196. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Battle) to Secretary of State Rusk 1

SUBJECT

  • Israel and the MD-620 Missile

Discussion

In the general consideration of Israel’s request for F-4s, I recall that the Israelis have never really been forthright with us in discussing their own planning on the introduction of the MD-620 surface-to-surface missiles that are being built under contract in France. Despite several probes last fall (e.g. our questioning of Brig. Gen. Ezer Weizman, Chief of Operations, Israeli Defense Forces, and a subsequent approach to Prime Minister Eshkol), all we have been told is that an Israeli decision on moving from development to production of the MD-620s was not imminent and that Israel had not determined the role SSMs might play in its overall military posture. A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official told our Charge that Prime Minister Eshkol believed we were carrying our inquiries in this field too far. We were advised to ask again in “18-24 months” (Weizman) or “two to three years” (Eshkol). The US intelligence community, however, indicates that an initial operational capability of the MD-620 system, political considerations aside, is technically possible as early as 1969.

Up to now we have used our Ambassador in Tel Aviv as our main information channel out of respect for the wishes of Prime Minister Eshkol who, for his own reasons, did not want to involve the Israeli Embassy here in nuclear or missile questions. Ambassador Rabin, however, has a very special relationship with Eshkol, and as former IDF Chief of Staff, is familiar with the problem. I recently raised this question with Minister Evron who pleaded ignorance. It seems to me that an approach now by you to Rabin would emphasize the great weight we attach to the missile issue today in view of our pending decision on the F-4s. A personal approach by you might also reassure the Israelis about the security of information we are asking them to provide. They are particularly touchy on this score in view of recent leaks about the MD-620 program.

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In view of the implications for the US of this decision and the highly secret nature of the Franco-Israeli missile contract, it seems to me that we deserve more forthright answers than we have so far had from the Israelis. Should we decide to grant the Israeli request for F-4s and actually deliver them, only to find out afterwards that missile production and deployment were proceeding in a predetermined fashion, the effect upon the Middle East arms balance would be grave.

[1 paragraph (12 lines of source text) not declassified]

Recommendation

That you agree to talk to Ambassador Rabin in quite specific terms (we will furnish suggested talking points) about his government’s intentions and projected capabilities in acquiring short and medium range surface-to-surface missiles.2

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 12-5 ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by George B. Lambrakis and Senior Research Officer Susan T. Tait in the Office of Research and Analysis for Near East and South Asia in INR; cleared by Atherton, and in draft by Austin.
  2. There is no indication of Rusk’s response to the recommendation.