29. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 1


  • Tanks for Israel

Mike Feldman and I have talked further about tanks for Israel and we agree that the best way to put it up to you at this stage is by sending you two memoranda—Mike’s is at Tab A and mine is at B.

Since Mike agrees with my Tab B, you can expedite this by giving a signal of approval—and keep Mike’s longer memo for leisure reading. The consequence of such approval would be that we would not decide on tanks before June.

McG. B.
[Page 69]

Tab B Approved2

Speak to me

Tab A

Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Counsel (Feldman) to President Johnson


  • Tanks for Israel

I agree with the Bundy memorandum. However, I would urge that we make the decision as soon as possible as to whether or not we are going to supply tanks to Israel, leaving for a later determination the terms under which they will be acquired.

If it is decided that we should supply the tanks, I should like to be able to convey this decision, in confidence, to the leaders of the Jewish community. They have shown in the past that they can keep a secret.

Attached is an elaboration of my views on this problem.

Myer Feldman



In an earlier memorandum I set forth the political problems we might face if the decision was deferred too long. There are foreign policy aspects to the delay which are even more important.

It seems to me that the logic in favor of providing tanks for the Israeli armed forces is inexorable. In view of the commitments expressed many times by many Presidents to come to the assistance of Israel if she is attacked, our basic policy must be directed toward the prevention of any aggression. Our policy must be such that American intervention will not be necessary.

[Page 70]

Basic to the prevention of war is the maintenance of a balance of forces between Israel and her neighbors. There is no doubt of the growing preponderance of Arab tank strength. Nor is there any question about the Israeli need for modern tanks if Israel is to be able to meet the military threat posed by Russian tanks in Arab hands. Israel feels she must have at least half as many tanks as Egypt. I believe that everyone who has considered this problem believes that the balance of forces needed to prevent conflict requires that a means be found to provide the Israeli Government with between 300 and 500 modern tanks.

There are four problems:


It is said that any announcement indicating American military support for the Israeli army would disrupt our relationships with the Arab nations. I must confess that I am somewhat skeptical of this argument. I have heard it in connection with every American action designed to give comfort to Israel. We should remember that most of the nations depend upon us for large-scale aid. I notice that, even so, they more often support the Soviet Union than the United States in the United Nations. I read their constant denunciations of American imperialism; and I am more inclined to believe that firmness will attract respect than that concessions will win their favor.

Anyhow, if carried too far, this argument will result in actions justifying and encouraging forces in Israel, which have had very little success thus far, that are much more militant.


It is said that a decision should be deferred as long as possible. We have already waited five months. These are long-lead time contracts. Unless the Israeli Government receives some indication that American tanks may be provided, it will be compelled to make its plans on the basis of other assumptions. Already, I understand, they have agreed to purchase 90 British tanks.

Those who favor letting the Israeli Government purchase their tanks elsewhere overlook the shock to American-Israeli relationships which would result from our action, the balance of payments effects and, most important, the inability of the Israeli Government to purchase any substantial number of tanks if they are sold on the usual terms for military purchases. Besides, ours are the best tanks. To prevent war, these tanks are needed before the disparity between Egyptian and Israeli equipment becomes too great.


There is some feeling that we should not agree to the tank sale unless the Israeli Government gives up its intention to purchase ground-to-ground missiles. I find myself sympathetic with this position. However, it is difficult to tell a sovereign power what weapons it needs for its defense. The existence of Egyptian missiles and the fact that the Israeli Government has already contracted for 25 experimental [Page 71] missiles from France makes it impossible to condition the sale of tanks upon a renunciation of missiles.

But there are two alternatives. First, Israel could give up its right to missiles of any kind, including Hawks, if Egypt would enter into a similar agreement. Israel would agree to this, but there is little chance that Egypt will.

Second, we might be able to persuade Israel to refrain from any further purchases of missiles without prior consultation with us. In order to do this, however, it would be necessary for me to explore the question frankly and candidly with Prime Minister Eshkol, and I would have to know what we might be prepared to do in consideration for such an understanding.

Finally, and most important of all, there is the problem of terms of sale. Assuming it is decided that we supply Israel with the tanks, a 500 tank order would cost in the neighborhood of $75 million. This is a staggering sum for a country with a total budget of only $1 billion. The Israeli Government has asked for grant aid. We have explored various other kinds of assistance in the past; we have often increased the amount of development loans in order to free funds for the purchase of military equipment. But with the steadily decreasing foreign aid appropriations this is becoming increasingly difficult. Thus far I have seen no proposal looking toward the solution of this problem.

Tab B

Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 4


  • Tanks for Israel

I still think the best way to go ahead with this issue is to push any decision ahead of us. I think we should use Mike Feldman’s April visit to Israel as a reconnaissance in force, providing him with a detailed set of probing questions and comments, but carefully withholding any U.S. Government decision on the ground that such decision should await the meeting between President Johnson and Prime Minister Eshkol.

[Page 72]

In this same spirit I would now send out a White House directive to State, Defense, and CIA to review all aspects of this problem—tanks, missiles, Arab reactions, actual levels of Israeli procurement elsewhere, etc. etc., with the object of presenting a coordinated interdepartmental recommendation, with dissents, not later than May 1. I would plan to review this recommendation here, with Feldman, Komer, and myself participating, and then bring it to you for decision safely ahead of the Eshkol meeting.

McG. B.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, National Security Action Memorandums, NSAM 290. No classification marking. An attached brief memorandum from Bundy to Feldman proposed combining their papers on the tank issue. Feldman agreed in a handwritten note on Bundy’s memorandum.
  2. Johnson checked and initialed this option. A notation in Bundy’s handwriting requested Komer to draft a comprehensive NSAM to carry out the decision.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  4. Secret.