JERUSALEM (Oct. 10)
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol today expressed his “deep appreciation” of President Johnson’s “activities in the cause of peace” in the Middle East and said that the President’s directive to Secretary of State Dean Rusk to begin negotiations for the sale of supersonic jet planes to Israel was “a step in the direction of deterring aggression.”
Mr. Eshkol said that in his conversations with President Johnson, when they met at the LBJ Ranch in Texas last January, he had found the President to be “well acquainted with Israel’s security problems and aware of her needs.” He said that “a balance of armaments in the Middle East is the best guarantee of avoiding wars and referred to the large influx of Soviet arms into the region which, he said, had upset the balance and created new dangers. He noted that Israel’s goal is the establishment of permanent peace.
While the President’s directive to Mr. Rusk did not specify which supersonic jet would be sold to Israel, there was little doubt here that he meant the F-4 Phantom jet fighter-bomber, a twin-engined aircraft capable of speeds twice the speed of sound. Apart from the newer F-111 which is having technical troubles, the Phantom is regarded as the best plane of its kind in the United States arsenal and is the plane that Mr. Eshkol had requested at his Jan. 8 meeting with President Johnson.
Military experts here said the Phantoms could be absorbed into the Israel Air Force within a relatively short time but pointed out that their delivery date depended entirely on the U.S. Even if negotiations were to begin immediately, it would take several months before the first plane arrived in Israel, one source said. He added that past experience with the U.S. indicated that the delivery of the planes would be gradual, inasmuch as the Phantoms are still needed for the Vietnam war.
Israelis were elated at the news that the U.S. would sell supersonic jets to Israel. Three of the country’s leading newspapers — Haaretz, Davar and the Jerusalem Post — noted that the aircraft have political as well as military significance and serve notice on the Soviet Union that the U.S. will continue to supply arms to Israel and regards Israel’s security as in the American interest. The Jerusalem Post linked President Johnson’s announcement to Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s Tuesday speech before the United Nations General Assembly which appeared to have been generally well received by the U.S. State Department.