472. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1

SUBJECT

  • Exceptions to the Military Supply Freeze for the Middle East

Recommendation:

That you authorize us, subject to satisfactory consultation with key members of the Congress, to proceed with a selective relaxation of the current freeze on arms shipments to Israel and the moderate Arab states along the lines outlined below.2

Discussion:

It has become increasingly difficult to maintain the very tight restrictions on the shipment of military equipment to the Near East and North Africa, which we imposed during the June hostilities. Great pressure is being put on us by Israel as well as the Arab states which maintain—and want to continue to maintain—friendly relations with us, to ease the freeze so they can meet their legitimate defense needs. The Soviets have slowed down in the pace of their rearmament of the radical Arab states, including the UAR, but are continuing their arms shipments to them. The Soviets are also undoubtedly interested in a possible breakthrough by arms sales on easy terms to some of the moderate Arab states which have hitherto resisted buying arms from them. Our arms freeze has served a useful purpose, but with the passage of time, we feel a need now for some relaxation.

  • —The Israeli Ambassador has made a very sharp plea for our lifting the suspension on shipments to Israel. The $3 million exception which you authorized in August helped for a brief period. Now Israel’s arms maintenance facilities and defense-support industries are severely hampered by lack of parts and other supplies needed from the United States. The Israelis fear that a continued U.S. suspension could encourage the French not to go ahead with delivery of fifty Mirage V aircraft [Page 903]scheduled to begin in November, as well as other equipment. Sharp concern over the effects of our arms freeze to Israel has also been voiced to us by a number of Senators and Representatives, as well as in correspondence from the public. We believe the time has now come to confirm to the Israelis that we will go ahead with the previously agreed delivery schedule on our 48 A4H aircraft, for which agreements were signed in 1966, beginning with delivery of the first four in December. We should also now approve pending Israeli requests for the delivery of a variety of spare parts, components, and miscellaneous supplies (involving no major combat end-items); these items may total in the neighborhood of $30 million, mostly in cash sales but some on credit previously extended. We would, however, continue to defer for the time being on the new $14 million spare parts credit sales program and the 100 APC’s authorized by you in May, as well as the recent Israeli request for further deliveries of new aircraft which we are now studying.
  • —As we relax our freeze to Israel, we should also take steps to protect our important interests in the moderate Arab world. Our failure to meet insistent demands to carry out agreements previously concluded for the supply of military equipment would be particularly dangerous if word gets out on our deliveries to Israel. We have in mind nothing that we have not already agreed to, and nothing involving any further new USG credit at least until Congressional uncertainties on this score are resolved.
  • —For the countries in the vicinity of Israel, we recommend going ahead with: (a) deliveries of communications gear and some air navigation equipment to Lebanon (totaling under $4 million in cash sales); and (b) with the existing air defense and transportation-communications supply programs in Saudi Arabia (contracts totaling about $130 million over a number of years, which we would not wish to lose), plus cash sales of pistols for the Saudi police and miscellaneous spares and support equipment (involving no major end-items) for the military. The equipment involved for these two countries does not have a high political “visibility” from the outside but its supply would be an important confirmation to the Lebanese and especially to the Saudi government that we want to continue our good relationship with them.
  • —Jordan is a special case. We remain intensely interested in having Jordan retain its general pro-West orientation. But its active participation in the fighting against Israel, together with King Hussein’s seeming interest in keeping open an option to get Soviet arms, involves policy and Congressional problems for us. We will recommend no action on the arms freeze to Jordan at least until the results of Hussein’s recent visit to Moscow, become clearer.
  • —For the North African countries also affected by our arms freeze, we see a need to proceed with previously agreed programs in Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya. The Moroccans and Tunisians believe they must have a deterrent capability in view of the large-scale Soviet arms deliveries to Algeria. For the Libyans, our making good on our supply commitment is a vital factor in the negotiations over Wheelus. These countries are following a relatively moderate policy with respect to a possible political accommodation with Israel. The key items involved are six F–5’s to Morocco remaining under a 1965 agreement (combination of grant and sale) and the cash sale of ten F–5’s to Libya under a contract, signed on May 1, 1967. We would begin an F–86 training program for Tunisia, anticipating the delivery at a later stage of twelve aircraft under a MAP program agreed to in April 1967.

In recent discussions initiated by Ambassador Harman on Israel’s requests, our officials have indicated to him what we were thinking of as necessary exceptions on our arms freeze to the Arabs, as outlined above.

Ambassador Harman stressed that his primary concern is in lifting the suspension for Israel; expressed particular concern over arms shipments to Jordan—which he pointed out were not being considered at this particular moment; and said he would convey to us any comments the Israeli Government might have. It is our belief the Israelis will not seek to cause any trouble for the Administration if you approve the exceptions for the Arabs which we recommend.

We recognize the continued delicacy of the Congressional situation on the arms supply issue. We had hoped, as you know, to defer relaxation of our arms freeze until the foreign aid legislation was enacted. In view of the unexpected delays on the Hill, however, we believe we should not wait any longer. We therefore wish to explain our situation to Congressional leaders and then proceed promptly with the limited program summarized above and outlined in some greater detail in the enclosed sheets.3

Dean Rusk4
Robert S. McNamara
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 12–5 ISR. Secret. A handwritten note on the memorandum by Deputy Executive Secretary John P. Walsh reads: “Approved by Secy Rusk, Secy McNamara, & the President, 10/13/67. JPW.” An October 16 memorandum from Saunders to Rostow with an attached copy of the memorandum indicates that the President approved it at the 11 a.m. meeting on October 13. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. I)
  2. Neither the approve nor disapprove option is checked.
  3. Separate pages with recommendations for Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Libya follow. All include options to check approval or disapproval; none is checked.
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates Rusk signed the original.