Eban, Dulles Discuss Arms Deal
Ambassador Eban pictured at The UN General Assembly, adopting a resolution urging an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East, November 2, 1956. Photo: United Nations Photo Library

January 25, 1956

Abba Eban, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and John Foster Dulles, the U.S. secretary of state, discuss a proposal for the United States to sell Israel $50 million worth of weapons and munitions in response to an $80 million arms agreement between the Soviet Union and Egypt.

The meeting lasts less than an hour and produces no commitment beyond an intention to continue the discussions at a future date. Eban’s primary argument is to emphasize the strategic significance of Israel in the Cold War. The Middle East is a major battlefield in the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, and Israel says an arms sales would help the United States fight communism by creating a threat to Egypt and Syria, which are backed by the Soviet Union. But Eban is unsuccessful in winning a major arms agreement with the United States under President Dwight Eisenhower.

In early 1960, Eisenhower explicitly rejects selling weapons to Israel or creating a mutual security pact between the two countries. The president says Israel receives enough military equipment from France and Britain, and the United States is selling enough weaponry to other countries. Israel first purchases a major weapons system from the United States, the Hawk anti-aircraft missile, in 1962 under Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy. The United States emerges as Israel’s primary arms supplier after France responds to the June 1967 Middle East war by ending arms sales to Israel.