151. Memorandum of Conversation1
- The President
- Ambassador Rabin (Israel)
- General Alexander M. Haig
After Ambassador Rabin and General Haig were situated in the Map Room, the President entered. Ambassador Rabin opened the meeting by stating that he had been asked by Prime Minister Golda [Page 506] Meir to convey a message to President Nixon in lieu of an immediate visit from her.2 Rabin continued by remarking that Israel had only accepted the United States peace offer,3 after having originally rejected it, because of the President’s personal letter to Prime Minister Golda Meir.4 He stated that Israel has expressed a willingness to negotiate only because of this letter and did so with the gravest doubt as to the wisdom of this course of action because of both the military and the political risks involved for Israel.
Rabin stated that in Israel’s view the key problem was the Soviet threat and that they had no illusions with respect to Soviet motives. He added that in the case of the Soviet Union Israel was convinced that Soviet acceptance of the US proposal5 was predicated not on the proposal itself but rather on the strong threat made by President Nixon during his television interview on the West Coast in early July.6
Rabin then stated that since accepting the US peace initiative Israel’s confidence had been badly shaken by two events. The first was the political misunderstanding involving the Jarring Report’s submission to the United Nations7 and the second was the violation of the ceasefireby the Soviet Union and Egypt which, according to Rabin, was confirmed by positive evidence in the hands of the Israeli Government.8 Rabin continued by asserting that this ceasefire violation had [Page 507] fundamentally altered the military balance in the Middle East because sufficient air-to-ground missiles had been moved forward to permit the Soviets and the Egyptians to exact a severe toll on Israeli aircraft which were conducting suppressive missions against Egyptian artillery spread across the entire breadth of the Canal. Rabin further stated that there were some 1,000 artillery pieces backed up by seven Egyptian divisions which could now be employed with the full cognizance that ground-to-air defenses would render Israeli counter action prohibitive.
Rabin then commented that Mrs. Meir and the entire Israeli Government were very unsettled by United States unwillingness to accept the evidence offered by Israel establishing the fact that a ceasefire violation had occurred. He also remarked that public statements countering the Israeli assessment added further to the difficulties.
Ambassador Rabin continued by asserting that the simple fact now existed that the military balance has been substantially altered by the Soviet action in moving missile defenses forward along the Canal. He stated that Israel was very conscious of the Soviet action and had anticipated that it would occur. Soviet objectives were obvious from the outset since they had started creeping forward before the ceasefire was to take effect. Initially, they established defenses along the rear areas of Egypt. The Soviets then moved forward to the 50 kilometer line. Then, once the US peace initiativewas announced and even for thetwo-day period after the ceasefire, the Soviets proceeded to move the missiles forward to within 10 to 15 kilometers from the Canal. Today 10 to 14 new sites existed along the Canal itself. Rabin insisted that they had proof positive of this infraction. Israel had flown missions against these sites and reconnaissance missions every day for 72 consecutive days and was in no doubt that an infraction had occurred. He added that they also had communications and electronic intelligence which confirmed the movement of missile battalions after the ceasefire from Cairo itself.
Rabin continued by commenting that whether one accepts that the movement was made before or after the formal ceasefire, the intent of the Soviet Union was obvious and that this, after all, was the only important fact. He stated that since the military balance had been changed it was now a matter of how long it would be before the Egyptians violated the ceasefire and how, therefore, Israel would be able to counter the new threat. He added that Israel had been prepared and willing to [Page 508] strike the forward missile complexes but when they had attempted to do so, they found that the attrition on the attacking aircraft was very high. It was therefore necessary for them to acquire some additional technical means, electronic countermeasures and standoff shrike missiles as well as CBU ordnance. Ambassador Rabin also added that having requested this from the United States, they had yet to receive the assistance they had hoped for.
Rabin stated that he was scheduled to meet with Defense officials today to ascertain whether or not this equipment, especially the shrike missile, would be available. President Nixon stated that he had approved the delivery of shrike missiles some three weeks earlier and asked General Haig the reason for the delay. Ambassador Rabin interjected that the delays resulted from some technical misunderstandings. General Haig agreed that this was correct and commented that there was some question initially as to whether or not the shrike missile could be delivered from the aircraft available to the Israelis. The President instructed General Haig to insure that this matter was resolved promptly.
President Nixon then stated that Israel must understand that he too understood the Soviet motives, perhaps better than Israel itself; we had launched our initiative with no preconceived notions as to Soviet goodwill. On the other hand, he commented, it was important that the initiative proceed and that a conscious and overt effort be made by the United States at this time to achieve peace in the Middle East. The President then remarked that Rabin must be conscious of the problem and the attitude existing in the United States at this time. This was an attitude which affected not only the situation in the Middle East but the conduct of US affairs in Southeast Asia, Cambodia and South Vietnam. President Nixon told Rabin that he must be conscious of the difficulties caused by certain of our congressional leaders such as Senator Fulbright, Senator McGovern and Senator Hatfield.9
The President continued by stating that the American people and indeed the world at large were very much impressed by the progress made thus far within the US peace initiative. The world was especially pleased that both sides had agreed to a ceasefire. Thus, it was important that we continue on with the negotiations. It was also important, the President added, that no one attribute to Israel the fault for a fracturing of the ceasefire. If the US peace initiative were to fail, everyone should recognize who was at fault. Certainly he, the President, hoped that it would be the other side and not Israel who must share the blame.[Page 509]
The President then stated that he agreed fully with Ambassador Rabin’s assessment that the Soviet Union was indeed the main cause of Middle East tensions and that if the Soviet Union were removed from the situation Israel would certainly be able to handle matters without difficulty. Ambassador Rabin reaffirmed that this was the case. President Nixon commented that he would not discuss this with even his closest advisors but that he wanted it understood that he would raise the issue of Soviet involvement through special channels. It was obvious to all that the Soviet Union had problems of its own. Therefore, if there were to be a Summit, as some have surmised, the departure of the Soviets from the Middle East certainly would be the first item on the agenda of such a meeting.
President Nixon then stated that he would, of course, be willing and delighted to receive Prime Minister Golda Meir but he did not feel that now was the time for such a visit. A visit at this time would be misunderstood since the peace effort had just gotten underway. He hoped that the Prime Minister would recognize this fact and be willing to come at a later date,10 perhaps in connection with the anniversary of the United Nations.
President Nixon also stated that these were most difficult times for Israel and that it would be necessary for Israel to demonstrate a maximum degree of self-restraint. Certainly this was expected not only by the American people and the Jewish community in America but by world public opinion as well. Before we could anticipate acceptance of a violation of the ceasefire by Israel or the rectification of whatever violations might have occurred thus far, it was essential that public opinion be prepared for such a problem.
Finally, the President noted that we have now taken steps to assure that future violations are picked up without any equivocation and asked Ambassador Rabin to furnish to General Haig any intelligence which Israel may develop that is not held by us and to raise any additional question about military matters that may be disturbing the Government of Israel. The President concluded the meeting by asking Ambassador Rabin to keep General Haig and Dr. Kissinger informed of any changes in the military situation.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 134, Country Files, Middle East, Rabin-Kissinger. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The conversation was held in the Map Room of the White House. Rabin described his August 17 meeting with President Nixon in The Rabin Memoirs, pp. 184–185.↩
- In his memoirs, Rabin wrote that after Israeli intelligence discovered Egyptian violations of the cease-fire agreement during the second week of August, he asked Kissinger to arrange for a meeting between Meir and Nixon “for an overall discussion of the post-ceasefire situation, but he put me off by claiming that the time was “not ripe’ for such a meeting. A few days later, when I pressed him again, he proposed that I meet with the President. I felt uneasy about the idea, for I could not be regarded as a proxy for the prime minister and I had grounds to assume that such a substitution would thoroughly irritate Golda.” (Ibid., p. 184)↩
- See Document 140.↩
- See Document 136.↩
- See Document 137.↩
- See footnote 3, Document 134.↩
- See Document 143.↩
- Rabin told Kissinger during an August 15 meeting at the White House that “on the nights of 29 and 30 July the Soviets and Egyptians had moved forward massively with their ground-to-air missiles, and during the first half of August, they had continued this movement from their earlier position of 40–60 kilometers from the Canal.” He added that on the night of August 7 and 8, there was additional movement of missiles toward the Suez Canal. “Israel had both ComInt and photos,” he said. “The Soviets and Egyptians deployed 14 sites forward.” (Memorandum of conversation, August 15; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 134, Country Files, Middle East, Rabin-Kissinger) In an August 15 memorandum to Rogers, Sisco reported that U.S. intelligence “clearly showed there was a buildup of SAM installations in an area 15 to 35 kilometers west of the ceasefire line between the end of July and August 10. The Israelis say this began in the hours before the ceasefire went into effect (midnight August 7 Israeli time) and continued at least through the next day. If the Israeli contention as to timing is correct, this missile deployment would constitute a violation of the standstill provision of the Israeli-UAR ceasefire agreement.” Sisco added that “because we lack a data base of our own for August 7, our evidence on the question of timing (but not on the buildup itself) is and will remain inconclusive. When evidence the Israelis have provided us is taken into account, there is a reasonable presumption that a violation occurred.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR) See also footnote 2, Document 149.↩
- Senator George S. McGovern (D–SD) and Senator Mark O. Hatfield (R–OR).↩
- Meir met with Nixon at the White House on September 18. See Document 162.↩