259. Letter From Secretary of State Rogers to Secretary of Defense Laird1

Dear Mel:

Your memorandum to me of October 62 on Israeli use of American equipment in its September 18 action against Egyptian missile sites3 makes a number of points which, I agree with you, should be discussed with the Israelis: the technical misuse of the Shrike, and the apparent disregard of two of the conditions under which we had provided the anti-missile package of last year. In our judgment, we should not make too much of the violation of the condition on secrecy, since it was laid down in the context of the delicate ceasefire situation at that time, which has changed considerably since then, and since Israel’s possession of the Shrike has in fact been an open secret for some time. Use of the Shrike in the absence of a resumption of hostilities by the other side was clearly, in a literal sense, a violation of one of the conditions of sale. [Page 928] On the other hand, there is no doubt that use of the Shrike was in response to an escalatory hostile act by Egypt (the firing of a SAM across the ceasefire line against an unarmed reconnaissance plane), that it was the second Egyptian violation in a short period (the first being a low level Sukhoi overflight of the ceasefire line), and that it was a relatively restrained reaction in the circumstances. Despite these qualifying considerations, it will serve a useful purpose, I believe, to let the Israelis know that we still take seriously the conditions to which they have agreed. Our own view is that you should bear down particularly hard on Israel’s technical misuse of the Shrike in a way and in a mission for which it is not intended. I find your arguments on this point most persuasive.

I am troubled, however, by your intention to hold in abeyance all further action on sale or delivery of equipment covered by these special conditions.4 As you know, we have moved into a difficult and intensive phase of our efforts to bring about an interim Suez Canal agreement between Israel and Egypt. It becomes doubly important at this time that in matters of high sensitivity to Israel our every action be carefully weighed with a view to the broader effects on the negotiating situation. The Israelis are anxious about the direction of our efforts in the interim agreement negotiations. I believe it is essential that we not give them any signals they might misconstrue. To interrupt our arms relationship, even in such a limited way as you propose would, I fear, compound our difficulties and could have an adverse impact on the diplomatic role we are playing.

I would, therefore, like to request that any proposals to interrupt Israeli arms deliveries be thoroughly discussed and coordinated between us in advance and that, in the present situation, no action be taken to suspend or delay the sale or delivery of any items, [Page 929] including those subject to the special conditions discussed in your memorandum to me.5

With best personal regards,


William P. Rogers
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–0197, Box 66, Israel. Secret; Nodis. A stamped notation on the letter reads: “Sec Def has seen. 15 Oct 1971.”
  2. Not found.
  3. See Document 248.
  4. On October 8, James H. Noyes, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near Eastern, African, and South Asian Affairs, sent a memorandum to the Director of the Defense Security Assistance Agency that reads: “The Secretary of Defense has directed that the sale or delivery of special munitions type weapons to Israel temporarily be held in abeyance effective today. There is no intention at this time to cancel any of these sales. Based on information previously provided by your agency, the attached listing shows the category of items which should not be delivered or offered Israel during this temporary suspension. You are requested to take immediate action to withhold delivery or signing of letters of offer on this equipment. You are further requested to implement this decision on a close hold basis and in such a manner that no speculation will be generated. Further guidance will be provided on this subject within 30 days.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–74–0115, Box 5, Israel)
  5. Laird replied to Rogers’s letter on October 22. He began by noting that he appreciated the Secretary’s concern. He then continued: “We certainly do not intend for this temporary ‘hold’ to be misinterpreted by Israel, and by keeping the matter in defense-to-defense channels I believe this objective has been accomplished. At the same time, it is precisely because we do not wish to give wrong signals that we have taken this action. We realize that the Israeli military were emotionally distraught by the shooting down of this unarmed aircraft, and could have made a hasty decision which, in comparison with previous Israeli responses, may well be regarded as ‘restrained.’ Unfortunately, this is the very kind of reaction which is most dangerous and which could lead most directly to escalation and great power confrontation. In short, we want there to be no misunderstanding on the part of the Israel Defense Forces as to the seriousness with which we view the conditions attached to this equipment.” (Ibid.)