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


  • Negotiations on Phantoms

After a long meeting with State and Defense Saturday, I believe the staffs will recommend to Secretaries Rusk and Clifford that we should set the following as conditions for the sale of Phantoms: Israeli agreement to sign and ratify the NPT, reaffirmation of past assurances that they will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East and agreement that they will not go further with the manufacture of surface-to-surface missiles.2

The last point is the tough one, but there’s strong feeling in the Bureaus that we have to tackle the Israeli missile program now or give up on it. There is serious doubt, however, that the President would be willing to refuse delivery of the Phantoms if the Israelis refused to give all these assurances. In fact, one can even argue persuasively that we have an interest in getting the Phantoms there so Israel can defend itself. At the same time, there’s great peril in standing back while Israel goes nuclear. Even the NPT just puts them 90 days away if they are [Page 556] otherwise prepared and give notice of pulling out. I do not know how the Secretary feels about going this far-though it is clear that he’d like a signature on the NPT.

Even if we decide that these should be our conditions, there is still a debate over how to satisfy them. Most of the Bureau officers feel we must have assurance on all points in writing specifically linked to the sale of aircraft. Wally Barbour on the other hand believes it is satisfactory to get Eshkol’s oral assurances. He could do this or the President could do it when he sees Eshkol at the end of the year, though this does not cover the probability of Eshkol’s eventual replacement.

While I share everyone’s uneasiness about Israel’s going down the missile road, I personally don’t believe we can expect 50 airplanes to buy us this kind of say in Israel’s strategy of survival. I do think we might make a case for signature of the NPT and even reaffirmation of Israel’s nuclear assurances, but I don’t see how we could begin to expect Israel to close the path to missiles. I’m afraid we’ll just have to be content with making our opposition known.

No action required. I just thought you’d want this feel for the issue that will have to be discussed with the President before Secretary Rusk begins talking with Rabin.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68-11/68. Secret. A copy was sent to Spurgeon Keeny.
  2. Memoranda with recommendations to this effect were addressed on October 15 by Parker Hart to Rusk and by Paul Warnke to Clifford. (National Archives and Records Administration,RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 12-5 ISR and Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 91-0017, Israel 452 (Sen), respectively)