267. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Mrs. Meir’s Visit2 and U.S. National Security Interests

Mrs. Meir’s visit will test the credibility of the U.S. commitment to UN Resolution 242 and the Administration’s goal for a more evenhanded Middle East policy. I urge continued restraint on provision of more F–4 and A–4 fighter-bomber aircraft at this time.

A recently completed assessment by the Joint Chiefs of Staff supports conclusions previously reached in Defense,3 State,4 and CIA regarding substantial Israeli military superiority. Israel has utilized the ceasefire period advantageously to an extent not possible for Egypt. The Israelis concur that the Egyptians have no foreseable capability to attack in force across the Canal. “Deterrence” is hardly an issue because an Egyptian attack would constitute an irrational act and the presence or absence of a few additional Israeli aircraft would not be a predominant component in the equation.

In the longer run, Israel will require replacement aircraft, and we should not close the door to all future sales, or to assisting Israel to pro[Page 952]duce its own “super Mirage” aircraft—which could be in production by the end of 1974.

However, Israel’s immediate aircraft supply requirement is for political, rather than military, advantage. Affirmative U.S. action would symbolically underwrite her preferred option of standing pat, and would serve as a practical repudiation of our own publicly announced position.

In terms of Israeli as well as U.S. and NATO security interests, a new commitment of aircraft would be counterproductive. The Soviets have little to lose in a military sense from such a commitment, but its disclosure would enable them to share with the Israelis the political benefits of increased polarization in the Middle East. Apart from the damage to U.S. credibility, a military price would be paid by NATO, the U.S., and even the Israelis in the long run through the resulting security implications of an increased Soviet presence in Egypt. In meeting the need for a counterpart military supply response, the Soviets would virtually be compelled to increase the numbers of their own personnel in Egypt since Egypt, per se, cannot even absorb the Soviet aircraft already available.

If we are to pursue our own broader national security interests, the U.S. must retain some degree of initiative in the military supply sphere. Likewise, we must be prepared to rely on our own military and political assessments. Otherwise, the Israelis and the Soviets are left with the initiative of wrecking any negotiations to avoid uncomfortable choices or prevent a degree of depolarization that challenges either the Soviet Middle East political posture or Israel’s image as an indispensable U.S. cold war instrument.

In the event of an emergency requirement we could make aircraft and other supplies immediately available from our own stocks either from Europe or the U.S. The monitoring of the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean has an exceptionally high priority and we are studying very carefully our military posture in that area, both as it relates to the southern flank of NATO and our own unilateral interests in the Middle East. Therefore, I am confident should a military requirement become paramount we can respond in a timely manner.

As expressed to you before, I believe that our military supply relationship with Israel, in either the private or public context, is by itself inadequate as the principal operative manifestation of U.S. policy toward Israel. The coming UNGA debate5 will provide another critical test. In the same sense that our present military supply policy suggests a departure from the old path of least resistance, our diplomatic stance [Page 953] needs to emphasize that our commitment to Israel’s basic security is as unswerving as is our unwillingness to live with her present hard line posture. I appreciate the problems that will be generated by the resulting Israeli discomfort, but this price appears justified beside our larger goals of peace and by the prospects for productive dialogue during your Moscow visit.6

Melvin R. Laird 7
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–74–0115, Box 5, Israel. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Noyes on November 29.
  2. Meir visited the United States November 30–December 11, meeting with Nixon on December 2; see Document 268.
  3. Moorer attached the appendix to a DIA study entitled “DIA Intelligence Appraisal: The Arab-Israeli Military Balance” to a memorandum to Laird that day. (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–74–0115, Box 5, Israel)
  4. See footnote 3, Document 266.
  5. See Document 270.
  6. Nixon went to Moscow in May 1972 for a summit with Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears Laird’s stamped signature with an indication that he signed the original.