9. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1
- Arab-Israel Problems—1964
We face a difficult and challenging year in the Near East. The Soviets are actively seeking to recoup their recent setbacks. Turmoil in the Arab States has sharpened tensions among themselves and vis-a-vis Israel. Israel is increasingly anxious about its future security. What is more, our own interests are steadily more caught up in the area, because of Europe’s growing dependence on reasonable access to Middle East oil, our needs for strategic transit and communications, the importance of blocking Soviet advances, and our other stakes in peace in the region.
I foresee a series of issues in the coming months that could severely strain our position and our influence in the area. The most important of these are:
- — Arab reactions to Israeli diversion of Jordan waters (the toughest of all);
- — Israeli nuclear potential implied by completion of the Dimona reactor;
- — the future of Palestine refugees and of UNRWA;
- — threats of increased and sophisticated armaments;
- — conflicts between Arab governments and Western oil companies.
We have learned over the years that the key to a constructive Near Eastern policy is maintaining a balance in our relationships with the Arabs and Israel. This has never been easy. In our interest, but also in Israel’s, we have been at pains during the past three years to build fruitful ties with the Arabs. In 1964, as never before, we will need our Arab relationships to weather the storms likely to be aroused by the issues I have listed.
I believe we shall need to make a heavy investment of U.S. prestige in 1964 in support of Israel against Arab resentments on several of these issues. Actions we propose to take, with your approval, to limit adverse effects of the Jordan waters diversion, Dimona, refugees, and the arms race are discussed in Enclosure 1.[Page 18]
As to Israel’s estimates of its military defense needs, which preoccupy its leaders and shape their current view of U.S.-Israel relations, we face decisions on what the U.S. should do and when. Israel has asked us to furnish it five hundred tanks under the Military Assistance Program. Prime Minister Eshkol also wrote to President Kennedy that Israel needs assistance in obtaining naval equipment and missiles. In fact, Israel seeks ever closer military and political identification with us. We are looking at ways to help it meet its most critical problems. However, we see its needs in a broader context. In the past, consistent with our policy of refusing to become a major supplier of offensive weapons to states likely to be involved in an Arab-Israel war, we have encouraged Israel to fill its requirements for such weapons in Europe. It has done so. Israel has both public and private assurances of our commitment to its integrity and security. In mid-1963, a JCS review of our military capability to respond to possible aggression against Israel2 completely satisfied President Kennedy that we could deploy to meet any potential threat within 30 hours. He so informed Prime Minister Eshkol. What is more, the Arabs have shown they are well aware of both our intentions and our capabilities to deter and stop aggression. In our view, this reduces the need for Israel to press far and fast toward weapons escalation that would almost certainly throw the Arabs closer into the arms of the Soviets.
While Israel’s increased vulnerability in the field of armor will not become critical for the next year or two, or perhaps longer, there may be an earlier psychological requirement to assure Israel that its armor needs will be met in time. Otherwise, we are likely to be subjected to a strong Israeli pressure campaign and renewed demands for a security guarantee. On the other hand, we may want to time any arms deal with Israel so as to avoid additional Arab antagonism just when we are taking a pro-Israeli stand on the Jordan Waters.
It is also essential to use the steps we take to aid Israel as leverage to achieve greater Israeli cooperation in matters of importance to us. For example, we are greatly concerned lest in response to the UAR’s so-called missiles, which we see as of no military significance, Israel acquire much better missiles in quantity from France. Aside from the drain on Israeli funds (which could otherwise be used to buy tanks), this would enhance Arab fears of a nuclear arms race and might create dangerous repercussions. So we may want to use our help on Israel’s tank problem to get Israel to forego (or sharply limit) any missile buildup.[Page 19]
The problems, our approach to them, and suggestions about what we might do for Israel are discussed in detail in the enclosures.3
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. I. Secret. The memorandum bears no drafting information, but another copy indicates that it was drafted by Talbot. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL ARAB–ISR)↩
- Text of JCSM–611–63, August 7, 1963, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XVIII, Document 308.↩
- Enclosure 2, unsigned and undated, entitled “Actions To Reassure Israel: 1964,” is not printed.↩
- Text of the statement, which President Kennedy made at a news conference on May 8, 1963, is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 373.↩
- Reference is to a letter from Kennedy given to Eshkol on October 3, 1963; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XVIII, Document 332.↩
- For a memorandum of Kennedy’s meeting with Ben Gurion on May 30, 1961, see ibid., vol. XVII, Document 57.↩
- United States supported the 1961 appointment of a Special Representative of the UN Palestine Conciliation Commission (PCC) to conduct indirect negotiations between Israel and the Arab states toward a resolution of the Palestinian refugee question. After meeting with Arab and Israeli leaders, Special Representative Joseph E. Johnson submitted his proposals to the PCC on August 31, 1962. For an August 7, 1962, memorandum from Rusk to Kennedy summarizing the background of the initiative and Johnson’s proposals, see ibid., vol. XVIII, Document 15. Extensive documentation concerning the initiative is ibid., volumes XVII and XVIII.↩