152. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1



Military and Diplomatic Options

I. What the Paper Represents

The paper at the next tab [“IG Paper”] was written in the following way:

—A Defense Department task force, which has been working with the Israeli weapons problem for the past seven weeks, identified a series of Israeli strategy options for defending the Suez cease-fire line.

—At Assistant Secretary Sisco’s request, Hal Saunders put these options in policy context in the cover memo at the next tab. This memo (1) states the pros and cons of each military option, (2) identifies the next steps in a military assistance scenario from now to November and (3) makes a preliminary effort to relate those steps to the next steps in the diplomatic scenario.

—Defense and State both made refinements and the full Defense study2 is attached to the policy paper.

Sisco’s Interdepartmental Group endorsed the paper Monday.3

II. A Preview of the Decisions Required

It would be desirable to reach conclusions on a general framework within which our military assistance relationship with Israel can proceed. These conclusions can be reported to the President for decision after the meeting since major dissent does not seem likely. Three major points should be addressed:

A. What range of Israeli military strategies for defending the Suez cease-fire line is the U.S. prepared to support if the cease-fire breaks down?

The options are ranged in the next section of this summary with a view to setting aside those which seem infeasible or undesirable. This [Page 511] process of elimination leaves a range of options which could be discussed with the Israelis if we wish for political reasons to invite them into consultations on strategy. They should be discussed if any precise strategy is to be chosen because there are questions which only the Israelis can answer.

B. Shall we invite Israeli military planners to consult with us on a sensible equipment package within the range of strategies the U.S. is prepared to support?

The basic answer is really stated above—YES. The issue is what limits to place. Defense is wary of anything that smacks of formal joint planning but would go along with some fairly detailed talks with Israeli military officials on the reasoning behind the various options we have identified. Sisco wants such detailed talks as a means of bringing the Israelis to face the financial and military realities of their present situation as well as to provide the general assurance of cooperation the Israelis need. A decision is required on the limits to be imposed on these talks.

C. How should this invitation be timed to relate to the diplomatic scenario?

This is least clear because it is still uncertain how the diplomatic scenario will play itself out. The invitation to discuss strategies should be issued fairly soon so it is important to identify what we should seek in connection with it since this is the main “carrot” we will have to offer in the next few weeks.

III. The Military Options

For the sake of simplifying, the options are grouped below to facilitate the process of narrowing and focusing. For the same reason, they are dealt with here in reverse order.

—The options are described fully in the attached paper at pp. II:3–7. A small tab marked “Options” identifies these pages.

—An equipment package for each option is in the annex paper at a small tab marked “Packages.” You do not need to get into the packages, but you may wish to take a quick look to see what is involved.

—A full statement of pros and cons appears in Section III of the IG paper at the next tab; it is marked with a tab, “Pros and Cons.”

A. Options Most Quickly Set Aside

Alternative 6: Prepare for full-scale U.S. intervention. This option is included by Defense “only to show that beyond a certain point in the Israeli capabilities described below U.S. involvement is probably the next step.”

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Alternative 5: Provide a surge capability for pre-emptive strikes against deep Egyptian targets as a possible prelude to ground invasion. The Israeli need to administer a serious blow is recognized, and some would make the argument that the U.S. has an interest in showing the USSR’s vulnerability. But no one-time Israeli strike seems likely to be decisive in the longer perspective if the USSR is committed to get Egyptian territory back, and the risk of Soviet retaliation would be serious.

Alternative 4–B: Provide continuous forward SAM-attrition capability. This was the Israeli strategy before the cease-fire of seeking capability to attack the missile sites themselves. It is the judgment of the Pentagon task force that this is militarily infeasible for these reasons:

—The Soviet-UAR missile defense is denser, more sophisticated and better manned than anything the USAF flew against in North Vietnam, and the USAF adopted a strategy of not attacking the sites but of trying to suppress them while attacking other targets.

—The Soviet capacity to replace sites is probably greater than Israeli capacity to destroy them.

—Israel probably cannot afford this strategy. Pentagon gaming suggests this strategy would cost Israel $100 million a month. That would include losses of 12 Phantoms and 16 Skyhawks a month.

NOTE: There is very little feeling in the Pentagon that this is even a feasible strategy for Israel to consider. However, the following question should be asked: Is this strategy infeasible only because the U.S. is not prepared to supply its most advanced munitions for stand-off pinpoint bombing? [There are a few weapons specialists who feel that this strategy might become feasible if the U.S. were prepared to give Israel such things as laser bombs. The argument for using this technology would be to demonstrate U.S. superiority.]

B. Options to be Most Seriously Argued

The strategies outlined below are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and the answer may be some combination of them. However, there does seem to be a special choice between 3–B and some combination of the rest. The question is whether the Israelis need the capability to attack Egyptian artillery sites badly enough to warrant the cost.

Alternative 3–B: Provide continuous gun-attrition capability. This would—by heavy jamming—permit continuous Israeli attacks on front-line artillery positions in a 5–10 mile zone west of the Canal. The main argument for this approach is that the Israelis have maintained they could not sustain the losses from Egyptian artillery barrages. This is why they began their steady air raids in July 1969. However, the Pentagon estimates this strategy might cost the Israelis $70 million a month in munitions and lost aircraft alone. Moreover, some in the Pentagon [Page 513] feel that Israel could hold its position on the Suez cease-fire line with a much less costly strategy (see Alternatives 1 and 2 below).

Alternatives 3–A and 4–A: Provide a one-time surge capability to silence guns (3–A) and forward SAM sites (4–A) on the west bank to defeat a canal-crossing build-up. These two alternatives differ more in numbers than in types of equipment. The equipment involved would cost just under $15 million. These strategies by themselves would probably not be sufficient because they do not provide means for coping with day-to-day Egyptian firing across the Canal.

Alternatives 1 and 2: Provide additional equipment for better air defense and for defeating an armored invasion into the Sinai (2) and equipment for infiltration control (1). This package would include more armor and anti-aircraft weapons to a one-time total of about $95 million for the heavy equipment and another $15 million for intelligence and anti-infiltration equipment. Some of the tanks are already being provided.

NOTE: The question to be asked about this alternative is whether the Israelis could stay on the Canal without some capacity to bomb steadily across the Canal. Some Pentagon answers are that the Israelis could further reduce the number of men on the Canal and rely on sensors to identify raiding parties. A mobile force could then be moved rapidly to meet any such group. Others in the Pentagon, however, feel that some Israeli capacity to bomb Egyptian gun positions across the Canal (Alternative 3–B above) would remain necessary.

C. Issues in Devising a Combination of Strategies

1. Minimum. If deep raids and continuous attacks on the SAM’s are ruled out, Alternatives 1, 2 and 3–A—4–A would seem to be a minimum. This would give the Israelis the capability to defend the Sinai with insurance in a one-strike capability to defeat a build-up on the west bank for a canal-crossing. This could all be done for about $125 million.

2. The issue is whether Alternative 3–B—the ability to bomb the gun positions continuously is necessary. This is where costs mount—to $70 million a month in expendable items alone. The decision depends on:

—Whether the Israelis feel they can give up cross-Canal bombing and

—Whether it is in the U.S. interest to let the USSR establish the fact that its defense of the UAR is invulnerable.

IV. The Central Political-Military Issue

One of the central conclusions of the Pentagon study is that the military situation across the Canal may finally have reached one of near balance—or stand-off. The Egyptians still are unable to cross the Canal without direct Soviet involvement. The Israelis are unable to fly across [Page 514] the Canal steadily without incurring expensive losses which only the U.S. can replace or to cross the Canal in force without risking Soviet retaliation.

In some ways the situation has become more unstable because the Israelis in increasing desperation may launch a ground attack against the Soviet system.

In other ways, by strengthening Israel’s defensive position it is possible to demonstrate to the USSR that only its own direct involvement in a cross-canal attack will make such a crossing possible. In other words, a stable, long-term stand-off might still be possible if the Israelis could see their way clear to adopt it.

The central military issue, therefore, is whether the Israelis could and would be willing to adopt a strategy that would not require them to cross the Canal on a regular basis.

Ideally, the U.S. could have reason for wanting to see the continuing ineffectiveness of the Soviet SAM system demonstrated. However, a cost of $70 million monthly and up, may outweigh any advantage.

However, only the Israelis can factor out the relative costs and advantages in this choice. That is why consultation is necessary to determine whether Alternative 3–B should be added to Alternatives 1, 2 and 3–A—4–A.

V. Should We Consult With Israel?

For the reason described in the last section—we do not know all the factors involved in Israel’s selection of strategy—and for the sake of giving Israel the reassurance of continuing consultation, consultation on these strategy choices seems necessary:

—first, to establish with Israel that attacking the SAM sites (Alternative 4–B) is too costly;

—second, to develop a combination of the remaining lesser options.

The main issue is to determine a format that would avoid the over-commitment of formal joint planning and yet provide the framework for necessary consultation. Defense should be asked for a scenario.

VI. Diplomatic Scenario

Assistant Secretary Sisco should be asked to discuss this in greater detail. However, in very general terms, it seems helpful to consider the military assistance and diplomatic scenarios in three phases:

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A. Phase I—between now and late September when the foreign ministers gather in New York.4

1. The main military move would be to offer full consultations on strategy.

2. The main diplomatic move would be to persuade the Israelis to advance negotiable positions in the early stages of the Jarring talks.

B. Phase II—mid-September to November 5 when the cease-fire expires.

1. The main military move would be U.S. approval for some combination of Israeli strategies for defending the Suez cease-fire line if the cease-fire breaks down or expires. The first deliveries of earmarked aircraft are also due in this period.

2. The main diplomatic move is difficult to foresee. However, while we might try to avoid a major crunch with Israel over withdrawal in this period, we will have to produce enough Israeli movement to persuade the Arabs that it is worthwhile renewing the cease-fire.

C. Phase III—after November 5.

1. The main military move would be approval of (a) some $500 million in financial assistance and (b) a package that might make Israeli withdrawal possible. [This should be the subject of the next phase of in-house planning.]

2. The main diplomatic move—should we be so lucky—would be an effort to gain Israeli acceptance of the final peace agreement.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–047, Senior Review Group Meetings, Senior Review Group—Military Assistance to Israel—Chile (97) 8/19/70. Secret; Nodis. The paper prepared by the NSC Interdepartmental Group for the Near East, “U.S. Arms Assistance to Israel: Military and Diplomatic Options,” undated, which is summarized here, is attached. A cover memorandum by Saunders is attached but not printed. All brackets are in the original.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 150.
  3. August 17.
  4. At the 25th session of the UN General Assembly, which convened on September 15.