387. Letter From Secretary of State Rusk to Secretary of Defense McNamara 1

Dear Bob:

The Israelis, as you know, have asked to send a high-level military team to Washington to discuss their security concerns and their needs, as they see them, for additional military equipment.

I believe we are all agreed that a decision on providing new arms to Israel must be looked at most carefully in the context of the over-all situation in the Middle East and of Congressional views on the shipment of arms to areas of conflict. At the same time, there are several factors which make protracted inaction worrisome, including the Soviet resupply of the radical Arab states and the vociferous militancy of the Algerians and Syrians. Even assuming that the Soviets do not want their clients to become involved in a new round with the Israelis, I do not believe we can completely rule out the possibility of an early military strike against Israel by one or a combination of radical Arab states. A related possibility is that the Algerians and Syrians may attempt to carry out their threat to launch guerrilla attacks against Israel.

For these reasons I think it behooves us to adopt an understanding posture vis-à-vis the Israelis and to listen soon to their views in this matter. I would therefore like to recommend to the President that he authorize us to receive the military team which the Israelis want to send to [Page 712] Washington. I hope you will concur in this recommendation, which is set forth in the enclosed memorandum to the President2.

Whatever the final decision may be in this respect, it would be most useful to have an early estimate by the Joint Chiefs of the radical Arabs’ ability to launch and Israel’s capacity to withstand a surprise attack in the immediate future. I suggest that the estimate cover the guerrilla warfare contingency as well. If you agree, I would appreciate your asking the Joint Chiefs to undertake this study on an urgent basis.3

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 72A 2468, Israel 400. Secret; Exclusive Distribution. Received in the Office of the Secretary of Defense on July 24 at 9:29 a.m.
  2. The draft memorandum is attached but not printed. Katzenbach sent a slightly revised memorandum to the President on August 8. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. IX)
  3. Nitze replied on July 29 agreeing with the recommendation and suggesting that the Israeli team should be invited to come to Washington in early September. He had requested a USIB assessment of the Arab threat to Israel and USIB and JCS analyses of Israel’s ability to withstand such a threat, and he recommended that they should not receive the Israeli military spokesmen until they had those assessments and had time to reflect on them. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 19–8 US–ISR)