264. Letter From Secretary of Defense Laird to Secretary of State Rogers 1

Dear Bill:

Thank you for your letter of 4 November.2 I share your concern regarding the possible effects of even a limited cutoff of special arms shipments to Israel, but I believe a fundamental issue is involved. What is at stake is our whole contractual relationship with Israel.

The IDF repeatedly has requested sale of sophisticated equipment (e.g., NIKE, LANCE) with the argument, to ease U.S. concern, that special conditions could be attached to its use. However, we are now being asked, in effect, to agree to an unwritten but overriding proviso that “the IDF will always be free to use any equipment supplied as it chooses if it considers the circumstances so warrant.” Unless the Israeli military are willing to acknowledge the absolute necessity of honoring their commitments, regardless of circumstances, then there can be none of the mutual respect which must exist if Israel is to trust even marginally U.S. assurances as a substitute for its present borders.

I am attaching copies of our exchange of letters with the Israeli Defense Attaché.3 As is evident, there is no acknowledgment of a violation. In these circumstances, the assurances provided have a distinctly hollow ring.

It is difficult to continue to approve sales of sophisticated equipment unless we are assured that the conditions of sale will be honored. As I see it, we have only two alternatives: we can complete deliveries of items already agreed to, ignoring the Israeli violations, but approve no more; or, alternatively, we can reach a clear understanding of the mutuality of our commitments, and can continue to consider requests for [Page 943] material covered by these or other special conditions. The latter course seems plainly the better one, from all points of view.

Meanwhile, we have asked the Israeli Attaché for a fuller written response. We have not indicated that we are withholding deliveries, and we are not asking for an abject apology. What we do insist on is an acknowledgment that there was at least a limited violation, and assurance that similar violations will not occur in the future. If the IDF feels the conditions themselves are unreasonable, then its proper course of action is not to ignore them, but to request their renegotiation.

I genuinely regret that this problem should have cropped up at this particular time, but, since it did, we should not ignore it. As I indicated in my letter to you earlier this fall on the subject of aircraft sales to Israel,4 given our long-term military relationship with that country, it becomes most important that our relationship be frank, open, and workable. This requires, first and foremost, the honoring of mutual commitments.

I am hopeful that once the IDF clearly understands this fact, we will receive the assurances we require, and our entire relationship will benefit.

If you have different thoughts or recommendations, I would be more than happy to hear from you.5

Sincerely,

Melvin R. Laird 6
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–0197, Box 66, Israel. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. On November 4, Rogers wrote to Laird: “Your letter to me of October 22 states that the Department of Defense has placed a hold on the delivery of certain items to Israel. You say that by keeping communication with Israel on the matter in defense-to-defense channels you do not believe the steps we are taking will be misinterpreted by the Israelis. It is our judgment, however, especially in the current state of our relations with Israel, that any interruption of normal procedures or flow of matériel is likely to be attributed by the Israelis to political reasons. Again, with the exception of the special case of aircraft on which a decision is still pending, I must request that there be no interruption in our arms deliveries to Israel at this time.” He concluded: “I am confident we can reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement in which your concerns and ours are satisfied.” (Ibid.) For Laird’s October 22 letter, see footnote 5, Document 259.
  3. Attached but not printed are letters dated October 9 and November 3.
  4. Reference is to the October 22 letter.
  5. On November 11, Rogers replied: “As I indicated to you in my letter of October 15, I, too have some reservations about the Israeli action of September 17. I agree completely, moreover, with your feeling that Israel’s undertakings to us must be honored. There are, however, mitigating factors, and there is room for honest differences of judgment about the justification for Israel’s use of Shrikes in this instance, to which I think you have not given full weight.” Later in the letter, Rogers “strongly” suggested that the Department of Defense write to Israeli General Zeira that the Israeli Government had “agreed to abide by the conditions” of the missile sale and that, while the Department of Defense did not believe that it abided by the agreement with its actions on September 17, the Department expected “strict adherence in the future.” Rogers then wrote: “By handling it and closing the chapter in this way, I have no doubt that you will have made your point cogently, and we will emerge from this with minimal political damage.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–0197, Box 66, Israel) Rogers’s October 15 letter is Document 259.
  6. Printed from a copy with Laird’s stamped signature and an indication he signed the original.