134. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Possible Soviet Moves in Egypt

PARTICIPATION

  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • Mr. U. Alexis Johnson
    • Mr. Rodger Davies
  • Defense
    • Mr. Richard Ware
    • Mr. Robert Pranger
  • JCS
    • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS

1.
The WSAG working group paper2 should be refined to categorize possible Soviet actions to strengthen Egyptian defenses and identify [Page 397]US options in response. The paper should discuss the issues raised by these options, make clear relative US and Soviet military capabilities in the Middle East, and consider the impact which Soviet actions could have on the overall balance in the Middle East.
2.
An analysis should be prepared of what would be involved if the Soviets were to install an effective air defense for Egypt. This should include information on likely types of equipment, numbers of personnel, lead time, and means of transporting to the UAR.
3.
Existing Middle East contingency plans should be reviewed to determine their applicability to the present situation.
4.
CIA should prepare an analysis of possible Soviet intent in diverting an intelligence collection ship to a location south of Cyprus.
5.
The WSAG will meet on February 16 for further consideration of Middle East contingency planning.3
6.
The results of the WSAG studies will be made available to the Ad Hoc Group on aid to Israel. The Ad Hoc Group will meet February 17 or 18 to consider pending proposals on supplying military equipment to Israel. It will meet later to consider overall US strategy in dealing with the Middle East situation.
7.
Proposals on all available intelligence capabilities covering possible Soviet moves in Egypt should be prepared for discussion by the 303 Committee on February 17. These proposals should take into account possible means of improving Israeli reconnaissance.

Mr. Kissinger said that at this meeting the WSAG should review existing contingency plans to consider whether they fitted the situations that might arise as a result of Soviet moves in Egypt. It would be up to the principals to decide the timing and nature of any action that might be taken. WSAG approval of a plan did not constitute a recommendation to go forward with the actions specified in the plan.

Mr. Karamessines reviewed new intelligence. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Nasser in his address to the chiefs of state meeting in Cairo said the Soviets had promised him support by all necessary means. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] officials confirmed that Nasser had visited Moscow and claimed that the Soviets had committed themselves to supply all arms needed to regain the occupied territories. Specifically, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] officials spoke of Soviet willingness to offer Mig 23’s and other sophisticated air defense systems if the US provided Phantoms to Israel. [Page 398]General Vogt commented that the Mig 23 seemed an unlikely choice, since it was in short supply, was too sophisticated for the Egyptians, and was not suited to prevailing air combat conditions in the UAR-Israel conflict.

Mr. Karamessines mentioned reports that the Soviets might supply surface-to-surface missiles with a range of up to 800 miles and that Soviet pilots might be made available for purely defensive purposes. Nasser had spoken of Soviet irritation at Israeli intransigence and particularly at injuries to Soviet personnel from Israeli air attacks which had resulted in one dead and several wounded, including a general. Nasser, emphasizing the need to improve his air defenses, had admitted that SAM’s and radars had been taken from the front lines to assist against low-level Israeli attacks against Cairo.

Mr. Karamessines also noted [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] estimates that in Moscow Nasser had requested both offensive and defensive weapons and had found the Soviets generally receptive. However, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] thought the Soviets might hesitate to supply offensive weapons and would be more likely to strengthen Egyptian air defenses with improved SA–2’s, SA–3’s, or anti-aircraft artillery. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] believe that these improvements would require substantial Soviet manning. General Vogt agreed that Soviet personnel would be needed.

Mr. Karamessines said that a Soviet signal intelligence ship returning from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea had interrupted its voyage and was now operating south of Cyrpus.

General Vogt suggested that the Soviets might be expecting the Israelis to introduce new electronic systems as a response to new armaments to be given by the Soviets to the Egyptians. The Israelis might need new equipment if the Soviets brought in SA–3’s. Nevertheless, the intelligence ship could not be required for this purpose in the near future since installation of SA–3’s would take a long time. Answering a question from Mr. Karamessines, General Vogt said that the ship would probably not greatly improve Egyptian ability to anticipate Israeli attacks.

Mr. Kissinger said the explanations offered for the activities of the intelligence ship were not very persuasive and asked that an analysis be prepared of Soviet intentions in placing the ship off the Israeli coast.

Mr. Ware asked how many personnel might be involved in operating SA–3’s. General Vogt replied that there was little information available but estimated that the total might be about the same size as an SA–2 battalion, which had 700.

General Vogt added that the JCS thought we ought to consider improving our capability to detect possible Soviet moves. The group then [Page 399]discussed at some length various ways to increase reconnaissance, including improvement of Israeli capabilities. General Vogt believed we could do little in this line for the Israelis in the immediate future but might be able to help increase their capabilities over the longer run. He emphasized that in considering the need for better reconnaissance we should think about a program to be conducted over a considerable period of time. The consensus was that a decision on reconnaissance would not be required prior to Tuesday, February 17. Mr. Kissinger directed that proposals covering all available intelligence capabilities be prepared for discussion by the 303 Committee on February 17.4 These proposals should take into account the possibility of improving Israeli reconnaissance. It would then be possible to have recommendations available for the President by February 18.

Mr. Johnson said that everything points to the Soviets using our decision on aid to Israel as the peg for action on their part to support Nasser. Mr. Kissinger observed that Soviet inaction could very quickly affect their standing in the Middle East.

Mr. Kissinger said that there were three contingencies that needed to be considered: (1) an unacknowledged Soviet move to strengthen UAR air defense by providing equipment and technicians; (2) open Soviet acknowledgement of some Soviet responsibility for UAR air defense; and (3) Soviet threat of offensive action against Israel. The WSAG should list possible US responses to Soviet actions; these could be categorized as diplomatic action, providing aid to Israel, and military measures. It was agreed that the working group paper prepared as a result of the February 9 WSAG meeting could serve as a basis for this analysis. Once the WSAG had assembled its findings, it could place them before the NSC or the Ad Hoc Group on aid to Israel.

The group then considered whether there was any sort of assistance the Soviets could provide that would be effective in stopping the Israeli penetration attacks. Mr. Kissinger pointed out that to stop the attacks would imply that the Israelis would suffer substantial losses. This would create additional problems for us. Mr. Karamessines said that intelligence reports indicated the Soviets might try to give the Egyptians an anti-aircraft capability similar to that they had provided the North Vietnamese. The consensus was that because of Egyptian ineffectiveness, providing them such a capability would probably mean the introduction of Soviet crews.

Mr. Kissinger asked that estimates be prepared of what would be required for an effective Egyptian air defense, including how much [Page 400]equipment and personnel would be needed and how transportation to Egypt could be arranged. General Vogt suggested that the Egyptians were concerned primarily about the Cairo area, and that this could probably be covered with 10 battalions of ground-to-air missiles.

Mr. Kissinger suggested that Soviet bombers and pilots might be the cheapest way of creating an effective deterrent against Israeli attacks. General Vogt said that Soviet bombers operating against Israeli defenses could well suffer substantial losses. The Soviets would probably be reluctant to put their prestige on the line in this way. Answering a question from Mr. Pranger, General Vogt said that the intelligence ship would not be useful to feed information to bombers.

General Vogt said that one other possible defensive measure would be for the Soviets to provide an SA–4 mobile system, with associated radar facilities. This would not stop the Israeli penetrations but would make them more costly. Responding to Mr. Johnson’s question, General Vogt said that this equipment could be transported by air but would involve tonnages far greater than the Soviets have heretofore flown into Egypt. He noted that the Soviets had obtained overflight permission from Turkey for previous airlifts to Egypt.

Mr. Kissinger again pointed out that we would be faced with a problem if improved Egyptian defenses inflicted losses which the Israeli Air Force could not withstand. General Vogt said that even if the Egyptians had a system equivalent to the North Vietnamese, losses would still not be great—perhaps one per 1000 sorties.

Mr. Karamessines asked about the status of diplomatic efforts. Mr. Kissinger said the approach to the Soviets discussed at the February 9 WSAG meeting had been approved and was being made. Mr. Karamessines then asked about the old proposal for withdrawal of forces from the Suez Canal. The consensus was that there was no possibility that such an approach would be effective at this time and that the basic problem remained the Israeli penetration attacks.

Mr. Kissinger pointed out that diplomatic and supply pressures on Israel were an important part of the inventory of measures which the US might take. Mr. Johnson said that the detailed planning should be reviewed to ensure it is consistent with what we are now working on. Mr. Kissinger agreed and noted that the existing plans for the most part assumed a situation in which the Israeli forces were being driven back in a Soviet-backed effort to oust them from occupied territory. Mr. Davies added that we should look closely at those provisions of the contingency plan covering (1) interdiction of Soviet supplies to Egypt and (2) a one-time retaliatory strike responding to a Soviet attack on Israel. Mr. Kissinger cautioned that we would not wish to rush into military action. Mr. Ware asked if we had the assets to consider a retaliatory strike. General Vogt said that we could mount a strike; but if [Page 401]the Soviets responded, they could rapidly outbid us. Mr. Johnson added that all the analysis done so far had shown that the Soviets would be in a superior military position in the event of a crisis in the Middle East. Mr. Kissinger stressed that it was important that this point be made clear to the President.

Mr. Kissinger asked that the working group established after the February 9 WSAG meeting5 refine their paper to categorize possible Soviet moves, identify US options in response, discuss the issues these options raise and consider the impact on the overall strategic situation in the Middle East. The WSAG would meet again on the morning of February 16. The papers prepared by the WSAG should be made available to the Ad Hoc Group on aid to Israel. This Group should meet February 17 or 18 to consider pending proposals on providing military equipment to Israel. Later the Ad Hoc Group could meet again to consider the overall US strategy in dealing with Middle East problem.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969 and 1970. Top Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. A paper entitled “Increased Soviet Involvement in UAR Military Effort—Contingencies and Options,” was drafted by Saunders and Rodger P. Davies for consideration by the WSAG working group. (Ibid.)
  3. A February 16 covering memorandum for these minutes from Jeanne Davis to U. Alexis Johnson, Warren Nutter, Nels Johnson, and Thomas Karamessines informed them that the February 16 meeting was postponed until further notice. (Ibid.)
  4. Minutes of this 303 meeting are in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972.
  5. See Document 130.