439. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1
- Weizman’s Position on Missiles
As you know, we have been after the Israelis and the Egyptians since about 1964 to persuade them not to introduce more sophisticated weapons into the Middle East arms race.
We decided before General Weizman came that we ought to use his visit as an occasion for continuing this dialogue. We had Wally Barbour warn him that we wanted to hear his views on this subject, and Weizman presumably cleared his position with Eshkol before coming.
In sum, his answer to our probing was that Israel is merely keeping itself in a position to go into missiles, if it has to, to counter a similar Arab move. But Weizman insisted that “nothing is imminent.”
We tried to find out whether there was any specific Israeli contract with France for the delivery or serial production of the missiles France has been developing for Israel. He answered that Israel’s contract with France is “quite flexible” and repeated that nothing was imminent.
Weizman does not see the surface-to-surface missile as a militarily important weapon. He made quite clear that aircraft would rank ahead of missiles on any Israeli priority list. Missiles, in his view, would only have value as “deterrence in kind.” If Nasser acquired this kind of weapon, it might be essential for Israel to have a similar weapon simply to frighten Nasser from using his.
Despite more of an exchange on this subject than we were able to have with Weizman in 1965, his statement was obviously guarded. Our discussion was a significant one, but I would not regard it as the last word on the subject. I simply want you to be up to date on this aspect of our arms relationship, since some people in State are strongly inclined to make a prohibition against missiles a condition for our selling aircraft.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VII. Secret.↩