150. Action Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Status of Your Decision on Aircraft for Israel

You will recall that, after your talk with Eshkol, you asked for three reports to determine how long you could keep open your decision on the 50 Phantoms. This is where we stand:

1.
Secretary McNamara reviewed production schedules and determined that you can delay your decision until December 31, 1968, and still begin delivering Phantoms to Israel in January 1970 at the rate of about four per month (Tab A).2 Defense might have to place orders this summer for long lead-time items, but they could be diverted to our own aircraft if you decided negatively.
2.

General Wheeler, after reviewing training requirements with General Hod, also reports that you can delay your decision until December 31. He has told the Israelis they must have candidates with [Page 297] English and electronics fundamentals ready to begin advanced training in the US in January 1969 (Tab B).3

The one hooker is in the training schedule. The Israelis agree with both of these judgments provided we plan only delivery at the rate of about four aircraft per month as they come off the production line. However, they haven’t given up arguing that the situation might be serious enough to require delivering 30 or 40 planes in January 1970, or even before. We could meet that contingency by diverting the planes from our own inventory, but Israeli technicians and pilots would not be ready.

3.
Dick Helms and the Defense Intelligence Agency still don’t see that situation in the cards. [3 lines of source text not declassified] Dick reports (Tab C)4 that the facts available to us and to the Israelis are essentially the same, and the Israelis have surfaced no new evidence that causes our intelligence community to alter its estimate significantly.

The reason the Israelis continue to press the gloomy picture despite our general agreement on facts is that they naturally take account of all possible enemy capabilities rather than relying on estimates of Arab and Soviet intentions. We’re not likely to be able to prove our estimates that the threat will continue to be manageable. The problem in trying to resolve this difference is that their more pessimistic estimate reflects not only their understandable concern for the worst they might face but also an effort to influence our policy.

Ambassador Rabin asked me some days ago “at Eshkol’s request” what the state of our decision is. With your permission, I propose simply to give Evron a low-key informal progress report on our staff work. I would say that you are keeping the mater under the active review you promised. That you have received the recommendations you asked for from General Wheeler, from the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence and that you have satisfied yourself that your option to begin delivering aircraft in early 1970 remains open. If we give Rabin a formal answer, he’ll have to report it, and Eshkol will probably put it in the most pessimistic light.

We are groping for some way to link this decision to specific progress toward a political settlement. I don’t believe we can bargain 50 planes for Israeli withdrawal. But we might find a time to use them in bargaining for a marginal shift in Israel’s tactical position that might [Page 298] give negotiations a boost, if we can ever get negotiations started. Therefore, I don’t believe there is any reason to rush your decision, but we will stay on top of it as you promised Eshkol.

Walt

OK to tell Evron 5

Better not to answer at all

Call me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. IX, Cables and Memos, 3/68-5/68. Secret. A handwritten note indicates that the memorandum was received at 6:02 p.m.
  2. See Document 71.
  3. Not attached. A copy of this February 14 memorandum from Wheeler to McNamara is in the Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 72 A 1499, 353 Israel.
  4. Reference is to an April 10 memorandum from Helms to Walt Rostow on the subject of U.S. and Israeli estimates on the Middle East. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. IX, Cables and Memos, 3/68-5/68)
  5. President Johnson checked this option.