224. Information Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Rostow) to Secretary of State Rusk1

SUBJECT

  • Phantoms for Israel

Reading Luke’s pro-con memorandum (Tab A)2 on the difficult problem of Phantoms for Israel, I come down on the side of acting now, perhaps in the form of the last sentence of the memorandum.3 I should add that we should start the training part of the exercise at once, to eliminate factors of delay if actual deliveries in 1970 do prove to be necessary.

Since Luke wrote, several things have happened. To me, they reinforce the argument for acting now.

I’m afraid that the newspaper publicity about George Ball’s trip, and some of our diplomatic conversations about it, may have given the Arabs (and the Russians) the sense that we are pushing the Israelis’ hand, so that they can sit back and wait. Indeed, according to the last [Page 440] report we got from Amman (Amman 5865) (Tab B),4 Nasser has raised the ante again.

In that perspective, and taking into account the hijacking episode5 and Soviet preoccupation in Czechoslovakia, the Phantoms should be a good signal to the UAR to proceed at once towards a settlement. It is indispensably important that the Arabs (and the Soviets) understand our firm intention to support a fair and evenhanded settlement, and a fair and evenhanded process of negotiation required to achieve it. Miscalculation on this point could in itself produce precisely the blow up we want to prevent.

On the Israeli side, I think the Phantoms make sense as well. It is very likely that we shall have to commit the planes anyway in connection with the military assistance bill. It is better to make the decision without coercion, and as part of the process of our overall cooperation with Israel. If we lose Israeli confidence, or create unnecessary suspicions, we may find it increasingly difficult to influence Israel towards moderation in the months ahead.6

The Phantoms should be a factor for moderation in another sense as well. When the arms balance is precarious, Israel feels easily threatened, and tempted by the idea of a preemptive strike. It is our interest to avoid another blowup. With confidence in our support derived from an early decision on Phantoms, the Israelis might be less trigger-happy when the next round of episodes occurs.

The military situation is genuinely serious. The Arabs have too many planes, and too many modern planes. Their airfields are no longer easy targets. Too many of the Israeli planes are old and patched together. If a war does come, it will again be in our interest for Israel to win, and to win decisively.

It might conceivably be worth another round with the Soviets on the subject, on a pretty blunt “Phantoms or talks-with-Jarring” basis. I doubt it myself, but I wouldn’t object to telling the Russians once more that we’re tired of UAR stalling and double talk. The time has come to move.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 12-5 ISR. Secret; Exdis.
  2. Attached is a 5 page unattributed memorandum with the handwritten date of July 6 and a subject line that reads: “F-4 Phantoms for Israel-The Pros and Cons.”
  3. The last sentence reads: “That solution would be to tell Israel now we are prepared in principle to go ahead on F-4s while deferring a decision on timing and the signing of contracts and seeking to minimize and obfuscate publicity.”
  4. A copy of telegram 5865 from Amman, July 24, is attached. The telegram transmitted a summary report from Foreign Minister Rifai on his recent trip to Cairo and his discussions with Nasser and Foreign Minister Riad. The basic point that emerged from the discussions was the UAR insistence that not a single inch of Arab territory could be conceded to Israel in a peace settlement.
  5. See Document 223.
  6. On July 31 Harold Saunders sent a memorandum to President Johnson in which he drew on Ball’s conversations in Israel with Eshkol to make the point that Eshkol was “upset” about the failure of any movement on the issue of the Phantoms. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68-11/68)