, (2) the IG would want to be involved more directly in discussions relating to external deterrents to aggression in the Middle East. On this latter point the IG has arrived at certain views: (1) the primacy of Israel’s own defenses in assuring its security; and, (2) it does not reject the concept of external deterrents but it should be very conservative in its reliance on them. They should be invoked only after Israel’s own effort has been stretched to the fullest. The more the U.S. satisfies Israel’s arms requests the more we relieve the American people of responsibility under the U.N. or the Tripartite Declaration. With respect to U.N. action, the IG is not encouraged in view of the possibility of a Soviet veto in the Security Council and the ability of the Arabs and the Soviets to muster more than the necessary third of the votes required to defeat action in the General Assembly. In any event, the U.N. Charter gives Israel the right of self-defense and also gives any state the right to come to Israel’s aid.

Ambassador Eban said that he wished to inform the Acting Secretary that the IG had just filed an application with the Export-Import Bank for a loan in connection with water development plans in Israel outside the Jordan Valley.3 They figured that the projects that would be financed by this loan would save $40,000,000 a year and help in their resettlement program. They compute that agricultural [Page 369] income would be increased by 60 percent. The total cost of the undertaking would be about $270,000,000. They have asked for a $75,000,000 loan from the Export-Import Bank. The Bank has already loaned Israel $70,000,000 for agricultural development and the IG is applying to the Bank for this loan rather than to the IBRD because the present project would be related to the other program. The project would fit into the Jordan Valley Development Program.

The Acting Secretary said that Mr. Anderson had reported fully to the President and to himself on his last mission4 and would be seeing the Secretary on the latter’s return in about a week. He said that this Government, of course, regretted that there had been no immediate concrete steps toward a settlement as a result of the Anderson mission. The failure had resulted from the fact that Nasser had been unwilling to agree at this time to a face-to-face meeting although he was willing to discuss terms of the settlement with an intermediary while the IG wanted a face-to-face meeting but would not agree to carrying on negotiations through an intermediary. Thus both lines of progress were prevented. Nevertheless, several things have resulted from the effort. Anderson was able to interpret to both sides the positions of the other and was also able to give the Secretary and the President a better idea of the thinking of each. The Acting Secretary said that he wanted to make it plain that Mr. Anderson is ready to resume his talks with both sides at any time that it appeared that anything might result from such a resumption. With respect to possible U.N. action to lessen the danger of hostilities in the Middle East, the Acting Secretary said that the Department was presently considering various alternative types of action and we would be glad to have the Israel Government’s thinking. With respect to Ambassador Eban’s reference to recent difficulties in obtaining export licenses for routine orders, the Acting Secretary said that we had no intention of declaring a total embargo and that he would look into the matter. There should be no difficulty in assuring that things which were not of an armament nature were permitted to move. The Acting Secretary said that we had long ago informed the French Government that we would take any administrative action that was necessary to release the offshore procurement claims to the 12 Mysteres so that the question of their sale was one entirely for the French Government.5 The Acting Secretary said that we would, of course, review the whole problem of U.S. arms shipments to the Middle East in the light of the situation as it now exists. He doubted whether there would be any radical change in our policy in the immediate future. Ambassador Eban said that if the [Page 370] Israel Government did not receive an affirmative reply by the end of this month it would have to make a decision to dedicate its national energies with 100 percent preoccupation to defense with all that that implied for Israel’s national life.

Ambassador Eban said that he wished to give informal notice that the Israel Prime Minister might be raising the possibility of his seeing President Eisenhower in order to present to him Israel’s arms need or alternatively of Ambassador Eban seeing the President and presenting to him a message from Ben Gurion, all of this on the assumption that the U.S. had not previously given an affirmative reply to the IG arms request.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/SNEA Files: Lot 61 D 417, Alpha Volume 16. Top Secret; Alpha; Limited Distribution. Drafted on March 27 by Russell.
  2. See the memorandum of conversation, vol. XIV, p. 773.
  3. See Document 194.
  4. See Documents 186 and 187.
  5. See Document 40.