330. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Negotiations with Israel—F-4 and Advanced Weapons

PARTICIPANTS

  • Israeli Side
    • Ambassador of Israel, Lieutenant General Yitzhak Rabin
    • Minister Shlomo Argov, Israeli Embassy
    • Major General Hod, Commander, Israeli Defense Force Air Force
    • Brigadier General David Carmon, Defense and Armed Forces Attache
    • Mr. J. Shapiro, Director, Ministry of Defense Mission, New York
  • United States Side
    • Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA), Paul C. Warnke
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA), Harry H. Schwartz
    • Deputy Director, NESA Region (ISA), Robert J. Murray

Ambassador Rabin said that he had received his Government’s reaction to the US-proposed Memorandum of Understanding (referring to the draft Memorandum of Understanding sent to the Israeli Embassy on 19 November 1968).2 He said that there is a paragraph in that memorandum which looks to the Government of Israel as “quite awkward.” Rabin said that the awkwardness was “not because of its practical implications” but because of the way it is worded.

Ambassador Rabin read a portion of the paragraph in question: “It is understood by the Government of Israel that action contrary to any of the understandings specified in paragraph II of this memorandum shall constitute ‘unusual and compelling circumstances’ and shall permit the United States to recover any aircraft already delivered under this Agreement.” Rabin said that his Government could not accept that the United States could ask for such language. “There is no precedent. It creates something that I don’t believe that exists anywhere.” Rabin said that the paragraph implied that the United States considered Israel “the bad guy” and that it did not believe the undertakings made by the Government of Israel, and therefore this paragraph was worded as it is.

[Page 657]

Mr. Warnke took issue with Ambassador Rabin’s statement. Mr. Warnke said that he had talked with Mr. Clifford, and Mr. Clifford in turn with Mr. Rusk, and the United States Government clearly did not put such a construction on this paragraph. The United States does believe the undertakings made by the Government of Israel. “I believe you and what you have said.” It is quite natural, however, that Israel would look after its own national security requirements. It would be understandable for Israel to enter into an F-4 agreement now and later feel compelled to change its mind for reasons existing at that time. It would not be unusual in international agreements for undertakings previously made to prove improvident in the future. But the United States for its part must look after its own national security interests; if Israel were to decide at some point that it could not adhere to the provisions of the agreement, it would revert to status quo ante. That is the purpose of this paragraph.

Ambassador Rabin said he couldn’t understand why, for example, the United States could ask in ten years for these aircraft to be returned. Mr. Warnke said: “Suppose you deliver nuclear weapons in these aircraft in ten years time?”

Mr. Warnke said that what was put in the Memorandum of Understanding, after all, represents only the summation of our discussions. Ambassador Rabin said that he had not agreed to commitments in the contract; he said that Israel had agreed to reaffirm its previous understandings—that they would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons or carry nuclear weapons on U.S. aircraft. “Why do you want us to do this?”

Minister Argov said: “We feel we are on parole.” The Israeli Government is giving assurances, said Argov, but the paragraph presumes we will not live up to them. Ambassador Rabin said that it isn’t the standard paragraph.

Mr. Warnke disagreed that there was a “presumption” in the contract that Israel would not live up to its assurances. Mr. Warnke also disagreed with Ambassador Rabin’s statement that this wasn’t a standard paragraph. “There is no such thing as a standard contract.” Each one varies. A past contract is not a binding precedent for future contracts.

Ambassador Rabin, somewhat apologetically, said that his instructions were to follow the former wording. He said also that, although he agreed with the form of the U.S. proposal (i.e., a memorandum of understanding), “my Government has had second thoughts” and prefers the same format as in the Skyhawk Agreement: “I send you a letter, you send me a letter.”

Mr. Warnke observed that we had the form of a Memorandum of Understanding before, in the Skyhawk Agreement. Ambassador Rabin [Page 658] said he thought not. Minister Argov said that yes, at the time in 1965 of the visit of Mr. HARRIMAN and Mr. Komer, there was a Memorandum of Understanding: “You participated in its development Mr. Ambassador.” Ambassador Rabin agreed and said that that was the HARRIMAN Mission, which was a different matter.

Mr. Warnke observed that that was the point he was trying to make: there are different matters and different circumstances that now exist. Mr. Warnke said that he understood that what Israel wanted now wasn’t a Memorandum of Understanding but an exchange of letters; for this he had no instructions, and would have to discuss the matter with Secretary Clifford. Mr. Warnke also asked the Ambassador whether he had a letter to submit. The Ambassador passed him the Israeli letter (attached).3

Mr. Schwartz suggested that Ambassador Rabin not press the A-4 analogy too far, that it consisted of a number of documents, not just an exchange of letters, and that it was negotiated under different circumstances. For example, it contained an agreement that Israel would not come back to the United States for planes for five years.

General Hod observed that the President, when Prime Minister Eshkol was here, was willing to overlook the five year clause. Ambassador Rabin said that the United States didn’t say anymore that it would not be a major supplier; the formulation of the communique issued at the Ranch in 1968 was different from that of 1965. In 1965 it said that the United States would not be a major supplier; it did not say that in 1968, but said instead that the United States would keep Israel’s defense requirements under review in light of the situation in the area.

Mr. Warnke said that the Ambassador’s remarks were not inconsistent with what Mr. Schwartz had just said. Mr. Schwartz said that the 1965 precedent (of the Skyhawk) didn’t apply.

Mr. Warnke said he would discuss the latest Israel proposal with Mr. Clifford. Mr. Warnke asked Ambassador Rabin if he wished to sign the letter. Rabin did.

Ambassador Rabin said that there is a third problem. He laughingly said that he assumed we would overcome the “technical difficulties” of getting a satisfactory agreement in an acceptable form. Rabin said: “Everyone has his own superiors.” Rabin asked if we could proceed with the technical talks while waiting to sort out the basic agreement.

Mr. Warnke said that the problem won’t arise, for he expects to respond to Ambassador Rabin the first of next week. General Hod interjected [Page 659] that what he needs to know is what specific equipment can be included on the F-4 aircraft and its approximate cost, so that he can draw up a list of his specific requirements for the USAF, and they in turn may prepare a Letter of Offer. Mr. Murray said that he would review this and call General Hod on the telephone.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 91-0017, Israel, 452 (Sen). Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Murray and approved by Warnke. The meeting was held in Warnke’s office. The memorandum is marked “Fifth Session.”
  2. A copy of this draft memorandum of understanding is ibid., OASD/ISA Files: FRC 73 A 1351, Chronology of F-4s for Israel, 10 Oct 68-5 Sept 69, Folder 1. A handwritten note on the memorandum indicates that Secretary McNamara cleared it with the President.
  3. Not printed.