4. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1


  • Your meeting with Messrs. Feinberg and Ginsburgh2

I am attaching two memos on the Israeli aid package3 for your reference. The first (Tab A)4 is the full description of the package. The second (Tab B)5 is a note describing the disadvantages of urging the Israelis to buy the Italian-made version of our APC.

You will know how far you want to go in discussing this package with them. Ambassador Harman has simply been told that the package “will substantially meet their requests.”6

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I have put to Gene7 the question of sending the Vice President to Israel and Egypt.8 LukeBattle thinks it’s a good idea, but Secretary Rusk may not agree. However, we cannot decide until the Egyptians come through on their promise to get our AID fellows out of jail in Yemen9 and until the threat of war between Israel and Syria lessens.

In hearing their report on their trip to Israel, you may want to ask whether they have any feeling for Eshkol’s intention to attack Syria. Border tension mounted sharply over the weekend after Eshkol and the Israeli Chief of Staff threatened an attack if terrorist raids from Syria into Israel continue. The UAR has ostentatiously put its forces on alert.

We sympathize with Eshkol’s need to stop these raids and reluctantly admit that a limited attack may be his only answer. However, without preaching, you would be justified in letting these gentlemen know that a miscalculation causing a Mid-East blow-up right now would make life awfully hard for you. We want to make Eshkol think twice without giving him cause to blame us for holding him back if events later prove that a limited attack now would have been the best answer.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VI. Confidential.
  2. The President’s Daily Diary indicates that he met from 11:30 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. on May 16 with New York banker Abraham Feinberg and Washington attorney David Ginsburg, who were to report on their trips to Israel. (Johnson Library) No record of the meeting has been found.
  3. A package of military and economic assistance to Israel had been under discussion for several weeks; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XVIII, Documents 414 and 416.
  4. Tab A was not found attached.
  5. Tab B was a brief memorandum of May 12 from Harold Saunders of the NSC Staff to Rostow, with an attached memorandum dated May 1 from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs Townsend Hoopes to Rostow and another dated April 17 from Secretary of Defense McNamara to the President. For text of the McNamara memorandum, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XVIII, Document 405.
  6. A note attached to a May 15 memorandum from Saunders to Rostow on the Israel-Syria-UAR tension states that Battle said this to Harman at their meeting that morning, making clear that the decision had been made before the border tension. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. 1)
  7. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Eugene V. Rostow.
  8. A May 15 memorandum from Saunders to Rostow commented on a possible vice-presidential visit to the Middle East, arguing that if the situation cooled off, a high-level meeting with UAR President Nasser might clear the air in U.S.-UAR relations. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Saunders Memos)
  9. Two Americans at the AlD mission in Yemen had been jailed in April on charges of attempting to destroy the city of Taiz; they were released on May 17. For information concerning this episode, see the Yemen compilation in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXI; see also ibid., vol. XVIII, Document 417.