36. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 80159. Secs. Rusk and McNamara, Clark Clifford, Luke Battle, and I had lunch today.

Following this memorandum is the consensus of all, as expressed by Sec. Rusk.

In Clark’s view the “overriding consideration” must be our avoiding a polarization of the Middle East in which a small Israel, backed by a U.S. with an ambiguous commitment, faces the Arabs, led by extremists and backed by a determined USSR.

The positive elements for Eshkol here are, essentially two, one general, the other specific:

  • —“We are prepared to see that Israel receives weapons needed to defend itself.” This is hedged about in various ways but it is a very important message for Eshkol to take back to his Cabinet in the light of French and Soviet attitudes.
  • —As for the Phantoms, Bob McNamara can offer 12 month lead time on delivery (or perhaps less) whereas the Israelis are thinking of 24 months. Therefore, they and we really do have time to examine:
  • —What the French do about Mirages;
  • —What the Russians do about further deliveries;
  • —What Jarring can accomplish.

As noted, there would be real advantage in releasing the Hussein message2 before Eshkol arrives.

Sec. Rusk’s memorandum3 follows.

Subject: Your forthcoming meeting with Prime Minister Eshkol.

In accordance with your instructions I had lunch today with Secretary McNamara, Walt Rostow, Clark Clifford, and Luke Battle to review the Israeli arms request which will be before you in the course of the visit of Prime Minister Eshkol.

It is our conclusion after a lengthy discussion that the security of Israel cannot be assured by military hardware alone but must involve an arrangement for peaceful existence with the Arab states.

In addition, Soviet penetration of the area cannot be limited by the provision of military hardware alone but necessitates that Israel finds some means of establishing a basis for peace beginning as soon as possible with a step of encouragement to the moderate Arabs in their contest with extremist Arab states.

We concur, after having reviewed the situation, with the recommendation of the original position on arms as set forth on page 5 in Tab A of the papers provided you.4

We emphasize the important first sentence of the recommendations which states “we are prepared to see that Israel receives weapons needed to defend itself, but must avoid arms shipments not warranted by the actual threat.” In addition to the points made in the paper, we would like to add, on the basis of Secretary McNamara’s assurances, that the lead time for the delivery of F-4 Phantom aircraft could be shortened to twelve months or less rather than the twenty-four months which we assume the Israelis contemplate. The delivery of fifty such [Page 73] planes could be made without serious problems to United States needs based on any situation presently foreseeable once the decision is made by the United States to provide the planes.

We would like to point out that it is highly desirable to avoid a total polarization of the area with the USSR lending full support to an Arab world led by extremists against an Israel with qualified American support.

The United States should continue to avoid being cast in the role of principal supplier of arms to any country in the area. Until such time as an understanding with respect to arms limitations in the area is reached, we consider it essential that there be, to the maximum extent possible, a diversity of suppliers.

We continue to be concerned about the situation with respect to Jordan. A Russian mission including military experts will arrive in Amman on January 9 and undoubtedly a new offer of Soviet arms will be made to King Hussein who is increasingly despondent with respect to his relations with us particularly in connection with arms supplies. Moreover, the King will be attending, as presently planned, the Arab Summit meeting beginning on January 17 when the pressure will be very strong from the radical Arab countries for him to accept Soviet arms in the absence of a United States willingness to continue its traditional role. An arrangement with the Russians could have attractions from a financial point of view given the likelihood that the United Arab Command can arrange financing through Soviet channels for Jordanian purchases, possibly without cost to the Jordanians.

If the response to King Hussein is to have the maximum effectiveness, it should be made prior to the arrival of Prime Minister Eshkol to avoid the charge that will be leveled at the King that the minimum equipment to be released to him grew out of an understanding reached at that meeting and with Prime Minister Eshkol’s concurrence. We therefore recommend that you act favorably, if possible today, on the telegram before you in response to King Hussein’s latest message on this subject.5

Dean Rusk

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Eshkol Visit, Memos and Miscellaneous, 1/7-1/8/68. Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 29.
  3. The original of this memorandum is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Eshkol Visit, Memos and Miscellaneous, 1/7-1/8/68.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 33. Tab A to Rusk’s January 5 memorandum to the President listed suggested talking points. Pages 5 and 6 suggested that in discussing the Israeli arms request the President might want to say, in addition to the sentence quoted in Rusk’s memorandum that the United States would be prepared to amend the Skyhawk agreement to include an additional 27 aircraft, that the Israeli request for F-4 fighters would be kept under review, and that if the U.S. position changed in the months ahead, an effort would be made to be helpful with regard to lead time.
  5. A handwritten note by Jim Jones apparently gives the President’s response to this final recommendation: “OK—We’ll act favorable on this altho I’m [sic] think mistake.” For the telegram the President approved, see Document 37.