11. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel 1

82331. 1. Ambassador Harman called on Assistant Secretary Battle December 7 to present GOI study2 updating data and rationale for Israeli aircraft request presented by General Weizman in September. Summarizing highlights of study, Harman made following points:

Study points up seriousness of Soviet resupply of Arabs in terms of quantity, quality and strike capacity of Arab airforces. For example, UAR, Syria, Iraq and Algeria now have 550 fighter aircraft and 62 bombers against total of about 155 for Israel;
Concept of joint air operations against Israel now incorporated into Arab planning, and Israel must assume it would in future face coordinated Arab air attack; and
Arab air bases have increased in number and have been rendered less vulnerable to attack.

2. Harman said that, while Weizman had made clear his request looked to future and not based on fear of imminent attack, latest information on Arab capabilities, coupled with increasingly bellicose Arab statements, now gave request added sense of urgency. Any indications [Page 24] of Israeli weakness would encourage attack. Israel therefore needed additional aircraft to provide credible deterrent or, in event irrational Arab actions in face of such deterrent, to assure its survival. Further factor was French arms policy which not only deprived Israel of aircraft it had already contracted for but, if latest press reports re lifting of French embargo for Iraq were correct, indicated Iraq might get planes originally intended for Israel. Harman said two schools of thought existed in Arab world, one favoring resort to force and other urging moderation. Israel needed strength to convince Arabs that force would not work. This would bolster moderates and contribute to success of Jarring mission.

3. Battle asked if Israel was convinced French would not deliver on Mirage contract. Harman said he feared this was the case. In any event Israel must now base its planning on assumption it would get no aircraft from France. In response further question from Battle, Harman said Israel had found no possibility of obtaining Mirage aircraft through third countries. Further disturbing factor was new info that Soviets to supply Arabs all-weather MIG-23’s in 1968.

4. Harman stressed that Weizman request looking toward inventory of 250 modern aircraft by late 1968 had shaved margin very fine. That request had assumed French would deliver, and failure receive Mirages would thus aggravate already serious situation. Harman said he detected tendency in USG to overrate Israeli ability and hoped we would not give Israel benefit of too many doubts. In response Battle comment that we based our assessment on past Israeli performance, Harman said that previous success had come from knocking out Arab airforces on ground. Arabs were aware of this and now planning accordingly. Fifty planes could literally make difference between life and death of Israel.

5. Battle commented that we shared Israeli concern about Soviet resupply and other activities in area and were watching them carefully. We did not believe Soviet resupply had brought Arab forces above pre-war levels or had altered their basic nature. Views might differ on relative strengths of Arab and Israeli forces and we might not agree with Israeli assessment, but we remained sensitive to Israel’s security needs. Weizman’s request was receiving urgent consideration and we hoped to have reply soon.

6. Battle said we were particularly concerned about arrival of Soviet bombers in Egypt and about Soviet airlift of equipment to Yemen. Re former, we had no indications that bombers to remain in Egypt permanently, but if such visits became a pattern this was nevertheless a serious development. Harman asked whether we had considered raising this question at high level with Soviets. Battle said we had not. On other hand, we had raised arms control problem in general with Soviets on number of occasions. We were not discussing this subject with [Page 25] Soviets at the moment but wouldn’t rule out possibility should right moment come.

7. Re Yemen, Harman thought situation difficult for Soviets whose only access was by air. He speculated that advantage lay with those who had strength on ground and thought Royalists therefore might have upper hand. This was factor which various forces in Yemen should be able to exploit.

8. Turning to new subject and emphasizing that he knew Israeli views and did not expect Harman to comment, Battle said Israel should know that we still had question of arms for Jordan under consideration. We had not reached decision, and if we did decide go forward, it would be on modest scale. We had evidence, however, that Soviets were prepared to provide Jordan anything it wanted. Situation in Jordan was extremely delicate and we would need to come to decision in next few weeks. In response Harman’s question whether Jordan exploring France as source of supply, Battle said there had been some talk of this but to best our knowledge it had gotten nowhere and French had in fact made no offer to Jordanians.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 12-5 ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Atherton and approved by Battle. Repeated to Amman, USUN, London, Moscow, Paris, and Cairo.
  2. A copy of this study was given by Harman to Deputy Secretary of Defense Nitze when he discussed the issue with him on December 8. A memorandum of Harman’s conversation with Nitze is in the Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 71 A 4919, 333 Israel. The study is ibid., OSD Files: FRC 72 A 2468, 452 Israel.