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

1638. Ref: State 74858.2

As expected, in meeting with me today, PM Eshkol began by referring to Nasser speech of Nov 23. He likened Hussein-Nasser relationship to see-saw, with Hussein making encouraging noises in world capitals only to have his efforts frustrated by warlike pronouncements by Nasser. He described speech of Nov 23 as dagger in back of cause of peace. Eshkol said he had hoped with some confidence that Six-Day War would be followed by real peace in Middle East and he still hopes so but with considerably less confidence. The “superlatives” of Nasser’s expression did not augur well. In any event, Israel must be careful and remain on guard.
Israeli military capability is adequate on ground. “Center of gravity” is the Air Force and there Israel is very vulnerable. Without repeating details, which had been given by Gen Weizman, Eshkol mentioned only that effective fighter strength now is some 90 planes, and they are no “spring chickens.”
PM Eshkol said he is pessimistic about getting the 50 French Mirages. In any case, even if he gets those, his estimate is that Israel will be in a ratio of one to three in light of Soviet replacements to Egypt, worse if Algerian reinforcements should be forthcoming, and this only after arrival of last of 48 A4s which not scheduled until 1969. He thinks this ratio is too dangerous for Israel to contemplate with equanimity.
PM noted he aware US desire not become sole Israeli supplier and GOI also would prefer have more than one source. But, with French out of picture, US is only one to which Israel can turn. He has thought [Page 6] of alternative of building planes here but expense and time involved such a project make it most unattractive.
In circumstances, Eshkol wishes make most earnest plea for two steps by US: A) Agree to provide 27 more A4s and 50 Phantoms and B) expedite delivery 48 A4s already agreed. He urged we make this decision with minimum delay, although he appreciated processing through governmental machinery of US magnitude time consuming. He noted Gen Weizman’s report that his representations had received most cordial and sympathetic hearing, for which GOI grateful. But, he begged in most eloquent terms he could muster that GOI also get the hardware.
I gave Eshkol full substance State’s most helpful reftel (obviously without FYI section). He made no particular comment, except to reiterate his growing doubts as to Nasser’s intentions. I also urged that, despite his present uneasiness about the attainment of a peaceful settlement, he should not abandon hope of success at the end of what would be a hard road. He agreed. Further, I remarked that as the events of May and June receded in peoples’ memory, Israel will have to give increasing attention to her image in the world. Her position as the victim of an attempt by her neighbors to annihilate her becomes less credible the longer she sits in her present posture as an occupying power in large areas. She must exercise the “magnanimity of the victor” in her own interest. Eshkol concurred, reminding me that I had once commented that Israel is now the power in the Middle East and has additional responsibility in the search for peace. He concluded that all this is dependent on Israel having real security, to which his present requests are directed.

FYI. Various readers of this message will recall that this air force imbalance has given me concern since the Soviet replacement program to Egypt began, and I had several occasions to mention it when in Washington recently. I do not take issue with our military experts’ conclusion that for some time to come, Israel will be superior overall in military capability to any likely combination of powers which may be ranged against her, and this probably whether we make the additional 77 planes requested available or not. But I submit that, if the Israelis themselves do not think so, their increased nervousness will be likely to make them at worst tend toward more adventurous courses to avoid possibly imaginary Arab efforts to exploit such imbalance, and at best more difficult to persuade to take steps involving increases to their security risks, which may be necessary if progress is to be made toward final peace. Also, despite expert assessments, I would like to see from a strict consideration of US interest in stability in the region, that additional margin of safety to be provided by these airplanes in the hands of responsible (also could read, non-Soviet) Israelis. Accordingly, as [Page 7] heretofore, I continue to endorse these requests and urge US agreement as soon as possible.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 12-5 ISR. Secret; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. Document 2.