445. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1
- Comment on Evron’s Talk with Harry McPherson2
On Evron’s first point—suspicion in the Jewish community about our position before June 5—I should think these straightforward comments would suffice: (1) There was no question at any point before or during the war that we would have let Israel be seriously hurt or destroyed. (2) We made a serious effort to prevent the war. (3) Israel in the end did not ask us for help; it is to Israel’s advantage and ours that it handled this problem entirely on its own. (4) These statements fairly represent thinking at the policy-making levels of our government and far outweigh all the later talk at professional levels about what our commitment to Israel was or wasn’t.
On Evron’s second point—that we are holding Israel at arms length until she changes her position toward the Arabs—I think we can make a categorical denial, but this would be worth discussing with Secretary McNamara. We have clamped down hard on all military shipments to the Middle East since the war. But we have repeatedly and, I think, quite honestly told the Israelis privately that since early July our aid freeze had been for one purpose only—not rocking the boat during the extremely touchy Congressional debate over military sales. We’ve reviewed the freeze several times (chronology attached)3 but each time accepted Secretary McNamara’s judgment that we shouldn’t move until the military aid bill was safe, though we did let $3 million go to Israel to tide them over if they’d help on the Hill.
It is admittedly true that we do not want to make decisions on any new major military sales to Israel until we’ve worked out a comprehensive arms policy for the whole area. The Senior Interdepartmental Group has already requested a recommendation for you by 1 November. But I feel that is a separate issue beyond the freeze on past programs because you could not approve any recommendation that [Page 843] reneged on past promises to Israel. However, others may not agree with me, and if I’m wrong Evron may have a point.
Two things have irked the Israelis: (1) that our freeze applies to all items with a military application—even those which they want to buy commercially for cash like the Piper Cubs Evron mentioned to Harry; and (2) that no one in the USG will promise that the freeze will end when the aid bill passes.
As I see it, the way to dampen Israeli suspicions would be to do now some combination of the following: (1) quietly to lift the freeze on items to be bought for cash from commercial suppliers (probably less than $20 million); and (2) to say secretly but officially that we will lift the suspension on other items from past deals in which USG money is involved as soon as (a) the aid authorization bill becomes law or (b) the aid appropriation is passed. Even (1) by itself would help. At the same time I would relax the suspension on a few comparable items for a couple of friendly Arab states.
This action would in no way pre-empt the basic policy study of our longer-term Mid-East arms policy. That would continue to concentrate on future arms transfers. This decision would affect only a limited number of long-approved transactions now frozen. Nor would this action undercut our line with the Congress that we continue to act with the utmost restraint.
You wouldn’t want to do this without talking again with Bob McNamara. If you are concerned enough about mounting Israeli feeling, I would suggest putting this subject on our next Tuesday lunch agenda. I had planned to re-open the question at the first Tuesday lunch after the Congressional conference on the aid bill ended. But now that is going to hang over until early October, and the appropriations process will reach into November. We held the Israelis off with the $3 million in early August on the assumption that we might be able to raise the freeze some time in early September (although we made no promises). Now that the pressure is mounting, it might be worth taking another reading.
Put it on the Tuesday agenda4
P.S. I think Evron’s mention of the “hold-up” on licenses for the $3 million we have released is unfair. Actually, the Israelis themselves in making up their own list put on some items with a long lead time and [Page 844] have since asked to shift to some that are more immediately available. Whatever delay that may have caused is their fault since Defense accepted their list just as they wrote it.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VII. Secret.↩
- A memorandum of September 20 from McPherson to the President reporting on a conversation that day with Evron is attached. A notation in President Johnson’s handwriting on McPherson’s memorandum reads: “Walt. Give me your reaction & comment. L.”↩
- The attached chronology, undated, begins with the NSC Special Committee decisions of June 8 and 14 on the suspension of all military shipments to the Middle East and continues with points at which aspects of this issue were considered.↩
- This option is checked.↩