22. Letter From the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Nitze) to the Under Secretary of State (Katzenbach)1

Dear Nick:

We have looked into the problems involved in delaying a final decision on the sale of A-4H Skyhawk and still making delivery, if it later seems desirable to do so, within a reasonable period of time. We have also looked again at the availability of F-4 aircraft.

We have several possible lines of approach to the problem of A-4Hs.

First, we could postpone any decision for up to a year and deliver the first of the additional 27 A-4Hs 24 months after a final contract and agreement with the Israelis. This would be the normal delivery lead time.
Second, we could postpone any decision until after Prime Minister Eshkol’s February visit and still deliver the first of the additional 27 A-4Hs in January, 1970. This would require a commitment of from $1.1 to $9.4 million in funds, either U.S. or Israeli, for procurement of long lead time items, if a final decision and agreement is not made by April 1968.
Third, we could make a tentative decision before 1 January 1968, and commit from $7.6 to $12.3 million in DOD funds to advance procurement of long lead time items. We could then delay a final decision until May, 1968 and still deliver the first of the additional 27 A-4Hs in May or August 1969.

This third alternative, however, would require that the Israelis agree to a stretch-out into 1969 of the delivery of the latter portion of the 1966 buy of 48 A-4Hs. Also, the commitment of DOD funds for such an advance procurement of long lead time items will present some problems, especially if we cannot reach a final decision and agreement with Israel by May, 1968. There would also be some loss to DOD if the tentative decision and commitment of funds were not followed by a sale, but this may be partly offset if the Israelis were willing to buy some of the items peculiar to the A-4H for maintenance of the 48 A-4Hs they are now receiving.

More specific information on the second and third alternatives (B and C) analyzed by DOD are attached.2

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The crucial points as I see them are whether we are prepared to commit from $7 to $13 million in DOD funds by 1 January 1968 for advanced procurement of long lead items; how important it is to be able to deliver the first of the 27 additional A-4Hs before 1 January 1970; and when we will be ready to make a final decision and agree with Israel to sell the 27 additional A-4Hs.

With respect to F-4 Phantoms, we can delay the decision for a year or more and still deliver the first F-4s 24 months from point of contract. Delivery to Israel in less than 24 months from date of final agreement would mean either diversion from active U.S. Navy or Air Force units or from U.S. production earmarked for these units; or advance procurement of long lead time items as in the case of the A-4H.

We continue to believe that to introduce F-4s into the Near East in the foreseeable future may well escalate the arms race, is not now necessary from a military point of view, and could hurt our overall position in the area. The major difference between Arab and Israeli military effectiveness, as was demonstrated last June, is in the intangibles of leadership, organization, training, maintenance, logistics, morale, and unity of action rather than numbers of aircraft. But should the French fail to deliver the Mirage V to Israel or should Arab capabilities rise appreciably as a result of Soviet supply and training assistance, we may wish to reverse this recommendation. We will continue to watch the military situation closely.3


  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 12-5 ISR. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Not found attached. The attachments to this letter are attached to a copy of the letter in Washington National Records Center,RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 72 A 2468, Middle East 400.
  3. On December 19 the JCS sent to Secretary McNamara an assessment of the Arab threat to Israel which drew the conclusion that “There have been no significant new developments in the Middle East which would require further increases in the Israeli aircraft inventory.” They added, however, that the situation could change if the Soviet Union continued aircraft deliveries to the Arab states, or if France failed to deliver the Mirage aircraft Israel had contracted to receive. (Ibid., Israel 452) Nitze forwarded a copy of this memorandum, JCSM-700-67, to Walt Rostow on December 29. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. XII, 1965–1968)