296. Telegram From the Embassy in Greece to the Department of State0
1337. From Talbot for Grant.1 Reference Department telegram 1141.2 Central to conference deliberations have been (a) maintenance of peace in Near East and (b) in this context, security of Israel. In interest of own security, Israel pressing us for close military relationship, security guarantees and Hawk missile. Main problem as conference sees it is not a defense “gap” on either side of Arab-Israel quarrel, but danger that if a serious imbalance of vulnerability should develop it would create real and present temptation to pre-emptive attack. Thus conference has considered Hawk as part of overall review, as follows:
- Military Relationship. Conference urges avoidance ties of this nature as being inconsistent with our basic goal to promote impartially the peaceful resolution of Arab-Israel conflict while maintaining with both sides a constructive relationship designed to safeguard and promote our other interests in the area. Specifically we should also bear in mind virtual impossibility of keeping a military relationship with Israel secret with foreseeable result that road would be opened for Soviet exploitation which would be most injurious to us.
Security Guarantee. Conference believes unilateral reactivation by U.S. of that portion of Tripartite Declaration dealing with aggression would provide renewed assurance to both Israelis and Arabs as well as deterrent to both. We would envision (a) asking British and French not to join in our initiative and (b) quiet diplomacy rather than public statement.
New formulation of security guarantee specifically for Israel considered by conference to be both unnecessary and undesirable. Language already used in Tripartite Declaration is known, is impartial and is suitable to situation. A new version would raise serious questions of meaning and intent. Conference believes Arabs and Israelis clearly understand, [Page 729] principally from precedent, that US would act if serious hostilities break out.
Handled in recommended manner conference of view a security assurance to Israel would be useful policy move in reducing any Israeli sense of insecurity and would be least damaging response to three principal Israeli objectives.
Hawk. Conference recognizes that previously existing vulnerability of Israel air defense somewhat increased by UAR acquisition of MIG 21 and TU 16 bomber. (Similarly UAR is vulnerable to Israeli air attack until it has ground-to-air and air-to-air missiles, and it is considered inferior to Israel in ground forces.) For a combination of reasons, however, conference believes decision on sale of Hawk to Israel should be further delayed:
- We consider Israel’s basic security position today and for next few years to be in reality as satisfactory as in past. Israel’s own military defense capability is only one of several effective deterrents to Arab attack among which are fear of Israeli reprisal, fear of Western intervention on side of Israel, deep divisions among Arabs, and particularly on part of UAR certain loss for indefinite period of U.S. and Western large scale aid. Renewed security assurances and warning against aggression to Israel and Arabs as proposed in paragraph (2) at suitable time in next few months would tend reinforce Israeli security. Understand in any event, Hawks would not be in place for two years if offered to Israel today.
Examination of political complexities and consequences, as well as consideration of burdens placed on weak economies, lead conference to urge that priority be given to serious effort at arms limitation arrangement in next year or so, initiated perhaps by Presidential discussions with Ben Gurion and Nasser, without publicity.
Must be stated frankly that attainment of agreement during Presidential conversations improbable but process of continued discussion and perhaps negotiation might well be inaugurated, a notable advance over present situation. We are influenced in this direction by fact long-standing U.S. arms policy for Near East has to date permitted U.S. avoid onus for arms race and proliferation of missiles and other sophisticated weapons in area and has been major component in stabilizing U.S. relations with Arabs without jeopardizing Israel security. Once U.S. breaks barrier by selling Hawk to Israel U.S. would find it virtually impossible avoid sales further missiles, thereby contributing to [garble—escalation?] since provision of even defensive weapons inevitably leads to requirement for greater offensive capability and thus to a continuing spiral. Further, conference sees need to avoid creation of situations disruptive and erosive of U.S.-Arab relations additional to existing issues of Jordan waters and Johnson mission which must be handled in next [Page 730] two years. Finally, there is probable use by Soviets of sale of Hawk to Israel in Soviet attempt redress its position with UAR and possibility of new UAR-Soviet deal affecting adversely development of U.S.-UAR relations.
However, should U.S. own intelligence clearly confirm UAR possession of air-to-air or ground-to-air missiles or Soviet commitment to provide such missiles to UAR, then U.S. would be both justified in selling Hawk to Israel and would have considerable greater freedom of action in doing so. Conference aware such confirmation may come any moment. At time clear confirmation received, or if high level decision taken in Washington anyhow that Israel vulnerability must be reduced, conference urges following procedure:
- Exploration of alternative sources of supply. British should be consulted in any event and may wish sell Bloodhound.
- Frank explanation to Nasser on defensive nature of ground-to-air missile; Israel need for defensive capability; and, if pertinent, our understanding UAR has arrangement on missiles with Soviets (we doubt secrecy possible for long and believe preferable we gain what advantage we may from being frank at early date). Offer Hawk to UAR and Syria (either likely buy) on same terms as for Israel. Discuss with other Arabs as needed.
- Commencement of training of Israeli personnel and inclusion in sales contract of cancellation clause as hedge against possible achievement of arms limitation arrangement prior to installation date.
- Sell only for cash on barrelhead to limit proliferation of demands.
Foregoing presented without full knowledge of security problems and procedures and without considering possible complications with other countries, e.g. Iran.
- 5. [(4)]
- Avoid establishing military ties with Israel.
- Provide unpublicized security assurances to Israel and certain Arabs in context Tripartite Declaration at an appropriate time.
- Seek vigorously arms limitation arrangement for Near East.
- Delay sale of Hawk for present.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 784A.5622/6–1562. Top Secret; Limited Distribution.↩
- Talbot was in Athens attending the Conference of Chiefs of Mission to Near Eastern and North African countries and Greece and Turkey; see footnote 5, Document 286.↩
- In telegram 1141 to Athens, June 12, Grant sent Talbot the following message: “Secretary has requested urgent consideration certain questions regarding Israel’s need for Hawk missile which he feels were not fully covered in NEA’s recent memorandum [Document 290] recommending against sale. Inasmuch as this is subject scheduled for discussion in Athens, we would find it useful have brief telegraphic report Conference consensus on pros and cons.” (Department of State, Central Files, 784A.5622/6–1262)↩