158. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Israeli Ambassador Rabin
  • Mr. Ephraim Evron
  • Mr. Walt Rostow
  • Mr. John Foster
[Page 314]

Ambassador Rabin called on Mr. Rostow to deliver a copy of a letter from Prime Minister Eshkol to the President.2 He had delivered the letter to the State Department earlier.

The Ambassador stated that since the June War, the USSR has almost completely rearmed the Arabs, and in some cases they have more and better equipment than before the war. In addition, the French have agreed to deliver Mirages to Iraq. Not only have the French refused to deliver previously promised Mirages to Israel, but Israel has received nothing from other sources. Logic does not govern in the Near East—even in Israel—and war could break out at any time. Therefore, Israel needs an immediate decision on Phantoms.

Mr. Rostow said that he had already read the letter. Because an agreement between Israel and Jordan appears to be one of the few hopes for peace, we are puzzled by Israeli activities, especially in Jerusalem. They can only make it harder for Hussein to conclude a separate peace. The President is very concerned about the long run prospects for Israel if peace proves impossible.

Ambassador Rabin said that Israel must be in a position to defend itself. In January it was agreed that the Arabs would be able to resume hostilities in eighteen months, so even the proposed Phantom delivery schedule would have the first aircraft arriving six months too late. Mr. Rostow corrected the ambassador, saying that it was agreed that the Arabs might be in such a position in eighteen months.

The Ambassador continued that Israel is doing its best to make it possible for Hussein to negotiate, but that he was unable to resist pressure from Nasser. He could say with assurance that Israel’s Jerusalem parade had not affected Hussein’s ability to negotiate. When Mr. Rostow said it affected the political atmosphere Rabin said that the strengthening of Prime Minister Talhouni in the recent cabinet shuffle was far more significant in limiting Hussein’s freedom of action.

The Ambassador returned to his main point: As the Arabs see Israel growing weaker, they become less inclined to make peace. Israel is weaker now-relative to the Arabs-than it was in June. The question, he said, is how finely a nation can cut its margin of security when its existence is at stake; “I’m sure your margin is far wider.”

Mr. Rostow promised to send the letter to the President immediately.

John W. Foster
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. IX, Cables and Memos, 3/68-5/68. Secret; Nodis.
  2. See Document 157.