Volume #22 - 32.|
THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE SUEZ CRISIS
EXPORT OF F-86 INTERCEPTORS TO ISRAEL
Secretary of State for External Affairs|
to Ambassador in United States
April 3rd, 1956|
Repeat London No. E-501; Paris No.E-327; Canac Paris (Information).
EXPORT OF ARMS TO THE MIDDLE-EAST
Mr. Comay, the Israeli Ambassador, called on me this morning on instructions from his government to make a formal request for permission to export from Canada one squadron of 24 F-86 aircraft. He referred to earlier enquiries which had been made a year or so ago regarding the possible export of such aircraft and indicated that in the view of his government it was most desirable that a complete squadron should be secured. Any smaller number would complicate the operations and maintenance problems. He added that an attempt would be made to get the number of Mystères from France raised in order that they would have a full squadron of that type of aircraft as well.
2. Mr. Comay appreciated certain difficulties which this request might present but his government hoped that the Canadian authorities would consider it most seriously and urgently and favourably.
3. Mr. Comay felt that there had recently been some disillusionment in both Washington and London concerning the situation in the Middle East. He reported that Mr. Dulles had told Mr. Eban that the U.S. Government was now prepared to recognize the existing imbalance in arms as increasing the threat of war. Mr. Dulles had intimated that it was in the interests of the West to supply some arms to Israel although it would be difficult for the United States to do so itself, except for small quantities of defensive weapons, at the present stage.
4. According to Mr. Comay, Mr. Sharett was of the view that the recent turn of events had made the position of the Canadian government crucial in the Middle Eastern situation. Canada had the type of aircraft which was most needed and Canada might have less difficulty than the United States in allowing them to be made available immediately. These aircraft were absolutely essential as a deterrent to aggression and to give the Israeli people some confidence in their ability to defend themselves. Their fears and their sense of isolation and weakness were a great danger.
5. Mr. Comay put forward the following reasons in support of his request:
(a) The Egyptians had, or would soon have, a bombing fleet within six or ten minutes of the main centres in Israel with 50 to 60 Ilyushin bombers and 200 MIG fighters. The Egyptians could operate with relative freedom from airfields in the Canal Zone, in the Sinai Region and in the Gaza Strip.
(b) The threat now was not merely or even primarily to the Israeli army but to the civilian population. No anti-aircraft defences existed which would be capable of protecting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or the other main centres of population. The least that could be expected, therefore, in the event of operations by the Egyptians would be the death of thousands of civilians. The national survival of Israel was also involved. While the country might not be completely destroyed it would be crippled and the possibility of any reconciliation with the Arab States would be put off for generations.
(c) With two or three squadrons of jet interceptors the Israeli authorities would hope that they might be able to deter such an attack. While, in relation to the force which could be launched by the other side, this number would represent far less than was required for defence, the Israeli government would be prepared to take its chances if it had this quantity of effective aircraft.
(d) The nature of the request (confined as it is to short range interceptors) would rule out the possibility of use for offensive purposes. In fact, and in contrast to Egypt, the Israelis had no modern bombers that could be effective against MIG's.
6. Mr. Comay did not know whether in the event of such action by Canada the United States would also act. He mentioned that in a recent interview Mr. Allen had spoken of the possibility of anti-tank weapons being released, although he had not made a definite offer. In view of the usefulness of these weapons in warding off an attack by land, the Israeli authorities would undoubtedly welcome these weapons (with a priority somewhat lower than that attached to jet fighters) if the United States were to decide to make them available.
7. Would you please inform the State Department (and London the Foreign Office and Paris the Quai D'Orsay) fully on this approach and report immediately any views which you may receive. I would hope that this matter can be considered by Cabinet at its next meeting which will probably be within a week or ten days.