53. Memorandum of Conversation1

Late January 18, Mr. Walt Rostow called Israeli Minister Evron to discuss our final decision on “Notes on the Meeting Between President Johnson and Prime Minister Eshkol”,2 which had been passed to Mr. Evron. Mr. Rostow made the following points:

On the question of when the Israeli air force might face a serious threat, the President felt that was an issue for Generals Wheeler and Hod to settle. He did not commit himself to any particular intelligence assessment. The President had said he was concerned with Israel’s security, and we should leave it at that.
What concerned the President was to make sure he would be in a position, if he delayed a decision on supplying Phantom aircraft to Israel, to deliver those aircraft, if he decided later to do so, as if he had made a decision the day he talked to Prime Minister Eshkol. He recognized that normal lead times would require him to decide right now; he wanted to delay decision and yet still preserve the option to deliver as if he had decided today.
The question he did not address is how we might deal with some emergency-for instance, a sudden influx of Soviet arms. That is a separate problem. That wasn’t the problem he was confronted with at the Ranch. That was outside the scope of decisions made there.

We do not have a formal record of the President’s views on delivery schedules. He knows the normal production schedule of aircraft, but this point was not addressed by the President, and it is not wise to try to force him to decide now.

At this point, Mr. Evron asked whether he might tell Prime Minister Eshkol that the President had instructed Secretary McNamara to keep open the option of delivering an unspecified number-20, 30, 40-of aircraft in January 1970. Mr. Rostow replied, “I can’t say that. We didn’t address the question. We were thinking of normal build-up. The only question the President addressed was allowing himself some turnaround time before having to decide and still be able to meet a normal schedule.”

In conclusion, what we need to do is (a) get the intelligence people working hard and steadily and (b) get the latest date for decision [Page 116] from Generals Wheeler and Hod (on training) and from Secretary McNamara (on production). But on the issue of emergency diversion from existing production, don’t raise this contingency matter until you have reason to raise it. The President has not now addressed rates of delivery.

Harold H. Saunders
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Harold H. Saunders, Visit of Prime Minister Eshkol of Israel, January 7-8, 1968. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Saunders and cleared by Rostow.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 51.