An Arab sword of Damocles hung over Israel's neck in June 1967, and so perilous was its blade that foreign capitals spoke chillingly of the country's imminent slaughter. But then, within six amazing days, the IDF crushed army after Arab army and felt the jubilation of David with Goliath prostrate at his feet.
Then the seventh day dawned. Soviet Russia swiftly replenished Goliath's arsenals, while David's sling lost much of its propellant thrust. France, long Israel's backer, imposed an arms embargo, and only America could redress the balance. It was this, above all, that drove Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to seek an urgent meeting with President Lyndon Johnson who, in January 1968, extended to him a friendly invitation to his Texas ranch.
The talks took place in the president's den - a mixture of warm leathers, rust couches, and a low, husky oak table around which the principals and their aides sat. No two men appeared so absolutely unalike in appearance and temperament. The one was a towering Texan, vigorous, groomed, abrasive, and commanding, the other a paunchy, stooped, bespectacled, balding Jerusalemite with a wise, family-friend countenance.
Without ado, the prime minister bent his mind to the hub of his argument:
"The heart of my mission, Mr. President," he said, "is how to create peace in the Middle East at a time when the Syrian and Egyptian armies are being rebuilt by the Soviets at a menacing pace - so fast that the Arab leaders are contemplating renewed war."
"How fast?" asked Johnson. He was sitting at the very edge of his chair, his demeanor intense. A white dog at his feet barked and sniffed the prime minister's shoes, and the president snapped, "Quiet, Yuki! Down!"
"Egypt, Syria and Iraq have already replenished their air forces to a combined strength of 460 fighters and 47 bombers," answered Eshkol. "Egypt alone is now almost back to its prewar air strength. Moreover, the quality of their aircraft is vastly improved."
"And their ground forces, what of them?" asked the president.
"In tanks," replied the premier referring to a typed page, "the Egyptians are almost back to their prewar strength. The Egyptian navy is stronger than before, with rocket-equipped vessels. The number of ground troops is rapidly rising beyond their June 1967 strength."
"Do you see signs of an actual Russian physical presence there?"
"Certainly. Our assessment is that there are at least 2,500 Soviet military experts in Egypt today."
"OK, that's the Arab side. Now what about your side? What do you have?" The president was eyeing the prime minister unblinkingly, as if trying to track the motives behind his thoughts. Eshkol's response, when it came, was slow, soft, and disturbing:
"We have no more than 150 aircraft, all French, 66 of them virtually obsolete. The French are contracted to send us 50 more, but because of their boycott we won't get them. In a word, Mr. President" - their eyes met and caught - "we presently do not have the minimum means to defend ourselves."
A flicker crossed Johnson's brow and he exchanged glances with his advisers. "So what are you asking for exactly? Spell it out." The voice was terse and tight.
Eshkol, knowing this was the decisive moment, adjusted his spectacles, cleared his throat, and said in a measured tone, "What I'm asking for, Mr. President, is the one aircraft that has the necessary range and versatility to enable us to face down our enemies. I'm asking for your F-4 Phantom jets."
Johnson's eyes became strangely veiled. The Phantom was America's newest state-of-the-art fighter-bomber.
"Mr. President," pressed Eshkol, a sudden edge of desperation in his voice, "please understand, my country is extremely vulnerable. One defeat in the field can be fatal to our survival. What I ask of you is the minimum for our self-defense. Without those Phantoms we will be deprived of our minimum security. We need 50 Phantoms as rapidly as possible."
Johnson returned him an unreceptive look and Eshkol, really charged up now, said, "Mr. President, last June our enemies tried to destroy us, and we defeated them all. Had we waited one more day, even one more hour, before forestalling them the outcome might have been very different. Yet I come here with no sense of boastful triumph; nor have I entered the struggle for peace in the role of victor. The only feeling I have is one of relief that we were saved from national disaster, and I thank God for that. Now, all my thoughts are turned toward winning the peace - peace with honor between equals."
"That is a noble thought," said Johnson.
"Thank you, but we need the tools to help bring that peace about. I regret to say that" - a sudden bitter irony crept into his voice - "the United States is the only source we have for those tools. Within two years our Arab neighbors will have 900-1,000 Soviet aircraft. So it's an either/or situation. Either you provide us with the arms we need, or you leave us to our fate. It's as simple as that."
And then, almost in a whisper, "Mr. President, Israel is pleading
for your help." [see
full article here]