56. Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (McNaughton) to Secretary of Defense McNamara 1

I–24,361/64

SUBJECT

  • Tanks for Israel
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There will be a meeting at the White House at 1130 today to discuss this subject.

Problem. To determine whether to send a mission (Mike Feldman, of the President’s Staff and Sloan) to Tel Aviv to advise Prime Minister Eshkol of the U.S. decision on tanks; and to consider a proposed “talking paper” for the mission (Tab A).2

Discussion. Upon return of Komer and Sloan from Europe,3 and after your report of conversation with Minister Von Hassel,4 a letter from the President to Mr. Eshkol was drafted, advising that the U.S. could not supply tanks but that European sources would.5 The President indicated that he preferred to send a personal messenger since the answer was to be essentially negative, provided we had sufficiently firm British and German positions on the sale of tanks to inform Eshkol that his needs could be met.

The British have decided they are willing to sell; both Centurions to be fitted with 105mm guns, and new Chieftains further on. Denis Greenhill advised Mac Bundy of this decision orally on Thursday6 and promised a written message to confirm by today.

The Germans are experiencing considerably more difficulty. Ambassador McGhee reported by telephone to Komer on Thursday that Erhard, Schroeder and Von Hassel all continue to remain negative.7 Von Hassel continues to be concerned about problem of replacing M–48s sold to Israel by the FRG; and the Foreign Office is very concerned about Arab antagonisms and the question of Arab recognition of the East Germans.

McGhee had a meeting with Schroeder scheduled for today, and a further cable was sent to him yesterday on the subject (Tab B).8 His answer should be available by the time of the meeting this morning. We may then determine whether the mission should be sent to Tel Aviv.

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A negative answer from Bonn will throw a cloud on the British deal also, because they wish the U.S. and/or the FRG to share the political heat. Besides the Israelis least prefer the Centurion which has a range of only 120 miles. They want as many M–48A3s as possible.

There is the further problem that no final decision has been made by the President that the U.S. will provide the retrofit kits (105mm guns and diesel engines) to convert the German M–48s to M–48A3s. Mac Bundy and Phil Talbot take the position that we must be responsive on this, but the supply would be through the FRG and not direct from U.S. to Israel.

Recommendations

1.
We should send the mission to Tel Aviv only if we have a reasonably affirmative answer from the Germans. Otherwise a Presidential letter is preferable.
2.
We should agree to furnish retrofit kits for any M–48s which the FRG sells to Israel, provided the Germans will act as a channel for the sale of guns and engines also, and it is not a direct sale to Israel by the U.S.
3.
Approve the proposed “talking paper” for the mission (Tab A).
John T. McNaughton
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1266, Israel 470 Secret; Eyes Only. A stamped notation on the memorandum states that McNamara saw it on May 16.
  2. Tab A, entitled “Feldman Talking Paper,” dated May 13, is a draft of Document 55; see footnote 1 thereto.
  3. Sloan and Komer conducted discussions May 3–8 with officials in London and Bonn concerning the possibility of Israel’s purchase of tanks. Reports on their mission are in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Tanks, Vol. I and in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 12–5 ISR.
  4. Reports of McNamara’s discussion of tanks for Israel with German Defense Minister von Hassel and Chancellor Erhard on May 9 and 12 are ibid.
  5. The draft letter is filed with a May 12 memorandum from Jernegan to Talbot. (Ibid.)
  6. The conversation is recorded in a May 15 memorandum by Komer. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Tanks, Vol. I)
  7. The telephone conversation is recorded in a May 14 memorandum by Komer. (Ibid.)
  8. Tab B is a copy of telegram 3242 to Bonn, May 15. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 12 ISR)