297. Draft Briefing by Director of Central Intelligence Helms for the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board1
MIDDLE EAST COLLECTION CAPABILITIES
I want to discuss with you first our various facilities for intelligence collection in the Middle East, and how they performed during the latest crisis.
I. By and large, we had the right assets, and enough of them, in place and operating when the crisis began. We were able to reinforce them adequately as the crisis developed. They provided timely advance warning, and furnished the basis for an excellent estimate of the probable outcome.
A. Once the shooting started, however, for a variety of reasons I will come to in a minute, we were less than well informed on the tactical progress of the fighting.
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II. [9 lines of source text not declassified]
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V. [10 lines of source text not declassified]
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VI. Intensive overhead reconnaissance would have produced a substantial amount of tactical situation intelligence, but political considerations precluded the use of most of our capabilities.
[Omitted here is detailed discussion.]
C. Overhead reconnaissance therefore provided no intelligence during the actual fighting phase, but we did have two satellites—a KH–4 and KH–7—in orbit during the developing period from May 16 to May 30.
- Each satellite was limited to six or eight passes over the Middle East, but we made the fullest possible use of them.
- The KH–4 was already up when Nasir began moving his troops forward and closed the Gulf of Aqaba, but we fed in some requirements which were covered in the second basket. The KH–7 was tasked for Middle East targets before it was launched.
- Photography from the KH–7 on May 29, for instance, revealed no evidence of the 5,000-man force which was supposed to be defending Sharm-Ash-Shaykh. It did find MIG-15s on two previously unoccupied airfields in southern Syria.
[Omitted here is detailed discussion.]
XII. The Mediterranean Bureau of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service bears the blame for disturbing Washington sleep when the fighting started at 2:05 our time Monday morning. Their flash, based on monitoring the Israeli Radio, was 20 minutes ahead of the news agencies and 50 minutes ahead of the first official reporting on the outbreak of hostilities.
[Omitted here is detailed discussion.]
XIII. To summarize, then, we had adequate facilities in place to spot the crisis, and watch it as it developed. If we were somewhat short on the actual play-by-play, once the fighting actually started, it was the result of political decision or mischance, rather than any shortcoming in foresight or planning. I have emphasized the limits on our capabilities because that is the most useful element in seeking benefit from a post-mortem. Next I would like to tell you briefly the positive reporting we were able to accomplish with those capabilities.
POSTMORTEM: REPORTING ON THE MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
I. Matching the performance of the intelligence collectors, at the other end of the process the intelligence community displayed a high degree of good analysis, sound evaluation, and timely warning in its finished intelligence production on the Arab-Israeli crisis.[Page 496]
- It is a bit difficult to pick the starting point for any one particular crisis in a feud which has persisted for 20 years, but a good case can be made that this one began to take shape last November.
- On November 5, 1966, we reported in the Central Intelligence
Bulletin that Tel Aviv probably considered that they had exhausted
peaceful methods, channels, and remedies for stopping raids into
Israel by Palestinian terrorists.
- The obvious conclusion was that the Israelis would once again try military reprisals, and we began watching for Israeli deployments or spot mobilizations.
- Eight days later, the Israelis struck at suspected Arab terrorist bases in Jordan.
- As we analyzed the effects of this raid, we concluded that:
- (One) It had badly shaken the stability of the Jordanian regime, the principal moderate on Israel’s borders, and might impel the Jordanians to closer cooperation with the Egyptians in military matters;
- (Two) The Tel Aviv government had probably picked Jordan because the military commanders considered the Syrian border terrain less suitable for sharp, limited reprisal; and
- (Three) The raid would not deter the terrorists, trained, supported, and directed by the Syrians. The Israelis would therefore soon feel constrained to strike directly at Syria again despite the difficult terrain.
- In our current intelligence reporting, accordingly, we kept close
watch over the ensuing months on both the terrorist raids, and the
- The Central Intelligence Bulletins of January 7 and January 10 reported renewed firing across the Syrian-Israeli border.
- A finished intelligence report on January 17 called the situation there “explosive.”
- The actual “explosion” was delayed for some weeks by meetings of the Israeli-Syrian Mixed Armistice Commission, but the Central Intelligence Bulletin during this period periodically reported, quite correctly, that the meetings were making no progress on basic issues, and that the Israelis were probably preparing substantial retaliation for the next suitable Syrian provocation.
- On April 7 the Israelis turned a border shelling incident into an
aerial dogfight, and inflicted a sharp defeat on the Syrian Air
Force, shooting down six MIG-21s
without losing a single Israeli plane.
- [8 lines of source text not declassified]
- I should also note at this point one of the soft spots in our record. Our reporting concluded that neither side would soon seek another major engagement. In retrospect, it was a sound judgment in the light of the facts, but it did not make sufficient allowance for Nasir’s overreaction to the next Israeli warning against terrorism.
II. On May 10, our daily reporting noted that there had been 14 terrorist incidents in Israel since the air battle on April 7, and that while there had been no fatalities, pressure was mounting in Israel for another reprisal raid.
- On May 12, Prime Minister Eshkol warned publicly that “if there is no other
way,” Israel would have to use “appropriate means” to punish the
Syrians for terrorist acts.
- Four days later, the Israeli military intelligence chief implied to the U.S. Defense Attaché that Israel might launch air strikes against Syria if there were fatalities from terrorism.
- [4–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]
- On May 14 and 15, Nasir placed the Egyptian armed forces on “full alert,” and began moving ground forces into Sinai with much fanfare.
- [7 lines of source text not declassified]
III. The result of all this, in effect, was to put the intelligence community on full alert too. The Arab-Israeli situation was a daily item in the Central Intelligence Bulletin [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] from May 15 onward, and on May 18 we began issuing additional situation reports twice a day for the White House.
A. We disagreed with the Arab evaluation of Moscow’s support, and noted [1 line of source text not declassified] that we expected the Soviets to tread warily, but [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that the Syrians seemed to be doubletalking themselves, and possibly the Egyptians, into believing that the Soviets would come to their aid in the event of an Israeli attack.
1. [6 lines of source text not declassified]
IV. Early on May 23, Cairo time, Nasir—who by this time had accomplished the complete withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force—announced that he was again closing the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli-flag shipping and to other ships carrying strategic material to Eilat.
- Early on that same day, Washington time, we noted [less than 1 line of source text not
declassified] that the Israelis would consider this a
justifiable cause for war.
- I told two Congressional subcommittees that same morning and a White House lunch conference that war could now come at any time “by accident, incident, or miscalculation.”
- I brought to that same White House lunch a CIA memorandum, concurred in by Secretary McNamara and General Wheeler and later passed along to Ambassador Goldberg, which stated that we believed the Israelis would be able to defeat any combination of Arabs, and that Israeli planning was still based on a short war.
- At this point—May 23—we put a 24-hour Arab-Israeli Task Force to work in our CIA Operations Center, to focus all available intelligence and expertise on the responsibilities for current reporting.
- I have with me a chronology of the many memoranda produced by the Task Force, examples of some of these papers, and a compilation of our regular reporting on the situation over the past two months in the Central Intelligence Bulletin [1 line of source text not declassified].
1. It is a sizable stack, however, and if I may, I will just gist for you some of the more interesting examples:
- —[7–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]
- —On May 26, the Office of National Estimates surveyed the situation, speculated on what had prompted Nasir to run the risk of major hostilities with Israel, and concluded: “We are inclined to believe that unless the U.S. and other major powers take whatever steps are necessary to re-open the Strait of Tiran, the Israelis will feel compelled to go to war… . If the Israelis attacked the U.A.R. and waged a successful campaign, … we do not believe that the Soviets would intervene in the conflict with their own combat forces … They would probably count upon the political intervention of great powers, including themselves, to stop the fighting before Nasir had suffered too much damage.”
- —Also on May 26, CIA in collaboration with DIA produced a memorandum entitled “Military Capabilities of Israel and the Arab States,” which opened with the following summary: “Israel could almost certainly attain air superiority over the Sinai Peninsula in 24 hours after taking the initiative, or in two or three days if the U.A.R. struck first. In the latter case, Israel might lose up to half of its air force. We estimate that armored striking forces could breach the U.A.R.’s double defense line in the Sinai within several days. Re-grouping and re-supplying would be required before the Israelis could initiate further attacks aimed at driving to the Suez Canal. Israel could contain any attacks by Syria or Jordan during this period.”
- (I might note that in early drafts, our analysts more specifically stipulated “two to three days” to break the Egyptian Sinai defenses, and a total of “seven to nine days” to the Suez Canal if the Israelis had to pause to re-group, but they had to be a bit less specific to get through the coordination process.)
- —Finally, let me read you the summary of a CIA Memorandum circulated to the White House, the NSC-level, and the intelligence community on the morning of Saturday, June 3, two days before the fighting began: “Reporting during the past few days has focused on two primary aspects of the Near East crisis. One is the rapidly growing belief in Israel that time is running out, and that if Israel is not to suffer an ultimately [Page 499] fatal defeat, it must very soon either strike or obtain absolutely iron-clad security assurances from the West. The second aspect is the rise of a euphoric, bandwagon spirit among the Arab States, leading even moderate Arabs to believe that the time may in fact have come when the Arabs can close in on Israel with some hope of success. There are in addition a number of reports indicating that anti-U.S. actions are being planned, to be put in motion if the United States moves to frustrate what the Arabs now tend to see as a ‘victory.’”
- Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DCI Executive Registry Files: Job 80–R01580, Box 10, Folder 210, President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]. Nine annexes are filed with this draft briefing, including a chronology of the crisis, a chronology of the Arab-Israeli Task Force established May 23; and copies of other memoranda entitled: “Overall Arab-Israeli Military Capabilities,” May 23; “Israeli Intelligence Estimate of the Israeli-Arab Crisis,” May 25; Office of National Estimates memorandum “The Middle Eastern Crisis,” May 26; “Military Capabilities of Israel and the Arab States,” May 26 (Document 76); “The Current Focus of the Near East Crisis,” June 3; [text not declassified]. The package is filed with a letter from J. Patrick Coyne of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Board indicating that he and General Taylor had reviewed it. The briefing was prepared for a PFIAB meeting on June 15–16. No minutes of the meeting have been found.↩