17. Telegram From the Air Attache at the Embassy in Israel to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs 1

C–40. Joint State-Defense message. Reference my C–36, C–38 and C–39.2 This message in 5 parts.

  • Part I. This is fifth in series. The US delegations followed consultations with GOI delegation at G.H.Q. with audience Prime Minister/Defense Minister Eshkol in one-hour plus talks on Friday 21 Feb 64, approx 1245–1400. Eshkol very impressive in this session which almost a monologue, but courteous, sincere and showing firm belief in this convictions/statements.
  • Part II. Ambassador gave Prime Minister President Johnson’s letter which arrived that morning. Rowen made appropriate comments including: US viewing Israel’s need for armor favorably, but not yet decided. On missiles, US finding difficulty accepting Israeli need, views subject as dangerous and considers acquisition sophisticated missiles by Israelis would initiate missile race in ME. Questioned Peres when final decision to be made with answer of “one year possibly later.” Rowen continued that Israeli acquisition would cause escalation. Problem: adequate range missiles, effective only with nuclear warheads thus US interested in Israeli nuclear plans/intentions. Egyptian threat exaggerated and with improved armor IDF does not need missiles. Peres viewed Egyptian missiles could be effective, would cause panic and Israelis required retaliatory missiles. Rowen showed concern that US assistance re tanks would see Israeli use of tank money saved to purchase missiles. Rowen added towards end of audience that when decision on missiles is made, the US would like to be informed Israeli intentions in this field.
  • Part III. Prime Minister’s comments: Missiles are dangerous, expensive and not sure decision possible in one year; probably 2 years more accurate. On security basis, price is no object. Israel is home of Jewish nation, last and only foothold requiring last-ditch stand even if must lower standard of living to lowest African level. Israel has tried talking peace with Nasser, but even in last two weeks Nasser has stated no alternative but crush Israel. Nasser/Arabs continually vocally insistent on destruction of Israel. US helps Egypt with far bigger sums which helps Nasser in arms build-up. What does UAR spending such large sums on missiles mean? Israel’s population—which from 60–70 nations, are here only 10–15 years—are afraid of even bad missiles. And Nasser’s missiles may become good missiles. Also may get further missile help from Russia which makes concern even heavier. There is no solution to concern over Nasser. On giving up missiles, if US provides tanks, Israel not prepared to give up missiles. On controlling arms race in ME, would welcome such possibility, but appears impossible. On Rowen’s question whether IDF can live without missiles if UAR doesn’t go ahead with missiles, Eshkol said Israelis would be happier and stop thinking about missiles.
  • Part IV. Parts I and II above based on Strickland notes confirmed by Ambassador’s recall.
  • Part V. Ambassador’s recall/comments, follow: Peres indicated Israelis did not have missile program currently and that decision to develop on own or procure is one-year off or more. Eshkol confirmed and believed two years probably more accurate. Eshkol suggested US instead of approaching Israelis go to Nasser with arguments to stop production missiles or Israelis would get good missiles from US; this would immediately stop race. To Rowen’s insistence that type of missile Israelis investigating only useful with nuclear warheads, Eshkol looked aghast, appeared to be new thought to him, and finally stated, “Don’t try to persuade us to put nuclear warheads on them.” To Rowen’s question on Israeli thinking re reactions to Arab threat, Eshkol pointed out formulae developed over years which showed Israelis prepared to accept a time-delay in reacting, prepared to be a little behind new Arab military developments. Eshkol sounds sincere, firm in convictions about political origins of state and status of Israel, last-ditch stand for Jewish nation, Jews all over world but only one Jewish nation, terrible expense for defense justified, and expects to give President Johnson this but in more detail.

Major point: When Rowen attempting tie-in acquisition armor to missile problem, Eshkol strongly urged against US consideration of two problems simultaneously and asked urgent closure of gap through fulfillment Israeli armor requirements.

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Major premise: Israel not interested in taking over 30 million Arabs and Nasser not in right mind if he believed such was Israeli objective. Israel would cut own throat by conquering Egypt. (This is good argument for US approaches to Nasser to cease on missile developments.) Additional Eshkol comments: In view of absolute priority Israel security, even considering US assistance, primary responsibility of Prime Minister is to tell and show his people Israel doing all possible on independent basis to protect their existence. Now understands US looking favorably on armor and that President Johnson plans to discuss this, but Eshkol wonders when discussion will stop and decision materialize. Ambassador’s clarification of arms-control possibilities made point that Israel should clearly understand that US not interested in weakening Israeli security posture, and that Israel should put more stock in US commitments. Suggested that security could thus be assured equally adequately and not likely to cause repercussions. Eshkol mentioned Komars to Ambassador, but did not make pitch that they more effective than Egyptian missiles; merely added them to Egyptian missile capabilities.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 12 ISR. Secret; Priority; Noforn; Limdis. Repeated to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of State, Air Force Chief of Staff, Department of the Army, Chief of Naval Operations, and 1127 USAF Field Arty Group at Fort Belvoir, VA. The Department of State copy is the source text.
  2. Telegrams C–36 through C–39 reported talks held February 19–23 between Israeli officials and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Planning Henry Rowen and other Department of Defense representatives. Copies are filed, along with comments by Rowen and Brigadier General Eugene L. Strickland, USAF, Director for the Near East, South Asia and Africa Region in DOD/ISA, in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Robert W. Komer, Israel Security, December 63–March 66. Other records of the talks are filed with a March 26 letter from Ambassador Barbour to Talbot in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 19–3 US–ISR.