Arabs, Soviets See Johnson Delay on Phantoms As Move Toward ‘neutrality’

An impression is growing among Arab and Soviet diplomats here that President Johnson’s failure to act on the Phantom jets sought by Israel indicates a new State Department-inspired tendency to seek a neutral posture between Israel and the Arabs. The new line in Arab and Soviet circles is that the United States sees an opportunity to disengage itself from Israel to some extent because President Johnson is not paying heed to domestic political considerations. The President is being depicted as following Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s advice on Israel, with the State Department planning for the period between now and January when a new President takes office. U.S. diplomats reportedly wish to regain what they term “flexibility” and maneuverability for American diplomacy in the Middle East and plan to continue such a policy after January. Mr. Rusk’s thinking is said to be that Israeli and American interests are not necessarily parallel and that a unique opportunity now exists to set the stage for redemption of American influence in the Moslem world.

The Arabs and Russians are privately interpreting the President’s inaction on the Phantoms and some points in his recent B’nai B’rith speech as a wavering of American support of Israel. They believe that a military build-up will assure more Arab strength in negotiations after January when greater Arab might will be a reality. Deferment of negotiations is also based on hope that an American detachment from the Israeli stand on direct negotiations and other issues may further Israel’s isolation.

The strategic importance of 50 Phantoms is minimized by the Arab-Soviet coalition. But the deeper meaning of President Johnson’s avoidance of a long-term commitment to meet Israel’s emerging requirements for sophisticated weaponry is deemed of paramount interest.

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