8. Memorandum of Conversation Between the Israeli Ambassador (Harman) and the President’s Deputy Special Counsel (Feldman)1
I had lunch with Ambassador Harman and he used the occasion to renew the plea for surface-to-surface missiles, tanks and naval weapons.
He referred to the fact that he had discussed this with Mr. Bundy and that he had been disturbed by the reaction he had received. He said that Mr. Bundy kept directing the conversation to the missile [Page 16] question and strongly urged that Israel deny itself surface-to-surface missiles. Ambassador Harman said that if this was the position of the United States Government the conversations would probably be unproductive, for Israel must reserve the right to decide what weapons it needs to protect itself.
I said that we were not attempting to structure Israeli defense forces, but the question presented to us fell into three categories:
- What type of weapons should we make available to Israel? Our analysis indicated that neither missiles nor naval weapons were necessary, but we were actively considering a request for tanks.
- Assuming we agreed to make tanks available, what kind of tank could be provided? Here there was some question as to whether or not we could export M–60s and whether or not anti-tank weapons would not also be useful. This determination was largely a Defense Department matter.
- Assuming Israel accepted the tanks, we had the problem of payment terms. It was in this connection that Mr. Bundy made the valid comment that before we modified the terms on which military equipment was normally sold we had a right to know whether Israel could afford to pay regular prices at regular terms. The only way to make this determination was to examine the purposes for which the defense budget was being used. If Israel was expending money for useless equipment, we had a right to demand that such expenditures be curtailed and the funds diverted to tanks before offering special assistance in the purchase of tanks. Similarly, if Israel was using its defense budget in a manner that would heighten the arms race or increase the prospect of war, we had a right to request that these funds be diverted to the purchase of tanks before modifying the normal purchase terms for military equipment.
Ambassador Harman found this difficult to understand. He pointed out that Egypt already had surface-to-surface missiles, and we had agreed that they would have at least 500 of these within 4 years (Israeli intelligence said they would have 900 to 1,000). Israel would be at a serious disadvantage, he said, if they could not have at least 100 missiles.
I asked specifically whether Israel had an agreement to purchase missiles from France. He said he did not know.
Ambassador Harman concluded the discussion by urging that we send Prime Minister Eshkol a prompt response. He said this was promised in the letter from the President delivered by Mr. Shriver and was eagerly awaited. Time was extremely important to him and to his Government. I said he would have to understand that the subject was complex and that it took some time to develop the United States position, but I assured him we were proceeding as expeditiously as possible.