190. Memorandum of Conversation1
- The President
- Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan
- Israeli Ambassador Rabin
- Secretary of Defense Laird
- General Haig
Following greetings, Defense Minister Dayan stated that he was giving a speech in New York tomorrow which would be in an open forum and that he would like to have the President’s permission to state to the members of the American Jewish Community, who would be in the audience, that Prime Minister Golda Meir had told him that President Nixon had always been true to his word and that he had given her many good words. The President agreed.2
The meeting was then delayed for press photography. Following the departure of the press, President Nixon said that he had great admiration for the people of Israel and had been tremendously impressed primarily by their spirit during his visit to Israel in 1967.
Defense Minister Dayan stated that it was conceivable that in the spring the Egyptians would be reinforced by Soviet aircraft and would feel capable of trying to cross the Canal. He wanted the President to know that Israeli forces would not turn their back but would fight and that the spirit of Israel was still strong and aggressive even if the Soviets provided air superiority to the UAR.
Defense Minister Dayan added that the Israeli air battle of last summer with the Soviets3 was a calculated decision on the part of his government and one which was taken alone without consultation with any other Government, with the full realization of the implications of the engagement.
President Nixon stated that his policy had been, from the outset, to counterbalance Soviet power in the Middle East. He was confident that [Page 667] the Arabs alone would be no match for Israel’s military. For this reason, it was his concern that the Soviets recognize that the U.S. would guarantee Israel’s survival. He had followed this policy since the first days of his Administration, both in public and in private contacts with the Soviets.
The President added that U.S. actions during the Jordan crisis were designed to demonstrate this point. The movement of the Sixth Fleet was ordered to convey to the Soviet Union that the U.S. would not stand idly by in this situation. The President also complimented the Israeli Government for the readiness measures which they took and which were also an operative factor in de-escalating the situation.
Secretary Laird added that it was especially significant that Israel had moved in concert with Jordan and enabled the King of Jordan to strip his border with Israel and concentrate his forces against the Syrians.
The President noted that the magnificent performance of the Jordanian armored forces was also a key factor. The President stated that it would be difficult for him to foresee the Egyptians crossing the Canal alone without suffering a catastrophe.
Minister Dayan stated that it would be unlikely that the Egyptians would move unless they had a guarantee of air superiority through the provision of large numbers of Soviet aircraft but even in this instance he believed that Israeli armor utilized properly in the desert would be ultimately decisive.
President Nixon stated that he would never mislead the Prime Minister or the people of Israel. He intended to be forthright and honest and make no promises that he would not deliver or provide any assurances that he would not keep. He stated that from time to time friends would disagree on particulars but that the essence of international friendship was mutual trust. He trusted Prime Minister Meir and anticipated that she shared this trust in him.
The President added that it was quite evident to him that the American people anticipated that Israel would move to the conference table under the auspices of Jarring. He pointed out that this was expected in light of the $500 million assistance being provided by this government which he hoped would soon be approved by the Congress.4 He stated that it was important that the youth of Israel be permitted to apply their great talents, ingenuity and industry to peaceful pursuits and that for this reason the time was right to enter into the talks. He pointed out further that Israel at this time could move with an air of confidence since the military balance would be re-[Page 668]established through the current aid package and since the overall international environment dictated such a move. He emphasized that all responsible U.S. officials were of one mind on this.
Defense Minister Dayan replied that Israel wanted to negotiate and that last year one of the elements of their Government resigned on this issue5 but the consensus was in favor of negotiation and it still is. He pointed out, however, that the standstill violations posed a most serious complication for Israel. To proceed now in the face of these violations would be almost impossible. He added that if the U.S. could make some commitment with respect to Israel’s future military needs, he was confident that the talks could proceed, emphasizing however that he was not authorized by his government to discuss these issues.
Minister Dayan stated that he was concerned about the status of Israel’s air inventory since they had lost 8 Phantoms and since the Prime Minister had requested in September a flow of 6 Phantoms and 6 Skyhawks per month, starting in January of 19716 but that no word had been received from the U.S. side as to whether or not this request would be satisfied.
President Nixon asked Secretary Laird and General Haig where this issue stood. General Haig stated that the Israeli arms request for 1971 was being considered at interdepartmental level.7 Secretary Laird stated that it would be very difficult for the U.S. to meet the request for aircraft since it would be necessary for us to enter our own inventory to do so. Production lines would take over a year to provide the aircraft directly from the manufacturers.
Secretary Laird also pointed out that Israel’s main requirement was for ground control equipment and that the Department of Defense was working on a package to alleviate Israel’s problem in this respect.
Minister Dayan again emphasized that Israel’s air inventory was not adequate in the light of the heavy weight of air assets controlled by the enemy. He knew that without some U.S. commitments and a steady flow of replacement aircraft it would be difficult to expect Israel to proceed with the talks under Jarring.
President Nixon stated that this posed complex problems for us, that he was not familiar with the details but that Israel must understand that the U.S., on occasion, could not meet all of Israel’s requirements. Israel would have to rely on our assurances and good faith which have never been found lacking.[Page 669]
Ambassador Rabin stated that previous Israeli requests had sometimes run into great difficulty in that decisions were made at the last minute and only after crises had developed and, therefore, it was next to impossible for Israel to plan properly and to train adequately for and maintain, as well as modify surge shipments of equipment. It was therefore important for a steady pipeline of material to be provided and with sufficient notification so that past turbulence could be eliminated.
President Nixon restated that the U.S. had no intention of permitting Israel to fall and that he personally, with the full weight of this government, was fully committed to its survival.
Meeting was adjourned at 4:45 p.m.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 608, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. VIII. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Printed from an unsigned copy.↩
- In his speech to the United Jewish Appeal on December 12, Dayan asserted that while President Nixon “has kept every word” to Israel concerning its military needs since his election, “we do not want to find ourselves in a position where only the other parties have military supplies, soldiers, and missiles.” He added: “We do not want to sit down at a table with a gun being pointed at us.” (New York Times, December 13, 1970, p. 11)↩
- Rabin described Israel’s July 30, 1970, air battle with the Soviets to Kissinger; see Document 142.↩
- Congress passed the supplemental foreign aid package on December 22.↩
- See footnote 3, Document 149.↩
- See Document 162.↩
- The Senior Review Group next considered military assistance to Israel at its meeting on January 11, 1971; see Document 195.↩