247. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Middle East Situation; Phantoms for Israel

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon of Israel
  • His Excellency Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mr. Shlomo Argov, Israeli Minister
  • Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to the President
  • Harold Saunders, National Security Council Staff
  • Lucius D. Battle, Assistant Secretary, NEA

The President received Deputy Prime Minister Allon for an off-the-record meeting on Monday, September 9 at 5:00 p.m.2

The President expressed pleasure at the opportunity to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Allon. Mr. Allon said that he was very grateful for an opportunity to call upon the President and to bring him the very warm regards of Prime Minister Eshkol. Mr. Eshkol had enjoyed greatly his visit to the LBJ ranch in January, and he “still carried hope that something would come from that meeting.”

The President said that he, too, had found the talks useful. He said that he had great faith in the people of Israel, and he had little doubt that the Israelis would be able to survive their current difficulties and with flying colors.

The President asked Mr. Rostow to summarize the talks that had gone on prior to the time the President was able to receive us.

Mr. Rostow said that the group had been discussing various problems in the few minutes before coming into the President’s office. Mr. Rostow said that it had been agreed that Jerusalem was perhaps the key problem. Mr. Allon had said that some role for the Arabs in Jerusalem could be negotiated with access guaranteed. There could be [Page 485] no change, however, in the civil and sovereign status for Jerusalem. No government in Israel could survive such a change. In fact, Mr. Allon had said that if any government attempted to, it might even bring civil war in Israel. There had been a brief discussion of the Allon plan for defensive enclaves and a consideration of the security problems the Israelis faced. Mr. Allon had stressed the need now for Phantoms. Mr. Allon considered that the Phantoms were necessary to show the Arabs that they could not win in the event of another round.

Mr. Allon then remarked that Mr. Rostow’s summary was a fair one, but he would like to add a few points. The problem today is not how to secure victory. It is how to prevent another war. The supply of U.S. Phantoms to Israel would be a stabilizing factor with both the Arabs and with the Russians whose presence in the area is increasing.

The trouble along the Suez is serious,3 but Mr. Allon did not believe the Arabs would go to war unless they thought they could win. After the Czechoslovakia affair where the West had been incapable of responding, agreement to supply Phantoms might be a helpful reply to the Soviets. Once the Arabs realize that they cannot win a war, Mr. Allon believes that they will reconcile themselves to the existence of Israel.

The President told Mr. Rostow to talk to Secretary Clifford and to get his comments on the current situation. The President said that he would make the decision on Phantoms, but he was not sure whether that decision would be made before or after elections. He had already taken action to put the U.S. in a position to act without any loss of time in excess of the time that would have been required if the decision had been made in January. However, the U.S. wants to try to find a road to peace. We do not want to be charged with inciting another war. The U.S. will be cooperative in any efforts the Israelis are able to make toward peace.

Mr. Allon recalled that Ambassador Ball was told that the Israelis would work with Jarring or, for that matter, with others. Mr. Allon believes, however, that the UAR considers that it can risk more than before-not full war perhaps but greater risks without bringing about full war. The Arabs frequently do not act logically, and it was sometimes difficult to anticipate what their illogical acts would be.

The Russians must get tired of getting their supplies smashed and will one day perhaps want to slow down the flow of arms to the area. [Page 486] The Government of Israel is an important factor in the Middle East, and Mr. Allon hopes that the U.S. is aware of its importance.

When Mr. Eshkol left the U.S., he had the feeling that his request for Phantoms would be favorably considered. The Czechoslovakia situation and UAR actions on the Canal are both factors to be considered carefully. That the UAR acted on the Canal after the Czech incident is a very important fact. The UAR might well consider that it has a greater freedom of action. Its actions indicate a threat of continued terrorism.

Mr. Allon continued that he had read many statements and heard many speeches in the U.S. campaign. A statement by the President on the F-4’s would, Mr. Allon thought, be better than an argument between candidates. Arabs respect firm policies. France’s position in the area is weaker than it used to be, for example. The world should know that the U.S. is on the side of Israel, and an announcement on Phantoms would be great news for Israel and for many other countries all over the world.

After an exchange of pleasantries, the Deputy Prime Minister and his party departed.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68-11/68. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Battle on September 10. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held in the White House from 5:24 to 5:40 p.m. (Ibid.)
  2. Allon was in the United States on a speaking and fund-raising tour. His meeting with President Johnson was at Allon’s request. A summary of Allon’s discussion with Rostow prior to his meeting with the President, prepared by Saunders, is ibid., Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 113, 1/1-15/69. In that memorandum of conversation, Saunders briefly summarized the meeting between Allon and Johnson.
  3. An incident that began on September 8 when an Israeli Army unit detonated an anti-vehicle mine discovered on the east bank of the Suez Canal 10 kilometers north of Port Tawfiq escalated quickly into an exchange of small arms fire across the Canal, followed by an exchange of artillery fire that spread across a front from Port Tawfiq to El Kantara. (USDAO telegram 1599 from Tel Aviv, September 8; ibid., Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68-11/68)