15. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Katzenbach to President Johnson 1


  • Arms for Jordan and Israel

The attached memorandum (concurred in by Rusk and McNamara) sets out alternative courses of action for dealing with the priority arms problem in the Middle East.2 We have deliberately given you these various options, although I am sure you will recognize that the choices on Jordan are narrow indeed.

It may be useful to you, in making this difficult decision, to have my views on how you might play it—particularly in light of the potential domestic problems.

Israel has asked for 27 A-4 Skyhawk aircraft, to be delivered in 1969. (These are in addition to the 48 Skyhawks now scheduled for delivery in 1968). It has also asked for 50 F-4 Phantom jets, to be delivered in 1969–70.

The military balance is in Israel’s favor and should remain so for at least a year. But I believe there is a legitimate Israeli concern about their continued air superiority beyond 1968.

King Hussein is pressing hard for some arms deliveries—both as evidence of our continued support and to meet minimum equipment needs for his defeated army.

Hussein’s position is threatened by his efforts in favor of a settlement, his association—in Arab eyes—with the West, and his resistance to attractive Soviet arms offers.

If it can be done without endangering Israel’s security, it is in our national interest—as well as Israel’s—to avoid further substantial US arms commitments until we know more about the chances for a negotiated settlement.

I therefore conclude that: [Page 30]

The US should tell Hussein before Christmas that we are willing to supply certain of Jordan’s minimum requirements. But doing something for Jordan, no matter how little, will almost certainly be strenuously opposed by Israel. This will mean some political trouble for you on the domestic front.
We must give some indication now to the Israelis on how we propose to deal with their requests. We should:
  • —assure Israel that a delay in committing ourselves to sell them A-4s does not mean that the 1969–70 delivery date would slip (assuming we decide to go ahead with the sale);
  • —indicate that the US would be prepared to divert F-4s from other contracts in order to meet a clearly demonstrated Israeli need (i.e., French cancellation of Mirage deliveries; delivery of substantial numbers of Mirages to the Arabs, escalation of Soviet aircraft supplies to Arabs).
In terms of dealing with the domestic situation here, and the likely Israeli reaction to our moving on Jordan, I do not believe we should tell the Israelis more than the foregoing. By withholding firm word on our intentions until Eshkol’s visit in February, we may be able to dampen Israeli opposition to Jordan sales.

Nicholas deB. Katzenbach
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. I, 6/65–3/68. Secret.
  2. Attached was a December 11 memorandum from Katzenbach to President Johnson, with the same subject heading. The memorandum laid out to greater length the policy options and recommendations and posed the option of whether the President wanted the Department to proceed with consultations with Israel and Jordan on the basis of those recommendations. There is no indication on either memorandum of the President’s response.