116. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1
U.S. POLICY OPTIONS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
I. The Issues
The basic issue is how to strengthen the US position vis-à-vis the Soviets. Two broad strategies are possible.
A. Rely primarily on strengthening the military counterweights to the Soviets and their clients, making Israel our military proxy in the area but with at least the implication of U.S. readiness to back Israel more directly if necessary.
B. Rely primarily on political efforts to strengthen the US position, seeking to force an Arab-Israeli political settlement involving almost [Page 384] total Israeli withdrawal in return for Arab acceptance of a Jewish state in Palestine. This might require a formal US defense commitment to Israel.
A choice on strategy has been sharpened by two recent developments: (1) The new Soviet role in the air defense of the UAR (which has intensified pressure on us to provide more aircraft to Israel; and (2) Nasser’s May Day “peace appeal”2 (which relates to our relations with the Mid-East in regard to future sales to Israel and our position on a peace settlement, especially on withdrawal).
These developments require that we make early decisions on two operational issues:
(1) What moves, if any, should we make with respect to a peace settlement?
(2) How should we respond to Israel’s request for additional aircraft?
Decisions on these issues will be determined by—or will determine—which of the two broad strategies we pursue in dealing with the general Soviet challenge in the area and will provide an answer to a third: How to respond to Nasser’s peace appeal.
II. The Political-Military Framework—Basic Factors
(1) The parties disagree on interpreting the purpose of UN Security Council Resolution 242.
(2) The parties disagree on the propriety of “imposing” a settlement.
(3) A qualitatively new—and we assume irreversible—factor has entered the situation: The Soviet commitment to the air defense of the UAR. A signal to the Russians from the US might not only require additional aircraft for Israel but also signs of our willingness to get involved on the Israeli side. This prompts the question of whether we get involved to defend the big Israel or the little one.
(4) Following Nasser’s peace appeal, there is now the clear implication that if the US continues to supply Israel militarily, there will be a sharp decline in our relations with the Mid-East, presumably encouraged by Nasser. It is assumed that this would be an irreversible deterioration in our ties with the area.
(5) The Israelis are now reading events in the Mid-East as a Soviet challenge to the US which therefore would require a positive response to Israel’s military requests. [We cannot be sure that such a positive response would increase Israeli flexibility on a settlement or ultimately avoid an Israeli-Soviet confrontation.][Page 385]
—There are two fixed factors in our relations with the Mid-East: (1) We are committed to keeping Israel in existence and thus to keeping the military balance in her favor. (2) We cannot abandon the Mid-East to the Soviets without losing important US financial, economic and strategic interests there. However, to provide Israel now with additional aircraft would accelerate the movement of the Arab world into the Soviet camp.
—An Arab-Israeli settlement would best resolve these conflicting factors. In moving toward this, we could consider deferring decision on Israel’s requests without endangering her security; we might give some ground to the Soviets and the UAR on a political settlement. These two moves would protect our overriding interests in Israel’s existence and in maintaining a role in the Arab world.
—Our influence on both sides is limited: On the Israeli side, we supply arms but are limited by the fact that we cannot allow the military balance to shift against them. On the Arab side, there is a desire not to see the US excluded from the area and the fact that Israeli withdrawal cannot be achieved without US help.
—With these considerations in mind, the following policy options are open to the US:
III. Policy Options
On a settlement:
(1) Stand fast on present proposals, encourage cease-fire, seek continuation of present Soviet-Israel military stand-off but prepare to confront the USSR militarily (via Israel in the first instance) through a prolonged conflict. [While this is a non-compromising position for the U.S., it might lead to endless escalation and not necessarily result in negotiations.]
(2) Take new initiatives to get negotiations started: (a) Get both sides to accept our proposals [Both sides have rejected them; a pre-negotiating process would be necessary, while withholding aircraft in the interim.]; or (b) begin negotiations under Jarring using a simple formula: both sides would agree to Resolution 242 and both sides would give assurances to the other on its fulfillment (the Arabs would agree to live at peace with Israel; the Israelis would say they were prepared to withdraw). [This might be the inducement for both sides to enter negotiations; however, it might involve continuing US pressure on Israel or encourage the Arabs to stiffen their position.]
(3) Become more specific on our proposals in the two and four power talks. [We would have trouble getting Israel to accept a detailed settlement; without any movement toward a cease-fire, the war of attri[Page 386]tion would continue and the pressure on us to provide additional aircraft would intensify.]
(4) Abandon the Jarring Mission and invite the parties to participate in the Four Power talks to work out agreement on implementing Resolution 242. [This might be the way to break the impasse; it might also isolate us with the Israeli position.]
On Israel’s Aircraft Request [These options correlate roughly with numbered options above.]
(1) Meet the full request. [Further escalation might increase the chances for US involvement and decrease the chances for political settlement in the near future.]
(2) Defer on the Phantoms, provided limited number of aircraft for interceptor role (F–5s) and additional Hawk missiles. [This would strengthen Israel’s air defense capability while limiting its forward air strategy; however, introduction of the F–5 would confuse the Israeli inventory and (though less than the F–4) be seen by the Arabs as a significant strengthening of the IAF.]
(3) Defer on full requests and sell only add-ons (i.e. replacement of losses or continuation of F–4 and A–4 deliveries for limited periods). [If this were a secret deal, it would constitute indirect pressure by the US on Israel to review its position; leaked, the US would appear to have backed down under Soviet/UAR pressure and strains in US-Israeli relations would not be relieved.]
(4) Defer on everything. [This would be the best atmosphere for new political initiatives; however, adverse Israeli reaction might lead to desperate military moves and give the impression that the US had backed off under Soviet/UAR pressure.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–044, Senior Review Group Meetings, Review Group Middle East 5/21/70. Secret; Nodis. The undated Department of State paper that this paper summarizes, entitled “U.S. Policy Options in the Middle East,” is attached. All brackets are in the original.↩
- See Document 115.↩