(A) Herzog's Reports of the Meeting
Jerusalem, January 24, 1956
Lawson was summoned tonight to Minister. Present were Hamilton, Herzog.
The Minister opened by stating he had urgently summoned Ambassador to tell him a few things which he hopes would be transmitted to Secretary of State before his meeting with Eban [on January 25]. These are an addenda to what Eban would say.
After the Ambassador received from Minister a copy of his letter to Secretary of State [of January 16; see diary entry for that date], the Minister said the issue of arms has now reached a critical stage. It is now three months since he submitted our request [for arms] to the Secretary in Paris and Geneva. The answers he has received do not promise a chance of the United States or other Western powers providing Israel with the arms which would quantitatively balance the Czech deal, but we were told that if we handed over a modest list of defensive arms it would be received with sympathetic consideration. From the Secretary of State’s talk with journalists in Washington on October 18, 1955 it became clear that if it was found that [the Czech deal] seriously changed the balance, the United States together with other signatories would have to take steps to restore the balance. The statement by the President on October 18, 1955 – the very fact of its publication and its careful formulation – has also given the impression that there was no intention of refusing our request or to carry on endlessly delaying it. The Kinneret operation and the protracted considerations at the Security Council have delayed the answer. But neither the operation, nor the SC’s censure have changed the basic situation. For, meanwhile Soviet arms have been pouring into Egypt and the Egyptians are learning how to use them, in Egypt by Soviet and British instructors as well as in the Soviet bloc. These arms were purchased not without a purpose. We would fail by a terrible irresponsibility if we do not take into account what could Nasser do when he feels that he has reached a decisive superiority. We cannot rely on outside intervention on our behalf in case of a crisis since first there is no such obligation, and second even if there was one it could not prevent the havoc of our cities being bombed from the air before that obligation is carried out. Nasser is fully aware that we are not receiving any defensive arms which could by any means be compared to the destructive arms he is getting. We shall soon have to decide where we stand and what we are to do. The Minister was convinced that the United States was considering acting responsibly, but this obliged her to not delay its response.
If the United States is prepared to positively respond, but for various reasons is afraid of the publicity of the results of its policy, the Minister is prepared to promise that this response is kept strictly secret till the United States agrees with its publication. It is vital that the government [of Israel] or at least number of Ministers know that the provision of a certain quantity of arms is promised to us soon. Time is acting against us and soon there would be no possibility of our pilots training to catch up with [the level] of the Egyptians.
To Lawson's question whether it was the Minister intention that the proposed announcement [by the Secretary of State] should be transmitted by formal channels, or would he be satisfied with a personal transmission [to him], the Minister answered that he would accept the last alternative, i.e. that Lawson would transmit it personally, or the Secretary of State transmit it to Eban, and stressed that a promise in principle without fixing the time of its implementation was not enough. To Lawson's question whether it was the Minister’s intention that the response should relate to the list submitted by us, the Minister answered in the positive and commented that he could see an eventuality in which the US would say that we would receive a certain type [of weaponry] from France and that she would supply us with other types. There are here all kinds of possibilities.
At the end of the conversation the Minister repeated and stressed that the time for decision arrived [4 words in English]. We are entitled to know where we stand and what awaits us. The [Israel] government's situation would be highly serious if, God forbid, it would be possible to accuse it of being satisfied with a groundless illusion while at the same time losing precious time. More to come [see below].
Jerusalem, January 25, 1956
During the conversation the Minister touched upon the following points:
a) Byroade’s claim, according to US papers, that delivering arms to Israel would push Egypt even more into the Soviet bosom means that Israel should abandon itself since Nasser may ask for more MiGs in addition to the 200 provided him by the Czech deal. The world is not told that if Israel doesn't receive arms it would appeal to the Soviet Union. It is assumed that since everybody thinks that Israel would not approach the Soviet Union, its being responded to in the negative by the US is all right. This is an immoral and unfair attitude and it cannot impress Israel. We are still certain of the high responsibility the United States feels towards small countries which have tied their future to the west, and that it would assist them when their existence is threatened.
As to Byroade's claim proper, it is difficult to see how Nasser would be able at the same time to continue playing with the Russians and still hope to receive American financial aid for the Aswan dam. And what's more, an increase of Soviet arms would mean additional mortgaging of Egyptian cotton for arms purchase. If Byroade's assumption is correct, then it is clear proof of Nasser's aim to annihilate Israel, for he is certainly aware that the arms we receive would be defensive only, and that even after we get them a big gap would still remain to his advantage. The Minister remarked that the US is delivering arms to different countries without fearing that these countries would intensify their relations with the Soviets.
b) According to rumors, Eden will demand that the President make it a condition that providing arms to Israel would depend on Israel's readiness for large concessions to attaining a settlement. This means exploiting our serious security situation in order to shorten the road towards a settlement. The Minister would like to warn all those who are thinking or might be thinking likewise that Israel would make no concessions under pressure of a threat to its security. We will oppose this design with all our might. We are a stiff-necked people when our very existence and our age-old spiritual vision which sustain our survival are at stake. Illusions are still directing British policy. The Minister elaborated on the British failure over the Palestine issue in 1947/48 on account of their lack of appreciating our political and moral force and alluded to the British failure in Jordan in recent months [i.e., General Templer's mission to Jordan, December 1955] as a clear example of British incapacity for realistic estimation. The Foreign Office people claim to be unique experts on ME problems while ignoring the fact that their failures refute this pretension. The Minister appeals to the US to avoid the serious mistake of following British advice. This road would not lead Israel to making concessions but would push her into exasperation [2 words in English] and the US would thus become most heavily responsible by ignoring Israel's dire situation.
c) Regarding the Ambassador's remark that public opinion in Israel seemed more relaxed recently, the Minister explained that the public was still looking forward to a positive US response, and is hoping that the worst will not happen [6 words in English]. The public has read in the press that the US response was delayed owing to the Kinneret operation [and the ensuing UN SC deliberations]. Once this affair is over, tension will mount and intensify.
SOURCE: DFPI 11, docs.45, 47.
(B) Lawson's Report of the Meeting
Sharett called me to Jerusalem last night to inform me of Eban’s appointment with you and, as he put it, to use my “good offices” to send few personal words in addition to those you will hear from Eban this afternoon:
He showed me copy his January 16 letter [see diary entry for this date], endorsed its contents, then spoke full hour on following lines:
(1) He reviewed development Israel’s request to United States for arms and how [garble] which he had led himself to hope would be favorable “at least to modest extent” had been frustrated or delayed by Kinneret, leisurely Security Council deliberations, and seasonal holidays.
(2) Meanwhile Egypt’s strength grew apace both in equipment and skill of its personnel in use of new weapons.
(3) Time for decision had arrived for United States and Israel. To trust Nasser’s humanitarianism or statesmanship to refrain from attacking is to “tax quite unduly Israel’s capacity for wishful thinking”, to trust outside guarantees would be irresponsible. In first place there is none; if they existed they could not avail against swift blitz attack which could destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa in matter of hours. Therefore Israel must know where she is going. United States must decide in manner consistent with its traditional sense of fair play and its responsibilities to those nations, large and small, which have chosen to cast lot with west.
(4) He then broached his main point. If it were present disposition of United States to decide to supply Israel with arms but if in existing circumstances we were inhibited from announcing it, he would personally guarantee complete secrecy of any such decision made known to GOI until it was mutually agreed to disclose it.
Sooner or later, decision would have to be known; first, because such decisions eventually are known; and second for whatever deterrent effect it would have on aggressive intent of “other side”. Public knowledge can be indefinitely delayed but it is most important for government “or possibly only leading members of government to know”. I asked him what sort of communication he required. He replied that most informal word from me to him or from you to Eban to effect that decision in principle had been taken plus assurances of early discussion of types, quantities and deliveries would be eminently satisfactory.
Discussion could be on basis of Israel list but there were many possibilities for flexible adjustment. US might choose to eliminate whole categories, reduce others. It might choose to encourage existing negotiations with France (presumably for Mystere IV’s).
But Israel must have assurances as basis for formulation of policy. “It must know,” he repeated “where it is going.”
(5) Sharett said they had one report British line of argument in Eisenhower-Eden talks [on January 30] would be that present critical circumstances Middle East require short-cut to peaceful settlement between Israel and Egypt, essential element of which would be “far-reaching concessions” by Israel. This thesis has it that Israel is so desperately pressed she can be persuaded to make such concessions if permitted to survive. Hence she must understand she can obtain no arms until she agrees.
“Those who so believe are due for sharp disappointment. We will not make concessions which threaten our survival. We shall resist”.
He developed extensively theme of British self-delusion as to their infallibility in Middle East despite record of failure after failure year after year. He cited Jordan where he said British had “position” which they had shaken to foundations by failure to foretell consequences of attempting to obtain Jordanian adherence to Baghdad Pact. “Now status quo ante is very best they can hope for”.
(6) He challenged theory attributed by press to Byroade that “if United States gives or sells arms to Israel it will push Arabs, particularly Egypt, closer to Soviets and only result in Soviets supplying even greater quantities of arms to Arab States. We are told that Israel must jeopardize her own security to avoid Egyptian appeal to Soviets for couple score more MIGs to add to 200 she has already received or has been promised.
If Egyptians demanded additional arms of Soviets as result of United States decision to supply arms to Israel, it would be clearly established that Nasser’s intent was annihilation of Israel. “He already has advantage that we cannot hope or do not want to overtake quantitatively. Why should he want to increase it if his intent is not offensive? We cannot entertain such counsel. Time is running against us. Other side has very considerable start but within limits we can still overtake them, not quantitatively, which we are not interested in, but qualitatively”.
(7) I asked about public pressures, Sharett replying that opinion had not yet crystallized because public could still hope in absence of United States rejection. “If public ever despairs of favorable United States reply they will be in difficult mood.”
Comment: Sharett spoke with all exterior manifestations of his usual urbanity, but he was more serious than I have seen him in months. I believe he was speaking on line previously agreed by top leadership, including Ben Gurion. He is sincerely incredulous that we can entertain other than his evaluation of substance items 3, 5, and 6 above. He believes Israel has suffered consequences of its Kinneret action and having been censured for this transgression, chapter should be closed.
Meanwhile, public is being conditioned to regard United States arms decision as key to their security. If disappointed, reaction will be unpredictable but I am confident it won’t be one of docile resignation to whatever fate holds.
SOURCE: FRUS 1955-1957 XV, doc.37.