Friday, August 12, 2016

104 - Ambassador Lawson Report of his Meeting with FM Sharett, April 4, 1956

        Sharett called me to Jerusalem Wednesday ostensibly to express “profound shock and disillusionment” with “let-down” contained in Secretary’s and Allen’s conferences with Eban and most urgently to plead for our unequivocal encouragement to Italy and Canada to release F-86’s to GOI.
            Sharett started conversation, which took form of long uninterrupted statement, of his reaction to conversations between Secretary and Allen with Eban, as well as reports of Secretary’s press conference of April 3, by stating, “I must consider the matter a closed chapter”. )Later I made it amply clear that US Government does not regard situation now as “closed chapter”; it continues to reassess its Near East policies as necessitated by trend of events and that connection is giving consideration to Israel’s application for arms, but it has not yet completed this reassessment. I then asked him why he considered it a “closed chapter” after exactly 5 months— why not, for example, after 6 months. His reply was that US had matter long enough under consideration and that Israel was no longer to suffer indignity of begging without any firm decision. He saw no reason to entertain further hope that US would change its mind.(
            Sharett proceeded to read summary of statements by President and Secretary, conversations held with Eban in Department and a sequence of events which gave GOI reasons, in his mind, to be hopeful of favorable decision by US. He spoke for hour and quarter from most elaborate notes he has ever used with me. Principal points he made follow:
            (1)   He reviewed all steps in Israel’s negotiations from time of his first conversation with Secretary in Europe to document his contention that while US had never made definite promise, there had been consistent expression willingness to “give sympathetic consideration to Israel’s arms application”, and US had never given Israel solid reason to believe final answer would not be favorable. He laid particular stress on Secretary’s conversation with Eban March 2 before former’s departure for Karachi and President’s March 14 press conference statement that neither he nor Secretary had said arms would not be furnished to Israel but US hoped for better solution.  Against such background Secretary’s position as revealed March 28 had had shattering effect.
            (2)   After Secretary appeared before Senate Foreign Relations Committee, GOI had been forced to debate implications his testimony in Knesset. He had said that if certain of Secretary’s statements in that testimony finally crystallized as US policy, he could only conclude US was willing to abandon Israel to its fate. He said he thought that position had been finally reached and that “we are not [sic. now] experiencing grave crisis of confidence.”
            (3)   He questioned US policy of refusing for 5 full months to answer “yes or no”. On those occasions in that period when Israel attempted to interpret US statements as negative decision on arms, she was told with “some indignation” that reply was nothing of the sort.
            (4)   Sharett referred to restrained tone of Israeli press which he implied might be attributed in part to public statements of confidence in US policy made here in last few days by Goldmann and Silver. He said he had no knowledge of source of inspiration from which they spoke. GOI itself had issued no press statements and had inspired no editorials since March 28. Prime Minister himself had said development must be most carefully studied and in meantime GOI should refrain from conjuring up open dispute.
            (5)   Secretary and Allen had mentioned to Eban possibility of help from Italy and Canada. He said both countries were very good friends and Italy in particular for commercial reasons was most anxious to sell planes. Both would certainly ask what was US itself doing. What moral force did US feel it could bring to bear on other governments to supply arms to Israel when US itself was unable to blaze trail.
            He questioned any implied credit for US as initiator of Mystere deal action. GOI, he said, was grateful to US for delivery of Mysteres but US had nothing whatsoever to do with generation of “political will” in France to make planes available. Once that will was generated US assistance was most helpful but purely secondary. It was a French gift, not one for which US could claim major credit.
            As to US encouragement of other suppliers of arms, he said planes are actually US planes and it required only decision in principle by US conveyed to other governments particularly Italy, to enable GOI to obtain minimum requirements in supersonic jets.
            On strength of references in Secretary’s conversation, he said he had already instructed Israel Embassies Ottawa and Rome to make requests to their government. Ottawa interview had been held this very day (Wednesday) and he hoped for answer momentarily. If US had in fact told these governments to make planes available to Israel, he would soon have clear proof in form of affirmative replies.
            He hinted and an aide later bluntly promised that they would pledge absolute secrecy and adopt any public attitude we desired on our part in arms transaction if we would only make sure that Italy and Canada clearly understood US wanted Israel to have aircraft. Ultimate Israel public position could be one of censure of US failure to participate or one of praise for opening other doors to them, as we might desire. Important thing was arms.
            Comment:   Converse of this could be, I think, that Israel would make clear by all propaganda instruments at their command that in their view US Government has categorically and finally denied arms to Israel despite her desperate straits, thus laying foundation for campaign to bring whatever moral pressure they may be able to arouse in US and elsewhere to bear against US. Sharett referred time and again to restraint his government has exercised in public dealing with arms issue, hinting, I suppose, that there was little reason to continue this policy in face of US indifference.  End comment.
            I made point that it was quite reasonable to believe US position vis-à-vis Arabs was different from that of other countries in position to supply Israel with arms; that we felt we had measure of influence and maneuverability in Arab countries and did not wish to jeopardize that position; that it seemed more advisable for other and traditional sources to be relied upon for supply of arms at this time.
            Although he had not mentioned it, I asked if Department had not explained to Eban the distinction we drew between arms to Israel from US sources and arms from allies of the US. Sharett replied Eban had been informed US thought it undesirable to split area into two pieces, Arabs receiving arms from one side and Israel from US. He pointed out Iraq is getting arms from US and so is Saudi Arabia. Neither one of them would boycott US arms if some were simultaneously supplied to Israel. He referred to tanks to Saudi Arabia, commenting that that was package in which something for Israel could also have been wrapped. Regarding his persistent reference to lack of positive action by US to encourage other countries to supply arms, I said that while it is true Secretary made no commitment to Eban as to US positive recommendation, he had made it clear that we would not look with disfavor upon such transactions. Furthermore, as Sharett had already mentioned to me “Secretary Dulles spoke to Pearson, Foreign Minister for Canada”. This appeared to me to be very positive step right along lines that Sharett had suggested. He admitted this to be the case, but thought that action might be immediately countered by objections in Canadian Parliament on grounds that US itself had supplied no arms to Israel.
            At this point I emphasized importance of possibility US Government might be able do more along this line be matter utmost secrecy. In this connection I suggested that GOI should not attempt interpret purely speculative stories or even press conference replies to questions as statement of US policy. He agreed and said GOI prepared to contribute to such secrecy—what it wanted was arms.

SOURCE: FRUS 1955-1957 XV, doc.245