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

SUBJECT

  • Arms Package for Lebanon

Following the Lebanese government’s crackdown on the Palestinian guerrillas in May, the government asked us for $45–$50 million of military equipment to build up the army. The army numbers only about 14,000 men, only half of whom are combatants. In view of a possible serious crisis in Lebanon, the government is conscious of its need to increase the army’s mobility and firepower, since improved equip[Page 231]ment constitutes the quickest way to compensate for the potential numerical superiority of the guerrillas.

State and Defense have put together a package of equipment which can be delivered to the Lebanese beginning almost immediately and stretching out over the next several months. This does not respond to all the Lebanese requests because there are some items that are not quickly available or do not seem to be the most suitable weapon for the job; these will need to be discussed with the Lebanese.

The major items in the State–Defense package, totalling about $20 million, are sixteen A–4 Skyhawk aircraft, 60 armored personnel carriers, 2 patrol boats, 4 helicopters, and ammunition. The Lebanese have been told that all items except the A–4 Skyhawks are available for immediate purchase. The Lebanese will be able to draw on some credits from the US Foreign Military Sales program and other commercial means to finance the sale.

There is little question that we should do everything possible to put the Lebanese in a position to cope with their security problems by themselves. The reason for bringing this package to your attention is that it does include 16 A–4 Skyhawk aircraft—the first to be offered to an Arab country. We had offered them to the Lebanese in 1972, but at the time they had not made up their minds about what they needed. Their main requirement is for a subsonic ground support aircraft like the A–4; faster planes like the Mirage proved to be relatively ineffective in the May fighting against the guerrillas. The model the Lebanese are interested in is being phased out of our own forces and is considerably older than the Skyhawks the Israelis have received. Israel will have 237 newer Skyhawks by mid-1974.

The Israelis have objected to our selling the F–4 Phantom to Saudi Arabia. They have every interest in preserving the stability of Lebanon, but may believe their psychological advantage will be lessened if both their main aircraft are in Arab hands. The number of aircraft is small, however, and the Skyhawk does not begin to have the psychological significance of the Phantom. Therefore, I think we should go ahead, informing the Israelis of our decision.

The items that we would not at this point be offering to the Lebanese include tanks and heavy artillery. These will have to be discussed further because the models they have requested are not readily available and because there is some question about what is appropriate to their needs. The only items we will refuse to supply are flamethrowers and helicopter armament systems which we have consistently declined to make available to any states in the Middle East.

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Recommendation: That you approve the proposal to offer 16 A–4 Skyhawk aircraft to Lebanon.2

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 621, Country Files, Middle East, Lebanon, Vol. III, Jan. 71–Oct. 73. Secret. Sent for action. Saunders forwarded this memorandum to Kissinger under a covering memorandum of June 28 that recommended that Kissinger send it to the President as soon as possible.
  2. The President initialed his approval. Telegram 135365 to Beirut, July 11, instructed the Embassy to inform the Government of Lebanon that the U.S. Government was prepared to furnish 16 A–4C Skyhawks following overhaul within 4 to 6 months at a cost of $12 million. Alternatively, 16 A–4B’s with associated equipment could be furnished within 12 months at an estimated cost of $9.2 million. The transaction would be on a sales basis. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)