248. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson1

Saudi Arms Talks. Given the occasional press flurry,2 I want to keep you briefed. This is quite unlike the Jordan arms deal: (a) there’s no problem of pre-empting the Soviets; (b) there’s little real threat to Israel involved—Saudi Arabia is too far away and too incompetent; (c) we’re not running after this business—it’s the Saudis who are coming to us.

The Saudi desire for modern air defense is aimed at the Nasser threat from Yemen, not at Israel. The issue arose way back to early 1963, when as bait for the Bunker mission effort to get a Yemen disengagement, we offered to help the Saudis develop an air defense system. We gave them our views in September 1963, and they’ve been hemming and hawing in typical Arab style ever since. Meanwhile the British, French, and two US companies have been actively seeking the business, so at Saudi request we’re sending yet another survey team to help them make up their minds.

Our goal is to keep our oil-rich Saudi friends happy and to insure that if they finally do buy anything we get the sale. We’ve recommended against fancy aircraft and Hawk because Saudis couldn’t handle them; but we’re willing to sell if they insist. The total package could range from $110-210 million over several years, but we think Faisal will end up buying only the lower figure, if that.

We’ve made other sales to Saudi Arabia. In 1957 we offered a $100 million credit to facilitate extension of our Dhahran air base rights. Since 1961 we’ve extended two small credits totalling $18 million. The Saudis also bought four C-130s for $15 million cash this spring.

The Israelis have never objected to these sales, since they recognize the Saudis are too far away and too ineffective to be a threat. The one problem in the current deal is that if we sell F-104s, the Jordanians and then the Israelis might press for them. This is one reason (the other [Page 481]is that F-104s are just too complex for Saudis) why McNamara wrote recommending the F-5. I personally doubt the Saudis will make up their minds soon on anything.3

R. W. Komer 4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Komer Memos, Vol. I. Secret. A handwritten note on the memorandum indicates it was received at 10 a.m. A notation on the memorandum indicates it was seen by the President on June 22.
  2. On June 2 Komer sent Bundy a draft memorandum for the President commenting on “quite inaccurate” weekend press stories stating that McNamara had sent a letter to the Saudis pushing U.S. arms sales. He pointed out that the Saudis had been interested in air defense for more than a year because of their fears that Nasser would launch air attacks across the border. The United States had not been pressing the Saudis to buy arms, but had simply decided that if they were going to buy it might as well be from the United States. McNamara’s letter had not been a sales pitch, but merely an attempt to resolve Saudi doubts about the F-5 versus the F-104. (Ibid., Komer Files, Saudi Arabia, 1965-Mar. 1966) McNamara’s letter is Document 241.
  3. Telegram 102 from Jidda, August 11, reported that the Saudi Government had decided to purchase the F-104G. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POLSAUD-UAR)
  4. McGeorge Bundy initialed below Komer’s signature.