246. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Phantoms—What Do We Get for Them?

No one is prepared to recommend that the President release the Phantoms to Israel now. Israel’s need is not significantly more urgent than it was in January, and the Israelis have shown little flexibility in moving toward a political settlement despite our steady low-key urging. Nevertheless there’s general recognition that Israel will need some supersonics in the next year.

There is sharp disagreement over how much we could expect to get for the Phantoms if we did go ahead now. Those who most vigorously oppose releasing the planes feel we should ask the highest price—signing the NPT and renouncing surface-to-surface missiles—and hold out for it. Others believe the best we can try for are some marginal tactical shifts in Israel’s position on negotiations with the Arabs. They remember how in 1965 we had to give up our efforts to trade the Skyhawks for a promise not to go nuclear and feel that Israel is just as unlikely today to trade for Phantoms any part of the position it won in the Six Day War.

In fact, the prevailing view in State is not to bargain directly with the planes at all. You’ll recall that this was Eppie Evron’s advice too—assure Israel’s basic security and then tell them what we’d like them [Page 483] to do. The formula that has been put to Secretary Rusk reflects this two stage approach to Eshkol:

We understand Israel’s need for security and therefore approve in principle release of the Phantoms.
Our interests require that this become known publicly only in the context of progress toward peace. Therefore, we ask the Israeli government to:
  • —State publicly without qualification its readiness to end 20 years of war and to withdraw to agreed and secure boundaries as part of a peace agreement.
  • —Declare publicly its readiness to participate wholeheartedly in a refugee settlement.
  • —Give Jordan a specific position on borders and make a concrete proposal on Jerusalem.

If we do go ahead soon, the choice will be between keeping these two as separate as possible and bargaining one for the other.

If we hold off, another range of options could open up if the President felt able to throw his own weight behind a more active U.S. role in getting negotiations started and in narrowing gaps. Several proposals have been made:

  • —Secretary Rusk’s suggestion of dual emissaries to Cairo and Jerusalem to get a real exchange going.
  • —Arthur Goldberg’s recommendation for an emissary to Jerusalem to pin down the Israeli position on peace arrangements.
  • —The idea of proposing a fair compromise to King Hussein and then trying to sell it to Eshkol.
  • —The possibility of some sort of joint Soviet-US diplomatic pressure.

If we were to make a major effort along any of these lines, the Phantoms could figure at any one of several points.

I have asked State for a memo detailing these options for the President’s review, but it will not be ready for lunch today. With Jarring returning to New York at the end of the month for a final crack at negotiations during the UN General Assembly, September will offer just about the last chance the President will have to lay the foundation for a big push behind Jarring in October and November. I believe we should assure him a systematic review of these options as well as the shorter-term possibilities.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68–11/68. Secret; Nodis.