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

SUBJECT

  • Arms for Jordan and Israel

The attached memos from Nick Katzenbach 2 lay out the trickiest Mid-East arms decisions we face—Jordan and Israel.

We don’t believe we can string King Hussein along much longer. A Soviet economic delegation with a few military members is in Jordan now. The King feels he has to give his army some assurance that US equipment will be available or consider Soviet offers.

Nick thinks we should do something before Christmas. He recommends a small package from pre-war programs (roughly $6.5 in spares, automotive and commo gear, some anti-tank guns and ammo). He knows the Israelis won’t like this, but says it won’t affect the arms balance. He proposes letting the key members of Congress know what we plan to do and then informing King Hussein.3

That would leave us with the problem of how to handle Israeli aircraft requests. As you know, they’ve asked for (a) 27 additional A-4 Skyhawks to be delivered in 1969 on top of the 48 that will be delivered in 1968 and (b) 50 F-4 Phantoms for delivery in 1969-70.

The questions with Israel are not so much “whether” but “when” and “how many.”

In principle, Secretaries Rusk and McNamara believe we should go ahead with the 27 additional Skyhawks to replace Israel’s war losses and provide a margin of safety. They do not believe we have to decide on the 50 Phantoms until later in 1968 since the Arab-Israeli military balance today is at least as favorable to Israel as it was on June 5.

Nick would prefer not to give the Israelis a definite answer now because he does not want to do anything to jeopardize Ambassador [Page 38] Jarring’s peacemaking mission or trigger a new round of Arab demands on Moscow. He would like to hold off at least until Eshkol’s visit in early February. To meet predictable Israeli pressures, he’d assure them that we can’t decide for another month or two but we will take steps to be sure that this delay will not delay eventual delivery of the aircraft if we go ahead. He would also say that, if the military balance tips sharply against Israel, we would be prepared to divert aircraft from other contracts to meet Israel’s needs quickly.

The alternative is to go ahead with 27 Skyhawks now to balance our move with Jordan. With the substantial Soviet resupply to the Arabs over the summer, no one could argue seriously that 27 aircraft to Israel would upset chances for peace. The Israeli pressure is beginning to build up here.

Therefore, the following decisions are before you:

1.

Can we go ahead with a limited program for Jordan in the next week or two, after appropriate Congressional consultation?

Yes

No

Hold for discussion4

2.
If so, which is the better way to handle the Israelis?
  • —Delay decision but assure Israelis our delay won’t delay delivery?5
  • —Or tell the Israelis now we’ll go ahead with the 27 additional Skyhawks and talk about the rest later?

This situation is complex enough that you may want to talk it over with Secretaries Rusk and McNamara and Nick Katzenbach before your decide. However, this will give you a chance to consider the problem beforehand.

Hold for discussion6

Walt
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. I, 6/65-3/68. Secret.
  2. Reference is to the two December 11 memoranda from Katzenbach to the President; see Document 15 and footnote 2 thereto.
  3. Rostow sent another memorandum to President Johnson on December 13 in which he noted that Assistant Secretary Battle had been summoned to testify before the Middle East subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Rostow asked if Battle could inform the subcommittee of administration thinking about pressures to respond to requests from Israel and Jordan for arms. Johnson responded: “Just say no decision on acct Cong aid provisions etc.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. I, 6/65-3/68)
  4. President Johnson checked this option.
  5. President Johnson checked this option.
  6. President Johnson checked this option.