246. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson1
Planes for Israel. Now that Israel has a good tank sale under its belt (which nets us dollars), it is predictably focussing on planes. You’ll recall that last March we promised that if Israel would lie low on Jordan arms, we’d sell some tanks and “up to 24 combat aircraft” if they couldn’t get them anywhere else.
Again predictably, the Israelis have made a blue sky opening bid—not for just 24 but for 210 new fighter bombers. Their air chief of staff was just here proposing in effect that we take over the modernization of the whole Israeli air force, on the grounds that neither France nor the UK—the only other suppliers—can provide the planes.2
State and DOD told him that he’d better go back to the French and British, and that selling 210 planes—even for dollars over several years—was out of the question. Nonetheless, it is true that we produce far better aircraft for the money, and that France and the UK probably can’t meet Israel’s total need (in fact the Israelis are already back in, claiming that a new approach in Paris produced nothing).
We’ll keep stalling the Israelis along, making clear that we simply can’t talk about becoming their chief suppliers but not slamming the door on a small sale in 1966. State remains adamant against any combat aircraft, but some of us are coming to wonder whether State doesn’t overestimate the adverse Arab reaction (as it did on Hawks and then tanks). Moreover, the Israelis are eager enough that they’d even let us sell planes for dollars to Jordan too (if necessary to block a MIG deal).
Israel is happy enough about tanks and is asking enough other things from us—a desalting plant, 1966 economic aid, PL 480—that we can play hard to get on planes for a few months yet. But we’d recommend keeping the option open if you approve.3
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Komer Memos, Vol. II. Secret.↩
- Discussions held October 12–13 between an Israeli delegation chaired by Ambassador Harman, with Chief of the Israel Air Force General Ezer Weizman as the chief Israeli spokesman, and a joint State-Defense U.S. delegation chaired by Hare, with Hoopes as the chief U.S. spokesman, are summarized in an October 14 memorandum from Kitchen to Thompson. (National Archives and Records Administration,RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL ISR–US)↩
- The memorandum bears no indication of Johnson’s approval or disapproval.↩