169. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1


  • Aircraft Sales to the Middle East

I recommend that you approve the sale of 75 F–16s to Israel, 15 F–15s to Israel, 60 F–15s to Saudi Arabia, and 50 F–5Es to Egypt. These numbers represent what we judge to be minimally acceptable to the countries concerned. The Department of Defense and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency concur in this recommendation on the basis of foreign policy considerations. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency continues to hold some reservations on the basis of arms control considerations, as discussed below.

The following factors bear on my recommendation:

1. Management of the Arms Transfer Ceiling

The total value of this package is approximately $4.8 billion. In order to manage this large dollar volume within the planned reductions in the arms transfer ceiling, the Letters of Offer will be phased over several years, leaving room for other major priority sales. In the development of our plan for managing the ceiling, we gave first priority to an aircraft package for the Middle East and examined carefully the [Page 545] possibility of phasing Letters of Offer. The numbers I have recommended above will be amenable to our management scheme.

2. Arms Control Considerations

The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency continues to hold some reservations about selling more F–15s in the Middle East, particularly to Saudi Arabia. They believe that this could lead to similar demands from other Middle Eastern states and complicate our efforts to encourage multilateral restraint. However, Paul Warnke has stated that he appreciates the foreign policy reasons for the sale of the F–15s, and that he is fully prepared to support the sale provided that a careful review is made of the present and future configuration2 of the aircraft to be sold.

I would also like to mention the fact that Saudi Arabia and Egypt could purchase advanced aircraft elsewhere. If they were to do so, we would have little or no control over their numbers, configuration, munitions, or deployment.

3. Effect on Negotiations

Although some maintain that any new major aircraft sales to this region are inconsistent with our objective of a peace settlement, I have concluded that it would be even more complicating to the current negotiations not to go forward with some part of the aircraft sales requested by the three countries. Our commitment to Israel’s security must remain unequivocal and Israel must have confidence in its security in order to make peace. In particular, this means an increase in the number of frontline Israeli aircraft and continued modernization of the air force.

Egypt, too, must have the necessary self-confidence to negotiate that will come with the assurance that we will help it attain a reasonable defensive capability. When Sadat made the decision to cut his ties with the Soviet Union, he placed the responsibility on us to maintain a minimal Egyptian defensive aircraft capability.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, I believe the desire to modernize the air force with F–15s is reasonable. I believe the supply of the F–15s to Saudi Arabia will not significantly affect the military superiority now held by Israel in the area—especially in light of the proposal to supply F–16s and additional F–15s to Israel. I do not need to reiterate to you the importance of this sale to our bilateral relations with the Saudis.3

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4. Congressional Notification

Harold Brown and I both believe that these sales should be presented and notified to Congress as a package.4 That was the basis on which our recommendations have been constructed, and such a presentation should make it easier for Members of Congress to support all three sales. However, we cannot make this a legally binding package with Congress, which remains free to reject any part. While we will emphasize the important interrelationship of the three sales, we will have to defend each element on a country by country basis and we will want to avoid seeming to make the Israeli sale conditional on approval of the other two. Congress would react strongly to such an effort.


Accordingly, I recommend that you authorize me to proceed with the implementation of these sales:

75 F–16s for Israel

15 F–15s for Israel

60 F–15s for Saudi Arabia

50 F–5Es for Egypt5

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 63, Middle East: Arms: 2/1–15/78. Secret; Nodis. Brzezinski sent the memorandum to Carter under a February 10 memorandum along with a February 1 memorandum from Department of State Legal Adviser Herbert Hansell regarding the nature of the congressional review of the arms proposal. (Ibid.) Carter initialed both Brzezinski’s and Hansell’s memoranda. Brzezinski returned a copy of Vance’s memorandum to Vance under a February 13 memorandum, indicating that Carter had approved his recommendation. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P860067–1261)
  2. Carter underlined this word and wrote “Let Paul [Warnke] assess” in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  3. Carter wrote “I agree” in the margin below this paragraph.
  4. Carter underlined the phrase “as a package” and wrote “good” in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  5. Carter approved the recommendation, initialed “JC” in the lower margin, and wrote “Get Frank [Moore] & Ham [Jordan] to help with Congress today (2/13).” An attached draft statement was not found. Although Brzezinski noted in his February 10 covering memorandum that he had attached the announcement, he added the following handwritten notation at the end of the memorandum: “I am revising it; will submit it later today.” There is no indication as to when Carter received the announcement. A copy is attached to Brzezinski’s February 13 memorandum to Vance (see footnote 1 above). Vance released a statement on February 14 announcing that the President had approved the sale of the aircraft to Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. See the Department of State Bulletin, March 1978, p. 37.