20. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Arms for Israel and Jordan

You have asked to discuss these decisions: (1) Shall we resume now a limited ($6.5 million) program for Jordan to keep the USSR out? (2) When should we answer Israel's aircraft requests?

I.
Time is running out on our stringing Hussein along without resuming military shipments. We would go ahead in a minute except for one problem—reaction from Israel, our Jewish community and Congress. But we still feel Israel is better off with a controlled number of US arms in Jordan than with unrestrained Soviet shipments. This is a painful decision, but the Secretaries feel we must go ahead.
II.
We must provide Israel with some aircraft (Tab C),2 but we're divided on two issues—how many? and when? The Arab-Israeli balance today is at least as favorable to Israel as on June 5. The question is how quickly we must act to keep pace with Soviet resupply. The 48 Skyhawks we are already delivering will replace Israel's war losses by the end of 1968 and bring Israel's air strength qualitatively somewhat above its June 5 level. General Weizman asked for 27 more Skyhawks and 50 F-4 Phantoms to increase that level (from 200 to 250) and permit modernization. Everyone agrees that we should go ahead with the 27 added Skyhawks soon and hold on the Phantoms until the need is clearer (e.g. French decision on 50 Mirages). But a debate on timing ranges between these choices:
  • —Nick Katzenbach (Tab A)3 would hold our decision until the Eshkol visit. He believes that we should not jeopardize Jarring's mission and that we can keep the Israelis quiet about Jordan by assuring them we'll avoid lead time delays and will divert aircraft from other contracts if Israel needs help quickly.
  • —Gene Rostow (Tab B)4 believes we must go ahead now, mainly to disabuse the Arabs of any false hopes that rapid supply of Soviet equipment has given them.
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I doubt we can hold domestic pressures comfortably until Eshkol comes. I'd be inclined to go ahead now with the 27 Skyhawks, both to balance our Jordan move (if you approve) and to show we mean it about wanting Israel to be militarily self-sufficient.5

Walt
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. I, 6/65-3/68. Secret.
  2. Tab C is Document 15.
  3. Tab A is a December 14 memorandum from Katzenbach to Rostow, not printed.
  4. Tab B is a December 13 memorandum from Rostow to Katzenbach, not printed.
  5. Rostow sent a follow-up memorandum to President Johnson on December 16 in which he reported on a conversation he had had the previous evening with Israeli Minister Evron on the issue of arms for Jordan. Evron indicated that his government would understand and be helpful if the United States felt it had to go ahead with arms for Jordan. Rostow added that he felt that Evron was assuming that the United States would simultaneously agree to provide the additional 27 Skyhawk aircraft to Israel. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. I, 6/65-3/68) On December 17 Rostow reported in a memorandum to the President that he had, on the President's instructions, discussed the question of the Skyhawk aircraft for Israel with McGeorge Bundy. BUNDY felt, on balance, that it would be better to proceed with the decision to provide the aircraft rather than postpone it until Eshkol's visit. (Ibid., Israel, Vol. XII, 1965-68)