147. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

969. From Komer. Friday2 given over to practically uninterrupted series of meetings, including two with Prime Minister and long session with Foreign Minister, Eban, Peres, Rabin, etc. I made and remade all points in my brief, particularly stressing lack of any viable alternatives. [Page 325] Will not repeat these here since detailed report will follow. Highlights are:

Israelis, while immediately and deeply concerned over prospect US arms sales to Jordan, see it in larger context of unexpected cohesiveness of UAC, Bonn’s caving to Nasser, US catering to the UAR, and continued Soviet arms aid to the Arabs. In effect they see this combination of circumstances as creating (a) an increasingly grave threat to Israeli security; (b) a psychological fillip to the Arabs, which enhances their belief that Carthage can be destroyed; and (c) an incipient crisis of confidence among the Israeli public. By now they are far more exercised about Nasser (and his victory over Bonn) than over Jordan.
While Israelis have calmed down considerably on Jordan arms issue, little doubt that Israeli military in particular acutely disturbed by prospect of even a modest increase in strength of one of the two adjacent countries they have not regarded as a military threat. From briefing by Rabin with no punches pulled it clear Israelis were counting on not having to divert much first-line strength to screen piddling Jordanian forces. While they still talk about Jordan acquiring an offensive instead of defensive capability, long and short of matter is that they now feel they’ll have to deploy a fair proportion of their standing forces against a surprise Jordanian attack, instead of keeping them mostly in south against UAR and secondarily in north opposite Syrians. They made much of lack of warning time.
Beyond security threat is political problem faced by Eshkol as a practical politician heading unstable coalition and a split, plurality Mapai Party, going into a fall election, and with Ben-Gurion having in effect declared open war against him. While he himself didn’t stress this point, and is probably more convinced than he’s willing to concede as yet by our arguments, it is obvious that he is deeply concerned over how to explain to his Cabinet, and the public why it’s the least of all evils for Israel’s great friend the US to sell arms to the UAC.
With all due allowances for the replay of old records, it is quite apparent that the Israelis foresee a gathering storm over the Jordan waters issue, and as might be expected, are nervous over US support.
Also significant were repeated veiled and not veiled references to the need for pre-emption. Most of these were in connection with the need to scare off the Arabs from their counter-diversion scheme. While much of this talk was for our benefit, there seems little doubt that a pre-emptive psychology is building up in Israel and will become an increasing risk so long as the Israelis see no other way out of their dilemma.
Throughout eight hours of almost uninterrupted back and forth, we kept bringing them back to the fundamental dilemma—that however unpalatable the course we proposed to take, it seemed much less [Page 326] risky than the most likely alternative. Though Eshkol and others asked why we didn’t threaten to cut off our subsidies, etc., I believe that such plaints were for form’s sake and that they recognize that we are proposing the lesser of evils.
If nothing else, this exercise has been most useful in re-establishing intimate communication with GOI, which had felt genuinely bruised by our failure to give sufficient advance notification. Quite clearly, Bonn’s craven behavior had added to the shock. There were many harsh words about the Germans today.
More important, we believe we have gotten the top level of GOI (though not yet their military) over the hurdle of reacting primarily to Jordan arms and not to the larger issue. Pending instructions, I sedulously (and I must say disingenuously) refrained from even hinting at compensatory US measures. I did, however, seek to focus their attention on constructive responses by repeatedly posing the question of whether they had any better solution than the one we had come up with.
They didn’t do more than hint at this, but this was enough to make Barbour and me conclude that Eshkol, Eban, Meir, and probably Peres are already beginning to turn their minds to what Israel could do itself and get from the US to cope with their problems. For example, Eshkol and Meir both noted that we had not made any recent public statement of our support for Israel’s use of Jordan waters within Unified Plan. Eshkol mentioned the importance of dispelling any illusions the Arabs might have as to our continued determination to prevent Arab aggression against Israel. As Golda Meir put it, we should tell Nasser we would give Israel a tank for every tank Moscow gave him. All concerned carefully pointed out that any increase in Jordanian capabilities, plus Israel’s loss of further German arms, created an even greater increasing requirement for added Israeli deterrent strength. In the afternoon Rabin quite pointedly mentioned that Israel’s primary needs were tanks and planes.
We have another meeting scheduled for 5 P.M. Sunday local time. Taking advantage of the Sabbath, we suggested postponement till then to give Washington time to consider (in the midst of Vietnam) my report. Since we have tried our hardest to force the Israelis themselves to come up with alternatives, we may receive proposals at that time. However, Peres has asked to see me urgently tomorrow morning, which may provide some advance clues.
The recommendations of Ambassador Barbour and myself are already before you. But developments today reinforce our conviction that Israel can be brought to accept, and even to support quietly, limited arms aid to Jordan if we are prepared to do and say those things which would reinforce the deterrent balance and, equally important, give verbal evidence of this intention to both the Arab and Israeli audiences.
I feel duty bound to add that, so long as we do not close with Hussein and confront Israel with yet another presumed fait accompli it does not seem imperative to make either a general or specific tender to the GOI right now. However, the sooner we can do so, at least in general terms, the more rapidly we will be able to move on to the question of how to get demonstrable Israeli support of our Jordan arms program. Suffice it to say that if we do feel compelled to make Hussein a new offer, especially one any richer than the present bid, prior action here essential. Of course, aside from indicating that Hussein has not accepted our offer, we refrained from indicating that we might feel compelled to enrich it.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 US/Komer. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to DOD and passed to the White House.
  2. February 12.