13. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Solbert) to Secretary of Defense McNamara 1



  • Status Report on Israeli Tank Sale
[Page 32]


To determine whether a small DOD Team should visit Israel next week.


Your approval in principle of a tank sale to Israel was conveyed to State on 26 January.2 While both State and White House staff seem prepared in principle to consider a sale, through non-US sources if possible, Mr. Komer tells us the President, while sympathetic, does not see the need to make a final decision now. He wants to wait until the election is closer, in any case, and feels if we give tanks to the Israelis now they will be back at us before November for something else. Several other factors also lead Messrs. McGeorge Bundy and Komer, State, and ourselves all to feel we had better make haste slowly here:

We are greatly concerned over the likelihood that the Israelis are about to invest some $45 million in a French Dassault missile (similar to the Pershing). We see this as another step toward putting themselves in a position to acquire an independent nuclear deterrent. If the Arabs get the same idea, it could undermine our whole policy in the Middle East. It would force the Arabs to get more arms from Moscow at the least.
Considerable anti-U.S. sentiment has been stirred up in Arab States over the Cyprus situation, the Jordan waters problem, and the “anti-Arab” implications alleged to be contained in recent speeches by President Johnson and Alex Johnson;3 all of which would make an accommodation move toward Israel impolitic at this time.
The general U.S. policy toward arms sales in the Middle East is now undergoing intensive review, and State would not like to make [Page 33] a final decision on the tank sale until this has been considered by the President.
Messrs. McGeorge Bundy, Komer, and Harriman are of the opinion that any decision to sell tanks should not be conveyed to the Israelis at least until Prime Minister Eshkol’s visit here in June, which would meet the President’s point about optimum political timing.
There is also the necessity to recognize that Israeli intelligence within the U.S. is so good that they will probably learn of our decision almost as soon as it is made and we will have no bargaining position with them once a decision is reached.
Your proposed approved sale is for 300 tanks, while Israel requested 500; and some further discussion of the tank requirement at the military level is desirable as underpinning for our ultimate position.

Alternative Approaches:

Because of the above considerations, State and the White House staff have determined to delay decision on the tank sale for the present, and to acquire as much additional information as possible on Israeli missile and nuclear plans. The following alternative decisions appear to be the most likely:

The Israelis will abandon or delay indefinitely plans to acquire an SSM capability, in which case the tank sale would probably be approved by the two governments at the time of Eshkol’s visit.
The Israelis will not commit themselves to abandonment of their missile acquisition plans, but will agree to consult with us on such planning to such a degree as to make the tank sale desirable as a quid pro quo. Whether or not the sale would be made under these conditions would depend upon the degree of Israeli cooperation and the degree of predicted Arab reaction at the time of the announcement.
The Israelis will refuse to abandon or delay missile acquisition. In this case the sale of tanks will probably not be approved.
A preferable solution involved in all of the above (which the Israelis have informally proposed) is that the U.S. might avoid political implications of the sale by arranging, or assisting in the financing of a sale by or through the FRG or the UK. This possibility is now being explored in the U.S. Government, but no mention has been made at any level elsewhere. The Israelis have made some inquiries on their own in FRG and UK. State in particular strongly endorses this procedure.

Proposed Interim Step:

In connection with the problems of nuclear proliferation and the Middle East arms policy, the ISA Policy Planning Staff has been accumulating [Page 34] information and preparing studies for some time on the nuclear and missile capabilities of Israel and the Arab States. This information makes it plain that the Israelis have progressed well along in initial arrangements with the French on missile development and production; and that the Egyptian missile development has no such degree of reliability as would justify the sort of missile planning which the Israelis are pursuing. We are also extremely concerned about the Israeli capacity to produce a nuclear warhead which might be mated with the missile.

We see Mr. Rowen’s trip as a means of carrying to the Israeli Government our contentions that there is little military threat from the UAR’s so-called missiles, certainly not enough to justify Israel’s wasting money on a counter-deterrent with all the risks involved. We have little confidence that the Israeli Embassy here has fully clued its home office on our objections to potential nuclear proliferation by Israel, or the way in which Israeli missile acquisition might trigger UAR preemption or, at the least, push the UAR (and other Arabs) closer to Moscow again. Second, we see a need to get a better fix on why Israel wants a nice round number like 500 tanks, so as to buttress our case for offering only 300. So, the next appropriate step would appear to be to send a small party of DOD personnel, who are knowledgeable in the tank and missile fields, to continue the dialogue without publicity in Tel Aviv. Because Henry Rowen will be in Rome for discussions on Monday and Tuesday, and because of his special work in the missile and nuclear programs in recent weeks, it was thought appropriate to have him continue to Tel Aviv on Thursday and Friday, accompanied by an Army General Officer with expertise in tanks and missilry, to continue dialogue, in hope of obtaining further information and indications from the Israelis on these subjects. The party specifically would not discuss details of the proposed tank sale or indicate that any U.S. decision has been made, but would only further discuss the tank requirement.


It is recommended that you approve the visit to Tel Aviv by Mr. Rowen, and request the Department of the Army to provide a qualified General Officer to join him in Tel Aviv (Memorandum for your signature attached).4


State—Mr. Talbot

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White House—Mr. Komer (attached is White House Staff Memo from the President)5

Both offices have reviewed this memorandum.6

Peter Solbert
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1266, Israel 470. Secret. Filed as an attachment to a February 17 memorandum from McNamara to the Secretary of the Army.
  2. A letter of January 30 from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Frank K. Sloan to Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson stated that McNamara had approved the extension of credit for the sale of 200 M48A3 tanks over the next 1–2 years and 100 M60 tanks over the next 2–3 years. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 12–5 ISR) McNamara recorded his approval on January 28 on a January 27 memorandum from Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs William P. Bundy to him. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1266, Israel 470)
  3. In remarks on February 6 in New York at the dinner of the Weizmann Institute of Science, President Johnson stated that the United States had begun discussions with Israeli representatives on cooperative research in using nuclear energy for desalinization. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, Book I, pp. 270–272. Reports on reactions to the speech in the Near East and North Africa are in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15–1 US/JOHNSON and E 11–3 US. The text of a speech made on January 20 by Deputy Under Secretary Johnson before the Citizens Committee on American Policy in the Near East in Washington is printed in Department of State Bulletin, February 10, 1964, pp. 208–211.
  4. McNamara signed the memorandum on February 17; see footnote 1 above.
  5. The undated paper by Komer, entitled “The UAR/Israeli Missile Problem,” is attached but not printed.
  6. A handwritten note by McNamara on a February 17 covering memorandum from William Bundy to McNamara reads as follows: “Bill, Harry is to: (1) Try to persuade the Israelis not to buy missiles. (2) Assume that if the Israelis buy any tank we want them to buy our tank, but we are not yet ready to announce approval of a tank sale. (3) Recognize I favor the sale of 500 of our most expensive tanks. RMcN.”