Saturday, August 13, 2016

110 - Ambassador Lawson Report of Talk with FM Sharett, April 16, 1956

            At my suggestion Foreign Minister received me in Tel Aviv Monday for my oral presentation [- - -] which I thought would convince him we are taking active steps within circumstances to encourage other countries to supply arms and to clarify any misunderstanding regarding US position. I made it clear my approach limited entirely these objectives and furthermore not to be construed as formal message.
            He said he “greatly welcomed” two points; a. US intent to bring influence to bear on governments to persuade them to sell arms to Israel and, b. US statement on undesirability of perpetual imbalance in arms. However, he was afraid both points were nullified by other elements in US position.
            (1)  He was convinced that US influence on other countries would prove uneffective [sic] in absence some US sales to Israel. He could report that GOI’s “intimate” contact with Canadians had now persuaded him there was little prospect obtaining planes from them without US sales. Nor was he hopeful of further Mystere sales from France; French Foreign Minister had advised Israeli Chargé he not willing that France bear entire responsibility arms supply. However, if US supplied some arms, French were prepared to supply perhaps 75 percent Israel’s needs but not 100 percent.
            He appreciated US initiative in making clear to France it would have no objection to interruption OSP Assembly [sic] to supply additional dozen Mysteres to Israel. But this was not sufficient to persuade France. It appeared that Israel would be left with nothing but 12 Mysteres which it now had “more or less in hand”. This was “dismal and alarming prospect.” (He put Italy in different category, saying he was not persuaded US as of now wanted Israel to obtain F-86’s from that source. If you have agreed we should have them from Italy, please say so. He said Eban had been told by Department that US representations in Rome would “help with other items”. This they did not need. Italy was prepared to make everything available—”in reasonable quantities” which was under its exclusive control.
            (2) He argued that for US simultaneously to postulate distaste for arms imbalance and fear of contributing to arms race constituted contradiction in terms. US must make up its mind. If it did not wish imbalance perpetuated there was chance of correcting situation by US sales to Israel. This might set off arms race. He doubted it, but risk must be taken. There was no chance correcting imbalance if US arms were not sold to Israel.
            (3)  Our reiteration that US policy did not preclude US sales to Israel had long ceased to be any comfort. After months of no sales, statement could be just as logically construed to mean no sales were contemplated. (I argued that our statement that US sales to Israel “were not precluded” might bring little comfort when addressed to Israel, in this instance we were declaring it as policy to other governments which was a different thing. It represented a positive statement of policy and it eliminated any possibility of misunderstanding regarding US position. I felt it a helpful and encouraging action on our part. Sharett remained unconvinced this would influence other governments to positive action.) As to US dislike to [sic] “unlimited sales” [- - -] he said none was desired by Israel for economic reasons if no other.
            (4)  If US really wanted to give practical constructive assistance it was Israel’s very earnest and urgent plea that a few items which were “manageable” from US standpoint should be picked from Israel’s list and delivered to her. He cited F-84’s as example, stating they were for reconnaissance which was purely defensive assignment. If US prepared to do this, it would encourage Canadians to sell F-86’s. It would also have marked effect on France and gordion [sic] knot would at last be cut.
            (5)  Developing this theme on basis my remark that US was not traditional supplier [of] major arms to Israel, he said if US wanted to avoid appearance having embarked on new policy as result of Czech deal, it could supply anti-tank and AA weapons which it had supplied in past, thus only continuing established routine policy towards Israel but enabling Israel to persuade other countries to sell items he needed which US could or would not furnish.
            Comment: As noted, I prefaced my remarks by explaining Department had addressed the primarily potential sources of arms and no reply was necessary unless he cared to comment. He seized opportunity to restate GOI position with usual alacrity, but it was obvious that he was rehearsing very familiar story in most details. Of most interest to me were his positive suggestions reported under 4 and 5 above. From Herzog we had already received information that Eban is preparing abbreviated list of arms which, I take it, fits into Sharett’s suggested program. When Israelis renew their presentation to us as they inevitably will in face of uniformly negative response they are receiving in other capitals, it probably will be on this line.

SOURCE: FRUS 1955-1957 XV, doc.286.