2. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1
667. When the Foreign Minister asked me to see him Friday, December 30, he dwelt at length and with some emphasis on the serious position in which Israel finds itself with regard to its [Page 5] inability to in any way meet the strong air superiority of Egypt. It seemed obvious to me that not only Sharett but the GOI are finding this insoluble problem a highly disturbing factor in the determination of Israel’s foreign policy. From other sources we have heard that this problem has created an attitude approaching panic in some quarters and that Ben Gurion is getting extremely nervous and upset over it.
Although Sharett led up to the subject casually it undoubtedly was the principal theme of his discussion with me. He underscored the tremendous disadvantage which Israel was facing and the almost complete lack of defensive facilities to meet Egyptian jet air threats with wide-open bombing of Israel cities by Egypt a distinct possibility. Considering the immediate situation and a possibility of meeting it partially, both from a factual and psychological viewpoint, he introduced the subject of the twelve Mystere IV planes on order with the French and delivery of which had been temporarily delayed. He spent considerable time emphasizing the importance of receiving even this small number of planes and the gist of his comment is as follows:
Israel had negotiated with the French and actually had a contract with them for purchase of Mystere IVs. Sharett understood that these were to come from an off-shore procurement production total and unless the US could authorize their delivery by the French the earliest date Israel could expect to receive them would be July 1956. The French authorities had implied that the decision for delivery rested entirely with US Government, and the French were prepared to make delivery without delay. Sharett referred to the fact that two months had passed since the first shipment of 15 MIGs had arrived in Egypt and he was not sure how many more had been delivered, but the Egyptians were now in a position to have trained their pilots in their use. Meanwhile, Israel could not consider training their pilots on a comparable plane until July if the present hold up on the French contract continued. Sharett had explained to me that Israel could not hope to match Egypt quantitatively in planes—that if Egypt received 100 MIGs it was not Israel’s expectation to receive necessarily 100 planes of equivalent value. But, Israel must have units of the same quality, making up for quantitative disparity to some extent by greater courage and technical ability of the Israeli pilots. Sharett was very hopeful something might be done to expedite delivery these planes, and he made point Israel had never used planes of any kind in any act of retaliation.
The following day Sharett sent Herzog to the residence to re-emphasize the over-all importance of this problem and to urge most favorable consideration by US Government of indicating to French Government its willingness to have such planes released. Herzog said [Page 6] it was impossible to overestimate the psychological benefit of even the knowledge that the United States was willing in the near future to express its agreement in this matter. Even confidential advance knowledge to Sharett that we were thinking favorably along this line would be extremely helpful and would have a beneficial effect on the present discouraged government seeking means of meeting in part at least this critical and desperate danger to the country’s very life.
Herzog informed me that even if the twelve Mysteres were delivered that in actual practice only about eight of them would be available for military use at any one time thus further reducing the extent to which Israel could meet the Egyptian threat. He said the French manufacturer was prepared to increase its production to the point where it could deliver these twelve planes and yet meet its original delivery scheduled by the first of June. The GOI believes that the French have applied to the United States for release of these planes to Israel and awaits US Government reply.
I believe that Sharett appreciates that no positive action of this kind can be taken until after the Security Council resolution on the Kinneret raid of December 11 has been debated.2 And he knows that the related subject of US policy with regard to Israel’s arms request also must be considered. However, I feel that he believes that the GOI has made a sober reappraisal of the Kinneret raid, that it is unlikely similar Israeli action would be taken under similar conditions in the future, and in the future broader political sources will be consulted as well as the usual military sources. Although Sharett did not condemn his government for the Kinneret action it seemed obvious to me that he regarded it as a severe blunder and one which has brought about among Israeli leaders some serious second thoughts which should be effective in producing a much more cautious policy.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 784A.56/1–256. Secret. Received at 7:33 a.m., January 3. Repeated to Paris and London.↩
- See the editorial note, vol. XIV, p. 854.↩