7. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Israel
  • Prime Minister Rabin
  • Foreign Minister Allon
  • Defense Minister Peres
  • Chief of Staff Gur
  • MFA Director General Avineri
  • Director General of Prime Minister’s Office Eiran
  • MFA Deputy Director General Evron
  • Ambassador Dinitz
  • Prime Minister’s Press Spokesman Pattir
  • Director of Prime Minister’s Office Mizrachi
  • Director of Intelligence Major General Gazit
  • Prime Minister’s Advisor on Terrorism Harkabi
  • U.S.
  • Secretary of State Vance
  • Philip C. Habib, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Harold H. Saunders, Director, Intelligence and Research
  • Hodding Carter, III, Department Spokesman
  • W. Anthony Lake, Director, Policy Planning Staff
  • William B. Quandt, Staff Member, National Security Council
  • Thomas J. Dunnigan, Charge d’Affaires ad interim
  • John E. Crump, Political Counselor


  • Discussions between Secretary Vance and Prime Minister Rabin

The Prime Minister opened the meeting by expressing his welcome to the Secretary and his party. He appreciated very much that the President and the Secretary had decided that the first trip abroad by the Secretary in his new position would be to the Middle East and that the first stop would be in Israel. This is part of the special relationship between Israel and the U.S. He hoped this special relationship, which has [Page 38] existed through three decades and was mentioned in the letter from President Carter2 will be continued and developed.

The relationship between the U.S. and Israel is based on a common desire for peace and tranquility in this part of the world, in addition to shared basic values. The development of this special relationship, especially in recent years, requires a) frank and intimate consultations before taking actions and b) a strong Israel. We have learned that although we have differences of opinion we must try to focus mainly on what we have in common, to find solutions, and to overcome our differences. The Prime Minister said he was sure that the President and the Secretary will add new facets to the cooperation between our two countries aimed at advancing our cooperation.

The Prime Minister said he wished to review where Israel stands: Israel believes that the common effort since the end of the Yom Kippur war had brought about Resolution 3383 and had established the MEPC as a framework for agreements—in this connection he noted that the first plenary session was followed by the first agreements reached between Arab states and Israel since 1949.

As a result of developments in the Arab world in their relations with the major powers and to a lesser extent in their relations with Israel, it may now be possible to continue a new phase in the relationships which began at the end of 1973.4 Israeli policy was, is, and will be to seek actively a real peace; this means a peace negotiated, signed and maintained by the Arab states and Israel. Such a peace must include three major issues: the nature of peace, boundaries, and a resolution of the Palestinian issue.

Peace is a combination of two basic elements: an end of the state of war, with all the implications that brings, and the structures of peace or normalization of relations. Anything less would not be considered by Israel as constituting an overall settlement.

Regarding boundaries, the Prime Minister said Israel’s policy is that once the above-described peace is achieved, it is ready for territorial compromise in all sectors. He commented that he is not seeking to [Page 39] give back territories but for peace he would do so. It will not be a total withdrawal to the 1967 borders—what changes there are, questions of sovereignty, and questions of control of territory are all open to negotiation.

Regarding a solution of the Palestinian issue the Prime Minister said he does not consider this to be the crux of the matter. The crux is the reluctance of the Arabs to recogn ize Israel as a viable Jewish state. Nevertheless, without a solution of the Palestinian issue no durable peace can follow. He noted the following conditions. The Palestinian issue has to be solved in the context of negotiating a peace treaty with Jordan. In the original Palestine there should be two and only two states. In the Jordanian/Palestinian state the Palestinians must be able to find a way of expressing their identity but the state-to-state agreement must be between Israel and Jordan. A third state would not solve anything but, on the contrary, would contain the elements of further difficulties. Israel would continue to refuse to negotiate with the PLO but it would agree to the inclusion of certain Palestinian leaders in any Jordanian delegation to the MEPC.

At the present time the gap between the two sides on these issues appears too wide to be bridged. However, to prevent a stalemate and to encourage long-range trends in the Arab world and to overcome the 28-year trend toward war, Israel is ready to move in either of two paths: (a) an overall settlement reached in the context of an MEPC, or (b) a more limited agreement. He noted that Israel has lived the last 20 years with limited agreements or with limited arrangements reached without agreements.

Israel remains ready to return to the MEPC under its original terms. Israel sees the MEPC as the framework for ongoing operations. It could consist of a plenary session and subsequent disengagement negotiations within that framework. He believed Israel should try to achieve progress in the second half of 1977, not with the expectation that it will reach an overall settlement, but it must be prepared to search for other options if an overall settlement is not achieved.

Israel remains more than ready to cooperate with the U.S. The U.S. knows Israel’s positions regarding who should and should not attend Geneva. Israel must retain its strength and he expressed appreciation for the $285 million added to the President’s budget for support of Israel. He noted that Israel hopes for additional support for its military budget in order to maintain its military strength as well as its economic viability. He hoped that together we can cope with certain problems which are sure to arise in this area of unexpected developments.

For all these reasons we have developed a relationship of cooperation and understanding and this has enabled us to prevent issues such as Lebanon and the Gulf of Suez from becoming major issues. He [Page 40] hoped that the Secretary on his visit would convey Israel’s views to its neighbors and discuss with them Israel’s goals and what it is trying to achieve. Together we must discuss not only our purposes but mechanisms and procedures, although sometimes it is more difficult to reach agreement on these than on broad lines of policy.

The Prime Minister noted increased U.S. capability in the Middle East has resulted from its gaining the confidence of both sides, by not taking positions and not imposing solutions, and thus keeping its ability to offer good offices. He hoped the U.S. is committed to Israel and the strength of Israel and will continue to work for understanding so that all in the Middle East could enjoy the fruits of U.S. efforts.

The Secretary responded that he brought warm wishes to the Prime Minister from President Carter and he noted there is, indeed, a special relationship between our two countries and that relationship is the reason for stopping first in Israel. The U.S. remains fully committed to the maintenance of the strength of Israel. The security and preservation of the State of Israel is fundamental to our policy. We will seek together to find a solution to our very difficult problems.

The Secretary said his role is not to bring a blueprint or a plan but to facilitate movement toward a solution. He shared the Prime Minister’s hope that we can commence that movement in the second half of 1977. He would convey the attitudes and objectives of Israel to the leaders of other countries in the hope that we may begin to move toward a solution.

Defense Minister Peres introduced Major General Gazit, Director of Intelligence. Gazit recalled that three and one half years ago Israel was hit by surprise when the combined Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked on both fronts. Israel had had general estimates of the situation and the feeling that Arab objectives of regaining territories and going on to destroy Israel had not changed, but believed that the Arabs would not attack because the military balance was in Israel’s favor. Gazit said his worry now is over the possibility of a repeat of this situation and the Arab threat Israel would face in case such an attack occurred. While he joined in the hope for successful negotiations, he knew Arabs and their positions: No peace, no settlement, no acceptance of an independent Israel as long as the slightest hope exists for the destruction of Israel. He must, therefore, be prepared for the worst possible military position.

Gazit reviewed changes since 1973. First, regarding the element of surprise, Egypt and Syria were satisfied with the surprise they attained in 1973 although they are aware they failed in the tactical sphere. They know Israel will not misread their intentions again and they must be prepared to do more if they wish to succeed in the next war. Following the Riyadh and Cairo accords and the re-establishment of a united mili[Page 41]tary leadership,5 Israel sees some of the same military figures from 1973.

Regarding the military threat which has evolved since 1973, the most notable characteristic is the change on the northern or eastern front. Israel had long considered the western front to be its major danger and had concentrated its forces there. In October 1973 there were five Syrian divisions on the east front compared to ten Egyptian divisions on the west with proportional numbers of tanks and aircraft. Today there are 15 divisions on the east with the same ten divisions on the west, with twice as many tanks and half again as many aircraft. Given the geography, the length of the front and the proximity of Israeli targets, Gazit said Israel faced a hell of a problem on this front.

What will be the role of Jordan in the next war? There will be no question of Jordan not joining as was the case in 1973. Jordanian non-participation then enabled Israel to pull out its forces facing Jordan and redeploy them. The importance of the Jordanian front stems from its length as the longest land border of all the confrontation states, its proximity to Israel’s vital areas, and the fact that it is a border which permits other Arab forces to pass through into Israel. Therefore, Israel must assume Jordan will join the next war, especially if it comes as the result of an overall Arab effort. Inter-Arab factors would not permit Jordan staying out of the next war; he noted particularly the new and close ties with Syria. Jordan will soon receive an anti-aircraft system which will remove its former pretext of not having air cover as a reason for not fighting. Jordan’s addition to Arab armies would mean two armored and two mechanized divisions, which are mobile and well-equipped, 700 tanks and 90 aircraft.

Gazit then discussed Arab expeditionary forces which in previous wars had been too late, too little and of poor quality. Today those forces are more dangerous. Iraq is the most important change because it no longer has its Kurdish problem, it can send five divisions (two armored, one or two mechanized and one or two infantry), 130 aircraft and two special forces brigades. The forces can arrive quickly; Gazit noted the recent acquisition of 750 tank transporters. Many Iraqi forces could arrive within 35 hours and all could arrive within less than five days.

Saudi Arabia. Saudi troops arrived in Jordan and Syria late in the 1973 war and stayed more than three years. Saudi Arabia is a dangerous potential force because its proximity to southern Israel, its long sea border and the possibility of blockading shipping and road traffic [Page 42] add up to reasons Israel should count on Saudi Arabia joining a joint Arab effort. Its forces would total one or two tank brigades, one or two mechanized brigades, one or two infantry brigades, one brigade of special forces and 130 aircraft, all of whom have trained for such deployment.

Libya. Gazit said Libyan forces are not important as expeditionary forces; the most important aspect is its military stockpiling. This armament could be delivered to other Arab states before, during or after a conflict for re-supply purposes. Libya, for example, could supply eight or nine hundred tanks to any Arab state. It is the same equipment although its degree of maintenance may be a factor.

Lebanon. Previously there was never a threat from the north but the last 18 months have brought a new and different Lebanon which Gazit characterized as “one big question mark.” Lebanon is now different politically, economically, and especially militarily. There are Syrian forces in Lebanon (approximately 30,000) which amount to three divisions of combined armored, mechanized and infantry forces. Israel does not know how long Syrian forces will stay in Lebanon and, while there is no immediate threat, possible Syrian redeployment would change the northern border a great deal because of the danger to Israeli settlements and the avenues of attack from the north. In addition, Lebanon is now a more radical country and might invite Arab expeditionary forces.

Gazit said another change since 1973 is in the qualitative comparison between Israeli and Arab forces. While the confrontation states have shown no important changes in the number of units it would be a mistake to think the equation has remained at a standstill. There has been a major Arab effort to change the quality of manpower, training, and materiel.

Better quality of manpower has come about because of higher level of education in Arab forces. If one compares the ratio of educated to non-educated soldiers between 1948 and 1977 the percentage of educated is now much higher. The quality of training has increased also and this is particularly noticeable in the level of exercises in all services. Gazit noted that the Syrian forces, in spite of their preoccupation with Lebanon, carried out more exercises in 1976 than in 1975. However, the most important change in quality has been in the modernization of equipment. Israel believes there are now some T–72 tanks in Syria and most Arab forces now have T–62 or AMX 30 tanks in place of older equipment. Self-propelled artillery has replaced towed equipment, new Soviet made APCs, modern aircraft such as the MIG–23, assault helicopters and more anti-aircraft missiles, especially SAM–6 missiles, have been supplied. The more remarkable increase, however, is in auxiliary systems, including night vision devices, laser range-finding equipment, electronic systems, communications scramblers, etc. While [Page 43] the ratio of Israeli/Arab losses during aerial combat in 1973 was 1/55, modern air-to-air missiles, reflecting the greater sophistication of Arab aircraft, would change that ratio.

There has been a great increase in Arab arms procurement from the west; up to the end of 1975, Arab countries had bought arms worth $5.8 billion from the east and $1.6 billion from the west; since January 1976 they have bought $6–7 billion from the east and $21.6 billion from the west. In addition, the basic Soviet advantage of quick delivery should not be overlooked. The Arab states know that if they call on the USSR, there will not be any delay and that air and sea supply will be accomplished almost immediately.

In response to the Secretary’s question about the role of stockpiles, Gazit said that Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have no problems with spares or ammunition. While Egypt was formerly thought to have such difficulties, the recent rate and scale of military exercises have led the Israelis to believe those problems have been overcome. Gazit believed none of the Arab states would have a problem carrying out a war of 30 days duration.

To support his remarks Gazit displayed a chart6 showing the western front composed of forces drawn from Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Sudan consisting of 10 divisions, 20 brigades, 3,240 tanks and 640 aircraft. The eastern front would be composed of forces from Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and would consist of 15 divisions, 6–7 brigades, 4,420 tanks and 730 aircraft. In the Mediterranean the Israelis would face a naval force of 32 missile boats, 12 submarines and 10 destroyer/frigates. In the Red Sea it would face 17 missile boats, one submarine and two destroyer/frigates.

Chief of Staff Gur then discussed Israeli philosophy in meeting this total Arab threat. He said the hope is to deter the Arabs from executing any action against Israel; such deterrence would be the greatest possible accomplishment of the Israeli Armed Forces. No deterrent can be fool-proof, but Israel hopes to keep the Arabs from taking any military steps. This would keep open the possibility of military action and would give the Government of Israel freedom for political steps it considers necessary. Israel wants to be sure the United States knows that before taking any military action Israel has considered all alternatives and is using military action as a last resort.

Israel has had much experience in the past against combined Arab forces and feels it must be able to defend itself against the Arabs who surround it. The only open channels of communication are the air and the sea and Israeli defense plans must ensure that those channels re[Page 44]main open. Israel must seek a quick victory to minimize its losses and must achieve a decisive victory without losing too many people or too much equipment. At the same time it is imperative that Israel be able to do this without calling for help—for moral, military and especially political reasons. The threats made by the Arabs after the Yom Kippur War to renew military action leads Israel to the belief that it must end any future war in such a way that it is clear to the Arabs that resort to war is finished and it is time for the political process; that political process must not be undertaken under the threat of renewal of military action.

The Government must be able to pursue any political program even if that means giving up territory. If the Government decides to give up territory, it must not harm Israel’s basic strength, but must balance military strength against territory. It must also balance quantity against quality. In that regard Gur made the following comments:

  • a) Each front must be able to defend itself.
  • b) Israel must have a large strategic reserve which can be moved to the area where it is needed—there must be a large reserve unit in the center of the country ready to move to the decisive front.
  • c) The Arabs have manpower and money in large quantities so Israel must use its manpower wisely in advance—it must use its small potential to the best advantage. While the ratio of one to three is the average, this is not always acceptable, especially in view of the quali-tative improvement of Arab weapons. Israeli quality must continually improve.
  • d) While Arab armies use regular forces, most of Israel’s strength is in its reserves; therefore, Israeli regular forces must be equipped as well as possible to defend to the utmost while reserves are being mobilized; for that purpose Israel needs modern weapons and equipment.

Israel is smaller in territory, therefore, the Armed Forces’ equipment must enable them to hold that territory since the loss of only five miles means a large number of population centers come under fire.

A particular problem is that of the transfer of military equipment between Arab states; to meet this problem Israel must maintain large stocks of equipment and supplies. In addition, Israel is convinced that territory is much more important than formerly because only on extensive territory are fortifications and maneuvers of forces possible. The loss of territory means the loss of population.

In the agreements with Egypt,7 according to Gur, Israel gave up territory and proximity to Egyptian population centers. As a result the Egyptians feel safer and feel no direct threat to their population centers [Page 45] and to the Canal. Israel also gave up important defensive territory in the Sinai. In addition, the buffer territory established between Egyptian and Israeli forces means that the Egyptians can achieve territorial gains by its military forces without being in contact with Israeli forces (for example, Egyptian forces could move forward 20 to 30 kilometers without firing a shot). These factors could be dangerous to Israel. While it is thought that Israel gained in political terms, it paid in military terms. Nevertheless, Israel has become stronger militarily as a result of its agreement with the U.S. and the goal of the U.S. to become the strongest power in the Middle East has been to Israel’s advantage. Gur also noted the great military cooperation between the two countries which is more extensive than ever before, particularly in the field of visits [less than 1 line not declassified]

In summary, Gur said there are certain items of military equipment which if received late are of no value—for example, aircraft without pilots having been trained. Israel must be sure that its balance of forces can prevent or deter Arab use of force. Israel must be able to prevent political gains by military forces. To accomplish these goals, Israel hopes that the understanding with the United States regarding military equipment needs will continue and that Israel will be supplied so that the progress toward settlement can continue.

Peres said that if one looks back over recent years several conclusions are evident: major events in the Middle East have been unforeseen, for example, the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and these unforeseen events have brought about a totally different Middle East. Secondly, some things that appeared unacceptable to the Arabs five years ago have now been accepted, for example, interim agreements. Thirdly, peace has not been achieved, tension has grown and Israel has suffered great shocks because it lacks depth of territory and because of lack of political warning (there usually is no period of deterioration in relations but on the contrary an immediate progress to war).

Fourthly, there is, nevertheless, some hope in the present situation, especially when the U.S. plays a part in the Middle East. It has become axiomatic to Israel that the presence of the Soviet Union means war while that of the U.S. means peace—when the USSR was strong in the area, there was threat and tension, while one now feels an improvement and for this Israel is thankful. U.S. policy is based on a strong Israel and this is an important factor for peace. U.S. assistance to Israel supplies material but not personnel.

While carrying out negotiations, Israel will have to continue to deal with the problem of maintenance of its strength. A major worry is that the changing Middle East winds might bring a sudden attack. While the Arabs can reach decisions and move against Israel in six hours, it takes Israel 36 hours to mobilize and this can be a traumatic 36 [Page 46] hours. Israel cannot spread its regular forces, it must maintain its vigilance, it must continue to modernize its arms and look to the future development of its forces.

Regarding Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors, Peres admitted that an inclination to settle the conflict is greater now than ever before but there still is no element of realistic compromise. Israel remains worried because the Arabs are building up their armed forces and have spent billions since 1973. That build-up has been moderated by the agreements with Egypt and Syria, which are by and large satisfactory. Israel has the highest regard for the U.S. watch station in the Sinai and believes that the combination of Egyptian, Israeli, and U.S. watch stations is a unique contribution. Israel’s hopes in this regard were justified and its fears did not materialize. However, the Syrians are more pedantic and strict in their construction of agreements; while they are less worried about the details they insist on renewal every six months.

Israel is trying to create more peaceful conditions along its borders. Peres noted the Open Bridge policy8 and said that more than four million Arabs have crossed the bridges in each direction since 1967. The West Bank enjoys full employment, has more than one third its population in schools and continues its close connections with Jordan. The Jordanian government plays a practical role in the West Bank—it pays the salaries of 6,000 of 10,000 public officials, it supports municipalities with loans, it pays for religious officials, etc. This shadow Jordanian presence is encouraged by Israel and Israel hopes to maintain a humane presence in the territories. It is a matter of some pride to Peres that while there have been some sporadic demonstrations, there have been no fatalities in the last six months. Israel supported free and honest elections which brought into office city officials who are extremist in speech but realistic in administration.

In Gaza 170,000 of 400,000 residents are refugees but there is now full employment after years of chronic unemployment. Israel has started a housing scheme. Although Gaza is still governed by mandate Palestinian law, it is the most tranquil part of the area under Israeli administration and Israel intends to continue its policy of normalization. Israel feels that whatever happens, it must behave as a responsible government and permit a normal life for the Gazans.

[Page 47]

Regarding the Good Fence with Lebanon,9 Peres said that Israel decided the borders would be open from the start and noted the Israeli clinics have now treated a total of 18,000 Christians and Muslim Lebanese. Residents of Lebanon also work and shop in Israel and sell their produce there. He believes that Israel has created a model of better relationships, of growing human relationships of the sort it wishes in the future.

The danger of attack still exists. If the winds in the Middle East change, if a leader disappears, if the mood changes, all these may bring dangers. The future depends very much on the U.S. and the Minister then discussed U.S./Israeli arms relations.

Until 1973 Israel had worked on a ten-year plan for arms procurement. This was then cut to a three-year plan which was agreed to in principle, subject to annual negotiations. Prime Minister Rabin, in his visit last year, worked out the first year’s procurement and Peres, in his last trip, submitted a plan for the second year.10 These plans involved tanks, guns, helicopters and hydrofoils and some particular problems have surfaced.

Israel considers it must maintain a military industry as part of its overall strength for three reasons. First, it must have the installations to repair equipment rather than depending upon storage of large inventories. Second, military industry is an important part of the economy; Israel has developed an aircraft industry which employs 90,000 persons, as well as shipyards, and a military electronics industry. Third, Israel would like to produce here in order to limit its requests to the United States to avoid publicity, drama and shipping costs. Fourth, there are employment reasons. An additional reason is that the Arabs can buy anything Israel can buy, but Israel can maintain a slight edge in quality by home production and adaptations.

To support this industrial base, Israel has approached the United States with three requests: a) F–16 co-production. President Ford approved F–16 sales to Israel.11 GOI was thinking of 250 planes in the 1980–1990 timeframe and has requested permission to buy 50 outright, to assemble 50 in Israel and to produce 150 entirely in Israel. This scheme would give Israel a reliable spare parts capability and an inde[Page 48]pendent supply source. b) Tanks. Israel now produces a good tank here. It was agreed in the consolidated list that 430 tanks would be purchased.12 Israel now proposes that 178 be produced in Israel and the equivalent $106 million (of which $36 million would be spent in the U.S. for tank engines) would be given to Israel in direct aid. This scheme would enable Israel to maintain its tank production industry. c) Hydrofoil. U.S. is advanced in the use of aeronautic techniques, particularly as developed by the Grumman and Boeing firms and Israel has selected the Grumman technology. Israel has asked to produce the boats in Israel and the company has agreed, but political approval has not yet been granted.

Peres then turned to a discussion of the Kfir fighter sale to Ecuador and noted that Ecuador falls between French and Israeli planes while Israel falls between U.S. Administrations. The Kfir is an Israeli plane with a U.S. engine and it cannot be produced without some exports. There is a limited potential market for sales because Israel is closed out of any market where the U.S. or USSR sells planes.

Israel thought Ecuador was a safe possibility because the need for aircraft was agreed upon and it was only a question of where the planes would be bought. Israel informed the United States informally of its sales efforts, received a mixed reaction but then came under pressure from Ecuador to close the deal.

Commenting that it was a matter of great pride to Israelis that they are able to produce modern aircraft, Peres said he would appreciate it very much if the Secretary would reconsider the matter. Israel does not wish to go against U.S. policies but would like to coordinate military sales as much as possible. He proposed that some sort of machinery be established for this coordination and said that Israel is ready to coordinate. He said that Israel is aware that Latin America is a sensitive area for military sales. If there is a “court of appeals” in the Department of State, Israel would like to resort to that court. The sum involved—$150 million—is not large but it is a very touchy subject to the Israeli public and he appealed again for reconsideration.

Peres then raised the question of financial assistance and referred to the generous help from the United States. He said that $1.5 billion annually in military aid had been generally agreed on, but then the value of money fell, the cost of weapons rose and the system of payment changed. Even without an F–16 purchase, $1 billion annually in assistance would leave Israel $3.5 billion short in covering existing orders under the consolidated list in the years ahead. Israel would like the Sec[Page 49]retary and the President to reconsider the level of military assistance. He noted that Israel puts the heaviest burden on its people of any democracy in terms of tax burdens, reserve military duty, etc. In closing, Peres said he hoped to be able to continue the very agreeable relationship and cooperation in defense matters.

Prime Minister Rabin noted that the discussion had not yet touched on economic subjects and said this was the worst problem Israel faces. Most of the internal problems in Israel are due to economic factors. He summed up by saying that Israel is strong today, is strong enough for negotiations, is willing to take risks for peace and to move toward a meaningful peace. He thanked the United States for its understanding and said that Israel is now militarily in much better shape than it was three years ago and can look forward with greater confidence in proceeding with the diplomatic process.

1977–78 will bring real problems as we consider what must be done and how we must combine our efforts. Israel understands this is only the Secretary’s first stop on his visit but he suggested we continue our combined diplomatic efforts and work for machinery to remove the small obstacles such as Lebanon, Suez and military exports from our relationships.

The Secretary responded to several of the points raised by Peres. He said our military relationship with Israel remains unchanged. The new Administration has not yet finished its study of the consolidated list of requests for military assistance and has no position on that as yet. He agreed with Peres that the idea of a study of coordination of third country military sales is an excellent one and we will proceed to consider it. The problem of Kfir sales to Ecuador is a sensitive and difficult problem for the United States as well as Israel and was part of our whole policy regarding military sales to Latin America. It was a difficult decision for us and was not taken lightly in view of our own diplomatic problems but he would be less than frank if he left the idea that the decision would be reversed. The U.S. will examine the requests from Israel for co-production, etc. and will be in touch.

In response to a request from Allon that he sum up their earlier discussion on Lebanon,13 the Secretary said he would raise the long-term question of Lebanon with the Syrians and Lebanese and would be in touch again with Israel. Rabin said the Israeli position should be clearly understood: Israel preferred that the vacuum in southern Lebanon be filled by the terrorists rather than the Syrians. He feels there should be a truly Lebanese force as soon as possible and [Page 50] would prefer that Lebanon take on the responsibility for the forces in south Lebanon and that Syria return to the January 23 lines.14

The Secretary said we have urged the Syrians and Lebanese to take these steps but we are honestly not sure of their capabilities. Peres said he would estimate that in south Lebanon there are 1,500 to 2,000 armed individuals, many of whom are former Lebanese soldiers; Sarkis could recognize them as part of the Lebanese army. They could take orders from him and this would solve the problem. There are existing forces, they are armed, and they are organized.

Rabin asked about CBUs. The Secretary said that in his judgment the President will decide not to make CBUs available to Israel. It will be part of a conclusion not to sell or make them available to any foreign country. He did not know when this decision would be made, he did discuss it with the President before leaving, and it was a difficult decision.

Peres said that the military problem Israel faces is different than those faced by the U.S. in Vietnam and yet the Vietnam aftereffect applies to Israel. Israel needs CBUs because: a) Israel is surrounded by mine fields and CBUs are useful to destroy mines, and b) Israel is surrounded by anti-aircraft missile coverage and CBUs are needed against concentrated missile deployment. Israel is suffering from the aftereffects of Vietnam in the U.S. Israel wants CBUs not just because they were promised but because they are needed.

In response to the Secretary’s comment that other weapons would serve the same purpose, Gur replied that CBUs are an example of the high technology weapons needed by Israel. To eliminate missile sites, a certain number of bombs and planes would be required. CBUs reduce the number of planes to one fourth and this is important to Israel.

Several days ago he heard an American general describe anti-tank helicopters as a “dirty weapon” because of implications from Vietnam. Egypt has such anti-tank helicopters already. Whether a weapon is “dirty” depends on its use, not on the weapon itself. There are 200 missile sites around Israel. CBUs are needed because surface-to-surface missiles are not accurate enough to destroy anti-aircraft missile sites. Aircraft must be used and CBUs would make a big difference. The Secretary commented this was the first time he had heard anti-tank helicopters referred to as dirty weapons. The CBU not only has associations from Vietnam; the U.S. armed forces has some doubts about its efficiency.

[Page 51]

Peres said Israel had been asked to undertake to restrict any use of CBUs and had agreed to do so. Allon added that Israel had also heard that U.S. missile experts are unsure about the CBU but Israeli experts are convinced of its utility. Although Israel is heavily armed, it is still a small country and the Arabs around it have new weapons and the CBU is a weapon which is almost indispensable to Israel’s defense.

Rabin said he would not argue about the efficiency although he recalled having discussed such weapons with General Haig and having been impressed. He wished to look at the question from a different prespective: a former President says yes to Israel’s request for CBUs and this is public knowledge.15 A new President says no and certain implications arise in the public mind. The reversal of the decision is the problem Israel faces and it is a problem vis-a-vis the whole world because everybody asks what has happened. The destructive capabilities of the weapon is of crucial importance; if it can assist or facilitate the Israeli air force, this is of first priority to Israel. It adds tremendously to Israeli capability militarily but has the extra political implications of a reversed decision.

The Secretary said the U.S. understands the Israeli view and this makes the President’s decision even more important, especially when a question remains regarding the weapon’s performance. Gur said that all weapons against military sites are only partially effective. Stand-off weapons require good weather and are technically difficult. In any case, a weapon is needed for the final kill and this must be done by an aircraft and the CBU is the best weapon for this final assault because it does not require a high degree of accuracy. Israel is convinced it is a good weapon for the purpose intended.

The Secretary said that he had taken note of Israeli views and will communicate any final decision.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Vance Nodis Memcons, 1977. No classification marking. Approved in S. The meeting took place in the Prime Minister’s Office. The memorandum of conversation contains a number of handwritten revisions.
  2. Carter’s February 14 letter noted “the special relationship between Israel and the United States.” Carter invited Rabin to Washington in March, citing “the importance of early and full exchanges between our two governments.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Trips/Visits File, Box 102, 2/14–21/77 Vance Trip to the Middle East: 2/18/77–3/77)
  3. U.N. Security Council Resolution 338 was adopted on October 22, 1973, and called for a cease-fire between forces fighting in the October War within 12 hours of its adoption. Additionally, the resolution called for the parties to immediately work toward the implementation of Security Council Resolution 242.
  4. A reference to the December 1973 Geneva Conference. See footnote 3, Document 1.
  5. Agreements reached at the October 1976 Arab peace conference in Riyadh and the Arab League Summit meeting the same month in Cairo ended the Lebanese civil war and authorized the Arab Deterrent Force to supervise the cease-fire.
  6. No chart has been found.
  7. A reference to the two disengagement agreements between Egypt and Israel.
  8. The “open bridge” policy refers to the Israeli policy adopted after the June 1967 war to allow the free movement of people and goods over the Allenby and Adam Bridges, which connect the West Bank to Jordan.
  9. The “good fence” refers to a popular term used to describe the border between Israel and Lebanon after the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war. Maronite Christians, who were friendly with Israel, controlled southern Lebanon with the South Lebanon Army (SLA).
  10. Rabin visited the United States on a 10-day trip from January 27 to February 5, 1976. Peres visited the United States in December 1976.
  11. The United States approved the F–16 sales to Israel in September 1975 as part of the second disengagement agreement between Israel and Egypt. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Document 234.
  12. Presumably a reference to the list of military equipment attached to NSDM 315, January 31, 1976; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Document 260.
  13. See footnote 2, Document 8.
  14. A reference to Syrian forces positioned in Lebanon as of January 23, 1976. From January 20 to 22, 1976, Syria imposed a cease-fire in Lebanon through the influence of Syrian-controlled Saiqa and Palestine Liberation Army forces. Al-Saiqa was a Palestinian Baathist political and military organization created by the Syrian Baath Party in 1966.
  15. The New York Times reported on October 13, 1976, that Ford had approved the sale of advanced weapons to Israel, including cluster bombs. (Bernard Gwertzman, “Ford Move on New Arms to Israel Is Termed Political,” New York Times, October 13, 1976, p. 3)