10. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara1



  • Arms for Israel (U)
Reference is made to a memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA), I–20042/64, dated 6 January 1964, subject as above,2 [Page 24] which requested the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Israel’s request for tanks and specifically asked:
Are the numbers and types of tanks requested necessary and appropriate to Israeli needs?
If the United States does approve the Israeli request in principle, is the equipment requested the most useful equipment to offer?
Is it advisable to substitute anti-tank weapons (other than tanks) or other vehicles for a part of the total requirement in order to reduce costs?
In JCSM–953–63, dated 7 December 1963,3 the Joint Chiefs of Staff forwarded their views on proposed changes to the “Near East Arms Policy,” including the assessment that “the substantial military equilibrium presently existing among Near Eastern states does not warrant immediate action to supply major quantities of arms to any of these countries. Rather, the highest priority effort should be directed toward achieving agreement among Middle East arms suppliers to restrict the flow of arms into the area. Pending the results of such efforts, however, the arms policy should provide the requisite flexibility without positively identifying the United States with either side in the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Appendix A hereto provides an assessment of the Arab-Israeli arms balance.4
It is understood that a final decision to reaffirm or modify the “Near East Arms Policy” has not yet been made. In considering the questions posed in the referenced memorandum, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have therefore assumed that:
US objectives in respect to the Near East include the maintenance of military equilibrium between Israel and its immediate Arab neighbors, and the avoidance of actions likely to intensify the Arab-Israeli arms competition.
Provision of tanks to Israel must be consistent with the US policy on supplying arms to Near Eastern countries.
US military equipment would be made available to Israel only through the medium of sales.
To minimize the diversion of Israeli foreign exchange resources from essential economic development programs, the most economical solution to Israel’s tank modernization problem is desirable.
With these assumptions in mind, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the following criteria should be applied in responding to Israel’s request for tanks:
Conformity with approved Israeli Army Force Guidelines, which are predicated on Israel’s orientation toward the West and her subjection to international peace-keeping supervision, which requires restraint on excessive arming.
Consistency with requirements for strengthening Free World security forces and the protection of US political and economic interests.
Necessity for internal security and legitimate self-defense requirements.
To the extent possible, avoidance of contribution to and acceleration of regional arms competition.
Assistance in offsetting the foreign exchange costs of maintaining the US military position abroad.
Applying these criteria to the Israeli tank request, the Joint Chiefs of Staff note that the major Israeli Army combat units in being coincide with the approved Force Guidelines. Furthermore, a significant increase in Israeli Army units does not appear to be justified by the existing strength relationship between the Israeli and Arab Armies. However, replacement of obsolete armored equipment in the current Israeli inventory could be justified on the basis that the Arabs possess modern heavily armed and armored tanks. Because of the extremely sensitive political situation in the Near East, any US participation in a program to sell modern tanks to Israel would have to be managed discreetly. At a minimum this would entail phasing in small quantities over a time span of 2–3 years and insuring that there is no significant net increase in the number of weapons in Israeli hands. See Appendix C for discussion of additional factors bearing on the problem.
Israel currently utilizes French SS-10 anti-tank missiles. There is no comparable US weapon in production. Recoilless rifles, M–72s and the like, very probably would not meet the Israeli desires to enhance their tactical offensive capabilities, implicit in the tank request. Armored personnel carriers would be useful to Israel as a replacement for its US armored half tracks, but would not be responsive to the Israeli request.
In view of the above and the factors discussed in Appendices B and C hereto, the Joint Chiefs of Staff conclude that the sale of tanks to Israel cannot be predicated primarily on military considerations and that:
Replacement of 300 of Israel’s present M–4 tanks is militarily sound on the basis of modernization, and the types requested are appropriate to Israeli needs. However, a net increase in Israel’s tank inventory is not presently justified.
The types of tanks requested are the most useful equipment that could be offered Israel, but M–48 tanks would also meet Israeli needs.
The United States can provide no substitute anti-tank weapons which would meet Israel’s needs and also be substantially lower in cost than M–48 tanks.
Should a decision be made to sell US tanks to Israel, it is recommended that:
Israel be offered 300 M–48 tanks for phased delivery during the next 2–3 years.
If Israel considers M–48s unacceptable, M–48A3s be offered only on the basis of converting present stocks of M–48A series tanks to M–48A3s (with the addition of 105MM gun, if Israel so desires). Such action would require that tanks so converted be replaced in the US Army inventory with M60A1s.
If it is decided to offer Israel M–60A1 tanks, this be done only on the basis of expanding presently authorized production rates to provide the quantity agreed upon.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
J. W. Davis
Rear Admiral, USN Deputy Director, Joint Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1266, Israel 470. Secret.
  2. A copy is ibid., OASD/ISA Files: FRC 68 A 306, Israel 470.
  3. JCSM–953–63 commented on two undated draft memoranda to the President on the subject “Near East Arms Policy.” The first, prepared in the Department of State, recommended adhering to the traditional U.S. policy of restraint regarding arms sales to Near Eastern states. The second, prepared in the Department of Defense, recommended modifying the traditional policy by permitting sale of defensive armaments, abandoning the practice of deferring to European sources of arms for Israel or the Arab states, and permitting the sale of offensive weapons on a case-by-case basis if consistent with the objective of maintaining a sufficient equilibrium between the Arab states and Israel and among the Arab states to minimize the danger of hostilities. The text of JCSM–953–63 is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XVIII, Document 383. The two draft memoranda are included ibid., Microfiche Supplement, Documents 15 and 16.
  4. The appendices are attached but not printed.