290. Action Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

SUBJECT

  • Strong Israeli Reaction to Eban Talks Here

Abe Feinberg called last night to say the Israelis are up in arms because Parker Hart had apparently linked the Phantoms and the NPT after you and the Secretary had stopped just short of linking them.

I called Secretary Rusk who told me the following: The Secretary had not linked the NPT and the Phantoms but had told Eban that he wished Hart to discuss certain political questions with Rabin before technical discussions on the planes began. Rabin was leaving for Israel the following afternoon. Hart told him the one thing we were prepared to go into with Rabin on that short notice was International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, which Eban had said he had reservations about. Rabin said he wasn’t prepared to discuss that; he just wanted to discuss planes. So he and Hart made a date for 3:00 p.m., October 30, the day after Rabin and Eban come back. Rabin’s line is: The NPT and the planes are two separate issues; let’s get on with the planes.

I told Feinberg that neither you nor the Secretary had made the NPT a condition for the Phantoms but you considered the NPT of great importance.

Feinberg apparently told this to Argov who cabled Rabin that there was “no condition precedent” to the sale of Phantoms. (Argov is Rabin’s deputy.)

This morning, Argov called me to ask whether he could today supplement his last night’s message with another saying that a date has now been set for actual consultations on the Phantoms. He says that the Israeli press is now saying we have linked the NPT and Phantoms and that this will put Eshkol on the spot in the Cabinet. He’d like to put Eban in a position to knock these critics by saying (a) there’s no condition and (b) what’s more Rabin is taking technical consultants back with him to begin detailed negotiations.

[Page 574]

If we want to wind up the Phantom negotiations promptly, as you indicated, that would make sense. But it would mean working the NPT on a separate track. The Israelis are mounting this reaction deliberately to press us to separate the Phantoms and the NPT. Giving them the kind of answer Argov wants would de-couple the two and take off the heat on the NPT that you and the Secretary generated.

I can respond to Argov in one of two ways, depending on how you and the Secretary wish to play this:

1.
We could give Argov a date for the beginning of technical talks—a date several days after Rabin’s return so that we can at least hear what he has to say on the NPT before the technical talks even though we’d be committed to begin them.
2.
I could tell Argov: We have set no conditions. However, the Israelis themselves have told us the Phantoms would make it easier for them to sign the NPT. Moreover, others in the area have already related the two. This is a problem we have to cope with, so we asked Eban to tell us where the issue stands. Rabin can make all the practical arrangements he needs to while he is in Israel and then Hart will discuss dates with him next Wednesday.

You may wish to discuss this with Secretaries Rusk and Clifford before you reply, or you may wish me to.

Walt

I prefer giving Argov a date

Hold the line, using the line in para. 2 above

Work out with Secretary Rusk2

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68-11/68. Top Secret; Nodis.
  2. None of the options is checked. A handwritten note at the top of the memorandum, in Jim Jones’ hand, apparently conveyed the President’s response: “Discuss with Rusk & give me his recommendation.”