130. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Possible Soviet Moves in Egypt

PARTICIPATION

  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • Mr. Rodger Davies
  • Defense
    • Mr. Richard Ware
    • Mr. Robert Pranger
  • JCS
    • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt
  • CIA
    • Mr. Thomas H. Karamessines
  • NSC Staff
    • Mr. Harold Saunders
    • Col. Robert Behr
    • Mr. Keith Guthrie
[Page 384]

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS

1.
A US position for dealing with possible Soviet moves in Egypt must be ready within one week. The WSAG will meet on the afternoon of Wednesday, February 11 to draw up an initial position and will meet again Monday, February 16 to give the problem further consideration.
2.
In connection with preparation of the US position the following papers should be prepared:
a.
Assistant Secretary Sisco should submit on February 9 proposals for intensifying our diplomatic efforts to bring about a cease fire and, in this context, to warn the Soviets against further intervention in Egypt. These proposals should take into account the possible usefulness of a renewed cease-fire effort in dealing with public opinion pressures, staving off a further Israeli request for aid, and placing the onus on the Soviets for escalating the Arab-Israeli conflict.
b.

For WSAG consideration at its February 11 and 16 meetings the military situation in the Middle East and the options open to the United States should be reviewed. This review should be related to the existing contingency plans, particularly Tab H (action by Soviet naval forces) and Tab D (responses to Soviet overt intervention in renewed Arab-Israeli hostilities) of the WSAG contingency plan of October 1969.

The analysis should take into account the overall power situation in the Middle East and not just the Arab-Israeli dispute. State and CIA should coordinate in preparing this aspect of the study.

c.
The ad hoc Under Secretaries group is to meet Monday, February 16 to consider the paper that has been prepared on aid to Israel. This paper must be coordinated with current contingency planning and should discuss what aid levels to Israel are appropriate in the light of foreseeable Soviet moves. It should also consider tacit US Government facilitation of Israeli military purchases in the US.

Mr. Kissinger summarized the circumstances requiring the WSAG to meet. There were hints that the Soviets might take some action, as yet unspecified, in the Middle East. It was essential we make sure our plans were in order and, that all possible contingencies had been examined. The study prepared by CIA suggested the following possible Soviet actions: (1) improvement of UAR ground-to-air defense, with some Soviet personnel made available for this purpose; (2) introduction of Soviet pilots, probably with associated ground-control installations; and (3) introduction of offensive weapons such as bombers and missiles. Mr. Kissinger asked if there were any new possibilities.

Mr. Karamessines said there was nothing further to add at this time. However, we might get some more information as a result of the Cairo meeting, since Nasser might tell his Arab colleagues what he expected or had requested from the Soviets.

Mr. Kissinger said he was concerned about one further possibility—that the Soviet fleet in the Mediterranean might take retaliatory action against Israel. Mr. Karamessines commented that while anything [Page 385]was possible, naval action did not seem consistent with the thrust [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] by Soviet officials regarding the Near Eastern situation. Mr. Saunders pointed out that naval action was considered in the October 1969 WSAG contingency plan at Tab H, where it was suggested that we might respond by taking action against the Alexandria port facilities.

After noting that consideration should also be given to the more remote possibility of Nasser’s loss of power, Mr. Kissinger suggested that the military situation in the Middle East and the options open to the US be reviewed and considered by the WSAG on Wednesday, February 11.2

Mr. Kissinger asked about the timing of possible Soviet action. Mr. Davies suggested that the Soviets would move quickly for psychological purposes. Mr. Saunders observed that they might wait to see what decision we made on aid to Israel in the wake of Kosygin’s letter3 to the President. Mr. Kissinger said he had noted the same theory in the press and asked who was putting out this idea. Mr. Saunders said that it appeared to be a complete fabrication, perhaps disseminated by the Soviet Embassy.

Mr. Pranger noted that [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] the Soviets would be increasing their freighter traffic through the Bosporus in the next few days. Mr. Davies suggested that the Soviets might just announce that they were going to provide air cover to Cairo; and Mr. Saunders noted that, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] they could take the steps necessary to provide such an air defense within one week.

Mr. Kissinger said that the preceding discussion confirmed the need for a WSAG meeting as early as February 11 to give preliminary consideration to what the US should do. Discussion of the Middle East situation could be completed at a subsequent WSAG meeting on February 16. It was agreed that the February 11 meeting should be scheduled late in the afternoon to provide the maximum possible time for completing the necessary staff work.

Mr. Kissinger asked General Vogt to have a look at the existing military contingency plans. He noted that increased Soviet involvement would at the very least probably result in some attrition of the Israeli Air Force, and that this would generate pressure for US aid to Israel. General Vogt said the Israelis will probably move to take out any new defensive system installed in Egypt by the Soviets. He thought the Israelis had the capability to do so, even if the defenses were manned by the Soviets.

[Page 386]

Mr. Kissinger observed that the implications of Soviet action would be different, depending on whether or not the Soviets acknowledged that they were assuming responsibility for the air defense of Cairo. If the Soviets maintained that an improved defense system was Egyptian, even though run by the Soviets, Brezhnev would probably be under less immediate internal pressures to retaliate in the event Soviet personnel were injured by Israeli attacks. In either case, however, we are likely to face a difficult situation. If Soviet help on air defense results in losses for the Israeli Air Force, we will probably get requests from Israel for aid. On the other hand, if the Israelis challenge the new defenses, the Soviets will eventually feel compelled to respond. They may act immediately if they have publicly acknowledged responsibility for Egyptian air defense; the time fuse may be a few months longer if the presence of their personnel is unacknowledged.

General Vogt pointed out that Soviet interest in defensive armaments for the UAR suggested that they were anticipating Israeli attacks. Thus, the Soviets might seek to keep their involvement covert. He observed that the Israelis had taken out all of the earlier Soviet SA–2 installations that threatened Israeli operations in the Cairo area. [2 lines of source text not declassified] General Vogt added that if the Soviets were to install the more sophisticated SA–3’s in Egypt, they would be taking a major new step, since these weapons had never heretofore been deployed outside the USSR. One result might be an Israeli request to us for more sophisticated counter-measures.

Mr. Saunders noted that the existing WSAG plan did not cover the contingency of Soviet intervention solely for the purpose of defending the UAR, with Soviet units and aircraft operating only within Egypt. Mr. Kissinger replied that it seemed hard to see how Soviet action to install a major new defensive system would not sooner or later escalate the conflict and lead to one of the contingencies discussed in the existing plan. The Israelis would feel compelled to challenge the new defenses, and this could lead to a Soviet-Israeli confrontation.

In response to Mr. Kissinger’s questions, General Vogt said that Israeli pilots in F–4’s or Mirage III’s would probably be more than a match for Soviet pilots in Mig 21’s. He doubted that the Israelis would lose one plane for every two lost by the Soviets.

The discussion then turned to possible Soviet supply of offensive missiles to the Egyptians. Mr. Davies emphasized the concern which would be generated in Israel if the Soviets were to announce the installation of missiles with a 200-mile range. In response to Mr. Kissinger’s questions, General Vogt said that the Soviets could provide a missile such as the Frog which has a two-mile CEP (circular error, probable) at a range of 200 miles. This would permit bombardment of the Tel Aviv suburbs. With high explosive warheads, this would be [Page 387]primarily a terroristic weapon and would cause little damage. General Vogt added that the Israelis soon will also have an offensive capability in the form of the Jericho missile.

Mr. Kissinger asked if the Soviet decision to aid the Egyptians was irrevocable. Mr. Davies and Mr. Karamessines agreed that it was. Mr. Kissinger asked if anything was to be achieved by our trying to warn the Soviets against such a step. Mr. Davies suggested that it would be desirable to intensify our diplomatic effort toward a cease fire, and Mr. Karamessines added that this would help us in dealing with public opinion. Mr. Kissinger then asked that Assistant Secretary Sisco send over a paper dealing with this “today” (February 9).

Mr. Kissinger observed that one explanation for the spate of Soviet Embassy-inspired stories linking a US decision on aid to Israel with the Kosygin letter was that the Soviets had made the decision to step up assistance to Nasser and were attempting to shift to us the blame for escalating the dispute. He suggested that if we moved fast on the diplomatic front, we could appear to be making a response to the Soviets and might thus stave off another Israeli request for aid. He added that it was important that the ad hoc Under Secretaries group on aid to Israel meet on February 16. The staff paper prepared for the Under Secretaries must be coordinated with our other planning, so that we would be able to decide what aid levels to Israel would be appropriate in the light of foreseeable Soviet moves in Egypt.

Mr. Kissinger asked about the possibility of avoiding US Government decisions on aid to Israel while allowing the Israelis to purchase military equipment in this country. We would, of course, want to know what the Israelis were buying, but we would make no announcements. Mr. Davies agreed that the less that was said on the record, the easier it would be for us to aid Israel. It was agreed that our ability to do this would depend to some extent on the type of equipment the Israelis were seeking.

General Vogt suggested that arrangements could be worked out with the Israeli Air Force to keep Israeli purchases as quiet as possible. He added that it would be useful to see how our equipment fares against that which the Soviets might supply.

Mr. Kissinger directed that the possibility of tacit US facilitation of Israeli purchases be covered in the study being prepared for the Under Secretaries group. He added that if a decision were made to offset Soviet equipment supplied to Nasser, we needed to consider what we should do. We also needed to decide whether the introduction of Soviet combat personnel into Egypt would trigger one of the contingencies covered in existing plans.

Mr. Kissinger asked that in connection with the current review State and CIA prepare an analysis of Soviet moves in the light of the overall power balance in the Middle East and Africa. Possible establishment [Page 388]of a Soviet power base in this area was a matter of serious concern.

Mr. Kissinger suggested that the best means of warning the Soviets might be a SiscoDobrynin meeting on achieving a cease-fire. Mr. Karamessines and Mr. Davies agreed. Mr. Kissinger asked that Assistant Secretary Sisco address this matter in the memorandum to be submitted “this afternoon” (February 9). At the suggestion of Mr. Karamessines, Mr. Kissinger also suggested that Mr. Sisco consider in his memorandum the possible advantages of publicizing promptly any measures which the Soviets might take to step up their aid to Egypt.

Mr. Ware said that in considering this we ought to think about where it leads in terms of US involvement in the Middle East. Mr. Pranger suggested we might try to warn the Israelis about the increased dangers of attacking Egyptian defenses in the event the Soviets openly acknowledged their own involvement. Mr. Kissinger doubted that we could ask the Israelis not to attack or tell them that we would not provide them aid.

Mr. Kissinger then directed that Tab D (response to Soviet overt intervention in renewed Arab-Israeli hostilities) and Tab H (action by Soviet naval forces) of the October 1969 WSAG contingency plan be reviewed in the context of the current possibilities for Soviet action in Egypt which might result in attrition to the Israeli Air Force and damage to Israeli territory. A judgement was needed on the circumstances under which we would prefer each of the options discussed in the October 1969 plan: military aid to Israel, interdiction of Soviet supplies, and US military intervention. Mr. Kissinger again emphasized the importance of considering the problem in the context not just of the Arab-Israeli dispute but of the overall power situation in the Middle East.

In answer to General Vogt’s question, Mr. Kissinger said that JCS should submit its review of military plans directly to the NSC.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969 and 1970. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See Document 134.
  3. Document 121.