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60. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

SUBJECT

  • Aircraft for Israel

You will recall that in your meeting with Prime Minister Meir you indicated that we would view Israeli requests for additional aircraft with sympathy but made no specific commitment on numbers.2 The Departments of State and Defense have now developed several options for responding.

The Israelis have formally requested 36 F–4 Phantoms and 30 A–4 Skyhawks during the period 1974–1975.

One possible response is to meet their request in full for the next two years, although Defense would prefer to bunch the delivery of F–4s primarily in 1975 in order to allow the USAF to rebuild its own inventory.

A theoretically possible alternative would be to provide a much lower number than requested as a signal that we intend to cut back significantly on the level of our military assistance to Israel. This might gain us some credit among the Arab states at a time when we are being sharply criticized for making it possible for Israel to “remain intransigent” on issues of a settlement. However, it would cause a crisis of confidence with Israel without getting anything in return, and I assume that you do not want to pursue this approach.

A more attractive alternative to giving Israel what it has asked for over the next two years would be to aim for a longer term agreement over a period of four years—1974 to 1977—involving at least as many, and perhaps more, aircraft than the Israelis have now requested, but somewhat less than we anticipate they will want during the whole four-year period ahead. The advantage to us would be that we might not have to make new decisions on aircraft for Israel at least until late 1975 or 1976. This longer-term agreement would provide the Israelis with continuity of supply, though in somewhat smaller numbers than they might like.

The Departments of State and Defense prefer this four-year approach and recommend that you approve the delivery of 36 F–4s and 42 A–4s during the 1974–77 period. As a modification of this option, they [Page 183]suggest that the number of F–4s could be increased to 48, or even higher, over four years, if you feel we should be more forthcoming.

I see considerable merit in deciding now on a delivery schedule on aircraft that would cover a four-year period. The basic Israeli request would be met, although with fewer aircraft than they would request over that period. Our relations with Arab friends would not be periodically strained by announcements of new agreements on aircraft for Israel. And our air force would be able to rebuild its inventory of F–4s instead of diverting planes from its own inventory for Israel.

I would recommend offering Israel a four-year agreement for 48 F–4 Phantoms rather than the 36 that State and Defense suggest and offering 42 A–4 Skyhawks.

There is a question of timing. It would not be helpful to have publicity on these decisions until reaction to Israel’s raid on Beirut dies down.3 I shall work that out when a decision has been made.

Apart from this decision, Defense is going ahead as you instructed with aid to permit Israel to produce at least 100 Super Mirage aircraft.4

Recommendation: That you approve a four-year delivery schedule for aircraft to Israel, consisting of 48 F–4 Phantoms delivered at the rate of 12 a year and 42 A–4 Skyhawks distributed more or less evenly over the four years. If you approve, I shall sign the attached decision memorandum.5

Approve

Prefer two-year package meeting present Israeli requests for 36 F–4s and 30 A–4s

Prefer four-year approach with State–Defense recommendation option of 36 Phantoms and 42 Skyhawks

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 610, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. 12, Mar. 73–Oct. 73. Secret; Nodis. Sent for action. A stamped notation on the first page reads: “The President has seen.”
  2. See Document 35.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 57. The day after the Israeli raid, student demonstrators marched on the U.S. Embassy and cultural center in Beirut, and in the United Nations in New York, Arab spokesmen denounced both the United States and Israel for the raid.
  4. See Document 37.
  5. The President initialed his approval. Kissinger sent the decision memorandum to the Secretaries of State and Defense on May 29. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 610, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. 12, Mar. 73–Oct. 73)