284. Memorandum of Conversation Between President Johnson and Foreign Minister Eban 1

The President reported that he had made his decision on Phantoms in principle last January. He planned to move ahead if the Russians kept on supplying arms to the Arabs; if the Russians proved unwilling to talk with us about regional arms control; if Israel were helpful in seeking peace; and if Israel accepted the NPT.

The President said that he was not making the question of the NPT a formal condition, but Eban should know the very strong feelings in the American government on this matter. He then read to Eban Sec. Clifford’s view (Tab A),2 transmitted to the President by telephone, and the attached passage from Sec. Rusk’s memorandum (Tab B).3

Eban said that the U.S. Government appeared to have an “exaggerated idea” of Israel’s nuclear capability. The President said he should talk about this matter with Sec. Rusk and Sec. Clifford.

Eban held forth to the President for half an hour, emphasizing:

  • —Israel is cooperating with Jarring;
  • —Its bilateral efforts with King Hussein;
  • UAR intransigence; and
  • —The ruthlessness of the Soviet Union, as revealed in Czechoslovakia with its implications for the Middle East.4

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68–11/68. Secret; No Distribution. Prepared by Walt Rostow.
  2. Not printed. Clifford expressed the view that the President should show concern over the Israeli program to develop surface-to-surface missiles with the capability of carrying nuclear warheads. Clifford felt that the President’s concern could lay the foundation for the Department of State to insist that the missile development be stopped as a condition for Israel receiving 50 Phantom aircraft.
  3. Tab B, not printed, was a quotation from an October 21 memorandum from Rusk to the President, expressing Rusk’s concern about the Israeli missile program and the importance of Israeli adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. A copy of the memorandum is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68–11/68.
  4. Eban provided another version of this conversation in his memoirs. According to Eban, Johnson began by affirming his intention to supply Phantoms to Israel and asked Eban to tell Eshkol that Lyndon Johnson had kept his word. According to Eban, the President said that he had discussed the issue of providing Phantoms with Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey and both candidates had agreed to honor his commitment. He also said that both NIXON and Humphrey could be counted on to keep faith with the commitment to Israel’s security and independence. (Abba Eban, An Autobiography, pp. 458–459)