WASHINGTON (Sep. 15)
A White House spokesman, commenting on contradictory press and television reports on President Johnson’s plans concerning the sale of F-4 Phantom jets to Israel, said today that the “status quo” on the Israeli request remained unchanged and that no decision or announcements on the request was expected today.
This was the reaction from spokesman Lloyd Hackler to a report in the New York Times that President Johnson had decided not to sell the supersonic warplanes to Israel in the near future and a mysterious report that the National Broadcasting Corporation’s television network had carried a report today that Mr. Johnson had decided to go ahead with the sale of the jets, which Israel requested more than six months ago. The status quo referred to President Johnson’s continued silence on the request and his failure to refer to it during an unscheduled appearance at the B’nai B’rith triennial convention here last week after both Democratic Presidential nominee Hubert H. Humphrey and Republican nominee Richard Nixon–in separate appearances at the same convention–called for prompt sale of the Phantoms to Israel.
(Officials in Jerusalem denied today any knowledge of the decision of the President, as reported by the Times. The officials told the JTA that, to the best of their knowledge, the President had reserved freedom of action on the Israeli request and that there had been no change in that position.)
The mystery of the purported NBC report was compounded by a statement by the NBC to the JTA that it had not carried any such report on either its radio or television networks. Mr. Hackler said he had heard of the NBC television report but not that he himself had heard it.
The first Jewish reaction to the Times story was a telegram sent to the President by the Mizrachi Women’s Organization, the American religious Zionist women’s group, which expressed “profound dismay” over the reported “decision.” The telegram said that in “the still volatile Middle East,” the President’s “reported action” might be mistaken “as a signal of approval of Arab intransigence.” The appeal urged the President “to correct or clarify these reports” and to “sustain the stated intention of both Democratic and Republican parties” whose 1968 platforms urge the sale of the planes to Israel without delay.
The Times report quoted “Administration sources” on the President’s purported decision and said also that “international events” and “pressures from Zionist groups in the midst of a Presidential campaign” might “bring a reversal of Mr. Johnson decision.” According to the Times’ sources, the main reason for the alleged Presidential decision against acting on the Israeli request was that the President wanted to discuss prospects for an Arab-Israeli settlement and a limitation on arms deliveries to the Middle East with Soviet leaders if a much-discussed summit conference should develop before Mr. Johnson leaves office on Jan. 20. The sources were quoted as saying that an immediate Phantom jet sale to Israel would reduce chances of such a summit meeting and for arms limitations. Another cited reason was that the Johnson Administration did not want to increase tensions in the Middle East while there was a chance that Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring, the special United Nations envoy, might manage to arrange talks between Israel and the Arab states. The President also was reported as allegedly unwilling to give up the diplomatic leverage inherent in the Israeli request as long as he could use it to bring about Israel-Arab talks.