288. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel 1

261146. For the Ambassador. Following based on uncleared memcon FYI and Noforn, subject to revision upon review.

[Page 568]

Begin summary: During meeting with Foreign Minister Eban October 22, Secretary pressed Eban hard about Israel’s nuclear weapons and missile plans, stressing that this was matter affecting our fundamental relationship. Eban repeated standard Israeli position, emphasizing that Israel had not made decision to become nuclear power and that deployment of strategic missiles by Israel was not imminent. Secretary said USG needed more concrete assurances re GOI nuclear intentions-i.e., Israeli participation in NPT. Eban and Ambassador Rabin pressed for early start on technical negotiations for the sale of F-4 Phantoms. Secretary said we felt initial discussions should be held on political side, that Asst. Sec. Hart would be his representative for those discussions and that he hoped Eban would bring back new word on Israeli position re NPT when he returned from Israel next week. Initial session between Ambassador Rabin and Assistant Secretary has been scheduled for Wednesday, October 30. End summary.

Secretary opened meeting with Eban afternoon October 22 by referring to their discussion of NPT question in New York September 30 and asking whether GOI cabinet had completed its review of this matter. (Hart, Atherton, Rabin and Argov also present).
Eban replied that he had not been back in Israel since previous conversation. Position in principle which he had stated in UN remained valid, however, as did various bilateral Israeli statements to us (e.g., Israel will not be a first to introduce nuclear weapons in area and Israel is not a military nuclear state). GOI now studying question in light of Geneva Non-Nuclear Conference. This connection Eban noted that other countries in better security position than Israel were also taking time to study problem. Furthermore Israel had additional problem of its lack of position in IAEA.
Secretary said we had reason to believe Israel involved in nuclear weapons and missile programs. Such missiles were for use with nuclear weapons not high explosives. These were matters of utmost seriousness affecting our fundamental relationship, and we must have clarification with respect to them. For Israel to develop nuclear weapons would (a) confront us with question of whether we were serious about NPT, which we are and (b) raise questions of what Soviets would do in nuclear field in Arab countries.
Secretary said that we could not see how nuclear weapons would solve Israeli strategic problems. Israel’s problems with IAEA inspections were something that could be discussed. We wanted something more concrete, however, about Israel’s nuclear intentions and could not be reassured unless Israel participated in NPT as matter of fundamental policy.
In response Eban’s assertion that Israel had not decided to become nuclear power and had not decided not to sign NPT, Secretary [Page 569] said we were concerned about absence of decision to sign. This connection Secretary noted UAR was signatory. If country was part way down road to producing nuclear weapons, we took little comfort from statement that it was not nuclear power.
Re missile development, Eban said Secretary exaggerated Israeli position which was as stated to us in 1967—i.e., Israel was far from being in situation of having operative missiles ready for deployment. Given slow down due strains in French-Israeli relations, that stage could not be reached before 1970. Stating that missile development in Middle East arose in non-nuclear context, Eban said Israel could not ignore what was happening in UAR which continued to try even though progress not swift. Israeli missile activity was function of what UAR was doing. It would be difficult for Israel to terminate its program in absence similar action by UAR.
Eban continued that in foreseeable future Israel’s central preoccupation would be defense and security. For Israel, very existence depended on a few hundred airplanes. GOI has thus welcomed President’s October nine statement re Phantom negotiations which had important psychological effect. Given view of some in UAR military that UAR could seek military solution or at least peace through intimidation in 1969-70, President’s announcement on Phantoms would not only help Israel’s security position but further prospects for peace.
Secretary said he remained concerned about arms spiral. Would not Soviets respond by providing additional aircraft to Arabs? Eban said he believed UAR already receiving all military equipment it could absorb. Furthermore no one could say USG responsible for escalating arms spiral since (a) Soviets had been probed without success re arms limitation and (b) President’s announcement had come after Soviet re-supply of UAR. This connection, Eban noted that Arab reaction had not been violent. Secretary replied that form of announcement—i.e., President had instructed Secretary to initiate negotiations and report back to him—had helped soften Arab reaction.
Eban said he understood President’s announcement constituted decision in principle and that it was assumed in area that negotiations would be concerned with technical details. Would it be possible to open negotiations today? If so who would represent Secretary?
Secretary replied that negotiations would be handled for USG by Assistant Secretary Hart. Meanwhile he hoped Eban would bring new word on Israeli position re NPT when he returned from Israel next week. In response Eban’s comment that it would be bad to link these two questions, Secretary asked how we would assure that Phantoms would not carry nuclear weapons. Amb. Rabin suggested handling this problem as we had in A-4 Skyhawk sale. Secretary said this question could be discussed further with Hart.
Secretary asked what time frame Israelis were thinking of for F-4 deliveries. Rabin noted that Israel had preferred mid-1969, but that discussions last January had been in terms of beginning of 1970. Eban said Israel would be pleased if deliveries could be expedited, noting Israel had originally requested Phantoms in addition to Mirages now embargoed by France and that, in January, USG had still thought Mirages might be delivered.
Secretary replied affirmatively to Eban query whether he could report negotiations had begun.
Rabin noted that in past GOI had conducted technical negotiations with DOD once agreement in principle reached. Secretary said we felt it necessary to have preliminary talks on political side-perhaps by end of week. If GOI felt it needed bring experts to Washington to discuss price, availability, delivery schedule, training and other details, this question could be taken up with Mr. Hart. Eban suggested as first step we should review A-4 Skyhawk agreement.
Following meeting with Secretary, Rabin asked Deptoff whether preliminary meeting with Hart could be held Wednesday, October 23 since he was returning to Israel that night and could then begin to make necessary arrangements while there. Hart subsequently called Rabin to say it would be difficult for us to prepare for initial session on such short notice. We would, however, be happy to put Rabin in touch with our disarmament experts in Dept in order discuss Israeli concerns about IAEA problems if Rabin would find this useful before leaving Washington. Rabin declined, asking if NPT and related questions were not separate from F-4 negotiations. Could not preparation for talks with DOD be started now? Noting that Secretary had said political discussions should occur first, Hart said he was at Rabin’s disposal but could not see that there was much to say before Eban returned in view Secretary’s interest in hearing latest on Israeli NPT position. It was then agreed that first Hart-Rabin session would be held three p.m. Wednesday, October 30 following Rabin’s return from Israel.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL ISR-US. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Drafted by Atherton, cleared by Hart, and approved by Walsh.