106. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

1502. Subj: Decision on Aircraft and Economic Aid for Israel. Ref: State 41927.2

1. Ambassador, accompanied by DCM, called on Prime Minister Meir at 1030 a.m. March 23, handed her copy of text of Secretary’s announcement on Israel’s military and economic requests (State 41924)3 and briefed her on President’s decision in accordance State 41921 and previous.4 Mrs. Meir was accompanied by Foreign Minister Eban, her Special Assistants Herzog and Dinitz and Acting Assistant Director General MFA Elizur.5

2. Mrs. Meir said that she valued immensely President Nixon’s personal message.6 Regarding final sentence of last additional point made by Ambassador, to effect that for U.S. part confidence in Israel’s fundamental intentions remain as steadfast and firm as they have during all the years of Israel’s nationhood, she said that this was true on Israel’s part as well for the U.S. She said that she would study announcement and Ambassador’s presentation, but from having heard oral presentation she could say that she would not lose sight of positive elements she had heard. Facts that decision was held in abeyance, and was on interim basis, and that U.S. would replace and add on aircraft were fundamentally positive and she was glad to take note of them. On economic aid, Finance Minister Sapir (whom she described as “split personality”, meaning he wants both aircraft and to save money) [Page 353] would find this gratifying. It was especially important that USG was prepared to deal with long-term needs, and not only on one-year basis.

3. On question of aircraft and balance of power, Mrs. Meir continued, there had been some discussions between intelligence services and military concerning considerable discrepancy between Israel’s estimates and those of U.S. GOI convinced its figures right and hopes this will rapidly be cleared up. She wished Israeli figures were not right but this is not simply case of winning an argument. A week or ten days ago she would only have said that she was “concerned about rumors” regarding SA–3 missiles in Egypt, but now everyone knows that they are there. Ambassador agreed evidence points in that direction. Mrs. Meir said she was convinced of it. With missiles come Soviet personnel and number of Russians in Egypt is growing.

4. Question is, said Prime Minister, what elements are taken into account in deciding balance of power. It cannot be denied SA–2 and SA–3 are defensive. If we lose sight of other elements, we can say answer to SA–3s is to keep out of Egypt and SA–3 will not then operate. But we know this implies that Israeli men on Suez Canal are to be objects of immense UAR artillery (and no one says there is balance of power on artillery alone) and only way to overcome this is to use aircraft in which Israel is superior not in numbers but in men. In this context, SA–3 becomes a deadly weapon in that it prevents Israel from using weapons in which it is superior. She was not a military person but did not need to be to understand this. All of this means that if Israel does not consent to sit and take a beating on Canal, it will have to consider if it can afford to use planes and men. This is extremely serious matter for Israel. This connection between so-called defensive weapons and Israel’s use of planes should be understood.

5. Mrs. Meir continued that there was no doubt Kurdish agreement would make it possible for Iraq to send more troops to Jordan.7 Ambassador replied this might be true if agreement works. As friend of Kurds, Mrs. Meir said, she hoped that it would. One might even say, she went on, that at this moment Israel was not in such a critical position, which is right. But when the month comes when the last four Phantoms arrive, the end of this position is in sight. Ambassador Barbour noted USG was prepared to discuss further aircraft on short notice if need arises. What Israel needs, Mrs. Meir said, was certainty, but it would appear that Israel still has long negotiations ahead. She wanted to be able to infer that it means a lot to be told that USG will [Page 354] grant additional and replacement aircraft promptly. Will it be possible, she asked, to come to agreement promptly that this is the moment?

6. Ambassador said he would like to break in here to comment. It would appear that we have sufficient contacts to be able continuously to reassess situation and reconcile differences regarding facts. He did not see need to open new channel for this purpose.

7. Prime Minister continued saying that one more element of situation, not concerned with missiles or bombs but extremely important in Israel’s situation, was mental attitude of Israel’s neighbors. Positive elements of U.S. reply cannot be made public (Ambassador interjected positive elements were in Secretary’s public announcement) and question is how decision will be interpreted by Israel’s neighbors and USSR. They will read, listen, and reach own conclusion: Israel is not getting planes now. They will include word “now” but will not emphasize it. From radio, TV and newspapers everyone will learn that Israel received negative answer from only supplier available. This will certainly not put them in mood that President, Secretary of State and Israelis want, to make even a modest step towards peace or even cease-fire. This certainly not intended by USG to be reaction but will be.

8. Ambassador said this was question of assessment. U.S. would not rule out Prime Minister’s assessment, but feels our decision puts Soviets and Egypt on spot and if they do not make moves towards peace in reasonable time we will know decision has not had political and psychological effects we wanted.

9. Mrs. Meir said that what Soviets were doing in Egypt they were doing in face of President’s having taken time to appraise situation seriously. If Soviets had least intention to take some kind of token step towards peace or cease-fire they would have done so, but they have not. The audacity of what they had been doing while President was weighing his decision! Certainly no one can deny that this creates a new situation.

10. Question was, Ambassador said, what created this situation? Why did Soviets bring in SA–3? Our feeling is that this was because Phantoms were getting through in deep penetration raids. Sure, answered Mrs. Meir, but why were deep penetration raids necessary? Because of shooting on Canal!

There should not be any difference between US and Israel on this. GOI had given long consideration before beginning raids but could not just see boys falling on Canal because Israel did not have artillery. Egyptians want to stop Israel and to prevent its self-defense. Israel is not trying to occupy Cairo and is willing to stop when they stop. Let Nasser argue from a position of strength, say that he is now ready to stop. But he will not do so. Delivery of SA–3s and US decision against planes for Israel will just encourage him to go on. What this does to Is[Page 355]raeli people, she said, she did not need to explain to Ambassador. She must say something that is neither political nor military: she is sorry for Israeli people for having to be disappointed in this way. This is a burden they do not deserve. Israelis are literate people, they will read and listen. What will remain to them will be negative answer from USG. Some will make a fair analysis of US announcement, but negative aspects will stand out.

11. Ambassador replied it would be unfortunate if GOI does not play up positive factors, especially that USG is prepared replace attrition losses and provide additional aircraft if situation changes. Mrs. Meir replied government could not go to people and say there is nothing to worry about. She did not want to be misunderstood, she appreciated that decision was only being held in abeyance. However, it was too much to expect government to say Quote never mind Unquote to people because she did not say this to herself. If she had been asked two weeks ago, she would have been sure decision was going to be positive. She had been sure because it was so evident that Israel needs aircraft, and that Russians carrying out anti-Israel propaganda more viciously than ever before.

12. What you are saying, Ambassador told Prime Minister, is that GOI would take agreement by USG to start negotiating now for 25 Phantoms and 100 Skyhawks as more valuable for Israel’s security than all the firm and broad commitments which USG says must be matter of confidence between governments. Eban replied that affirmative answer on aircraft would have caused increase in this mutual confidence. What divides us, he said, is effect of Secretary’s statement: whether it is enough for Arabs to know Israel will not get aircraft now, or whether it would be better for them to know with certainty that Israel will get them in future. USG has decided not to give them this certainty. It is enormously important that they know Israel’s capacity for future. As US doctrine itself holds, deterrence is most important. What people think about future determines how they act now. US decision has in effect been known for a week and one can test response already. Soviet attitude in Four Power talks is almost an insult to USG and GOI. Eban could not see what value US attaches to this uncertainty.

13. US had had opportunity, Eban continued, which it has passed over, to give Nasser and Russians clear picture that no future attack on Israel can succeed. He could not see reason for not giving both Israel and Arabs this certainty.

14. Ambassador told Mrs. Meir that American Embassies in Moscow and Arab capitals would be making point that we expect Soviets and UAR to react productively to our decision and to make sure that they realize that USG is not weakening its position.

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15. Referring to Ambassador’s remark concerning how GOI should treat announcement, Eban said that GOI would not be able to play up points like USG willingness to provide replacements for lost aircraft. USG could do this better (Embassy note: there has not been any public announcement of any Phantom loss).

16. Mrs. Meir continued that getting replacements presents a serious matter but it should also be understood that something has happened in Egypt that changes situation entirely. Ambassador replied that President recognizes that. Eban said he hoped reappraisal could begin right away and Mrs. Meir joined in to say that should be done Quote almost immediately Unquote.

17. On economic matters, Ambassador said, we would envisage discussions between experts here on long-term matters. If GOI agreed we could work out question of who and when. Mrs. Meir said it was extremely important that door had been left open on long-term economic aid.

18. Meeting concluded with Eban saying that statement to be issued by GOI this evening after Secretary’s announcement would include all elements that Prime Minister had indicated.8 It would express disappointment but also point out things to which Israel attaches importance. For own good, Mrs. Meir concluded, GOI would not leave out any positive element.

19. Comment: Meeting took place at rest home near Jerusalem where Mrs. Meir is spending brief period. Since elements of US decision anticipated by GOI, there were no surprises in our statement or presentation, but affirmative elements therein were well received by Prime Minister. Principal point of difference remains, we believe, that Israelis have no hope whatsoever that reasonable US attitude will produce any forthcoming reaction from Arabs or Russians but rather are strongly convinced that only complete certainty of Israeli invulnerability will deter UAR from false hopes of military victory. While Mrs. Meir was calm and unemotional during meeting, it is clear that she feels deep disappointment that affirmative decision on aircraft was not given at this time. We can expect early Israeli request for reassessment of situation in light of discrepancies revealed between US and Israeli estimates of present Arab military strength and evidence of introduction of SA–3 missiles and Soviet personnel to man them.

Barbour
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 612, Country Files, Middle East, Israeli Aid. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. The telegram is attached to a March 23 memorandum to Kissinger in which Eliot wrote: “The attached telegram from Tel Aviv sets forth the Israeli response to our decision on aircraft and economic aid for Israel. In view of its sensitivity I would be grateful if you would limit its distribution in the White House to as few as possible.”
  2. Dated March 23. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL ISR–US)
  3. Telegram 41924 to Tel Aviv, March 23, transmitted the text of the Secretary’s announcement. (Ibid.) See footnote 2, Document 105.
  4. Telegram 41921 to Tel Aviv, March 23, was a correction to telegram 41705 to Tel Aviv, March 21, which provided guidance to Barbour on briefing Meir on the U.S. decision regarding military and economic assistance to Israel. Rogers also briefed Rabin that morning in Washington, as reported in telegram 42545 to Tel Aviv, March 24. (All in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 606, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. IV)
  5. Elizur was also Director of North American Affairs, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  6. Document 101.
  7. Signed March 11, the agreement provided for Kurdish autonomy within Iraq, which allowed the Iraqi Government to move troops elsewhere that had been fighting Kurds in the northern part of the country. (New York Times, March 13, 1970, p. 10)
  8. Eban’s statement on the evening of March 23 expressed “disappointment and concern” and pointed to the “interim” nature of the U.S. position. (New York Times, March 24, 1970, p. A12) The next day, Rabin also gave Rogers a talking paper, which provided further detail on the official Israeli response to the U.S. decision, as reported in telegram 42624 to Tel Aviv, March 24. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 606, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. IV)