240. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • State of Play in Middle East

We are approaching a confrontation with Israel as the last presently planned shipments of aircraft are made in June (Phantoms) and August (Skyhawks) and as we try to work out next steps on an interim settlement. The purpose of this memo is to review the main elements in the situation.

To begin with, it is worth looking back for a moment at the purpose for which the idea of an interim settlement on the Canal was originally developed. I broached the idea to Mrs. Meir when she was here in October2 as a possible alternative focus for peacemaking given flat Israeli refusal to negotiate a peace based on withdrawal to essentially pre-war borders. The purpose of such an alternative was thought to be:

—to stabilize the Suez front and reduce the possibility of resumed conflict;

—thereby to buy time for a prolonged process of reaching an overall settlement;

—to permit the two sides to begin developing some confidence that they can work out reasonable agreements together.

What has happened since January is that the original concept of a Canal settlement—mutual pullback and thin-out forces along the Canal to stabilize the front—has been transformed into simply a withdrawal on the way to an overall settlement along the lines of the “Rogers Plan.”

—Mrs. Meir initially resisted the idea of interim movement, but Dayan appeared to see advantage in it as a means of reducing UAR [Page 877] ability to increase pressure on Israel with a credible threat to renew hostilities. Both the Israelis and Ambassador Dobrynin were postured to see the Canal settlement as an alternative to the Jarring negotiations to buy time.

—The Egyptians picked up some of the comments Dayan made publicly on mutual pullback and put out informal feelers to us in January. The idea was put as a “demand” for partial Israeli withdrawal in Sadat’s February 4 speech.3 But it was not until after Israel’s negative reply to Jarring4 that Sadat turned energetically to the Canal alternative.

—In mid-April the Israelis developed a paper and showed it to me. At my inquiry, they softened it a bit and presented it to the State Department.5 In Israeli eyes State seemed more interested in talking about the Jarring negotiations than in the Canal proposal. In any case, the Israelis asked for certain clarifications of the U.S. position and these were still being discussed at the time of Secretary Rogers’ trip. The Israeli paper was not passed to Cairo because Israel wanted to wait for our support. In the meantime Sadat began developing a UAR position calling for Israeli withdrawal east of the passes.

—During and following the Secretary’s trip, both sides were drawn out on their positions until we now have two quite different positions. Each side’s position was described by Sisco in such a way as to lead the other to believe it was more flexible than it really was. Also, each side was led to believe it had a substantial measure of U.S. support. For example, Bergus passed typewritten notes to a UAR official which became the basis of the latest UAR position paper,6 which stands far from what the Israelis could accept. These notes were naturally interpreted by the Egyptians as an official U.S. position on the Canal proposal. At the same time, Israel was told that “the ball was in the UAR court” and the next move was up to the Egyptians.

As a result, two sharply differing positions have emerged, each with some appearance to its author of a considerable measure of U.S. support:

The UAR would extend its control east of the main passes in the Sinai (40–60 miles east of the Canal); extend the ceasefire six months [Page 878] with a possibility of renewal; send UAR military forces across the Canal; and state formally that this is the first stage in a settlement along the lines of the “Rogers Plan.”

Israel is thinking of a very small withdrawal (perhaps 10, at most 40 miles) staying west of the key passes; insists on an indefinite ceasefire; refuses to agree to UAR military forces crossing the Canal; and resists any linkage between an interim Canal settlement and an overall peace settlement.

The situation now contains these elements:

—In Egyptian eyes, the US seems to be supporting them in negotiating for a line east of the passes. The latest UAR paper incorporating this position is based on informal suggestions made by our man in Cairo.7 The Egyptians have not been told that the Israelis are not likely to accept their position, although they know it would be hard for Israel to accept.

—In Israeli eyes, the Egyptian proposal for an interim settlement almost equates to their idea now of a final settlement. They will not accept it short of a peace settlement. They took a position encouraged to think the US would support it and pave the way for it. They will be furious if they find out that the Egyptian position has been encouraged by some Americans.

—The Soviets interpreted the active US diplomacy as an effort to displace them in Cairo.

—On the negotiating front, whereas the Canal proposal had been designed to slow the pace and buy time, the pace of diplomacy since early May has speeded it up and shown US anxiety for movement.

In short, we are in a position where both sides will be upset with us when they find out that we have not supported their concept of an interim settlement. On top of this, the Israelis assume we have begun to put the squeeze on them by letting the aircraft pipeline run dry. We have the choice of continuing shipments under their pressure or continuing to delay to gain their agreement on an interim settlement that will either be as hard for them to accept as an overall settlement or close enough to the Israeli position to leave Sadat feeling cheated. Sadat has been told that no commitment was made to Israel on aircraft during Secretary Rogers’ trip.

The strategy which State seems to be moving toward is (a) to create concern in Israel that aircraft shipments will end temporarily and (b) to try to move the UAR toward a position that would permit us to try to split the difference between the UAR and Israeli positions. The strategy [Page 879] behind the initial Canal settlement proposal on the other hand, was to convince the UAR to accept an interim settlement because it recognized that it could not get complete withdrawal now. Instead, the UAR has been encouraged to think that it can get a substantial step to complete withdrawal now.

It seems likely now that we have lost the chance for an interim settlement—unless its relationship to complete withdrawal can be reduced, and that will now be hard for Sadat to accept. If we continue aircraft shipments, we will seem to Sadat to have reversed ourselves. If we do not, we will be in a period of confrontation with Israel. Israel will then have a choice between (a) waiting us out on the assumption that hostilities will resume in six months or so and we will be forced to their side and (b) making a diplomatic concession that, in their view, would just harden the Egyptian/Soviet position.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 657, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. III. Secret; Nodis; Cedar Plus. Sent for information; outside system. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Meir visited New York in October 1970, along with 25 other heads of state, to participate in the two-week celebration of the 25th anniversary of the United Nations. She addressed the General Assembly on October 21 with a detailed speech on Israeli policy regarding negotiations with its Arab neighbors, declaring that Israel would not participate in Jarring talks until the cease-fire with Egypt was extended. (New York Times, October 22, 1970, p. 1) On October 24, she attended a black-tie dinner hosted by Nixon in the East Room of the White House for the delegates who attended the UN celebrations in New York. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No record of Meir’s meeting with Kissinger has been found.
  3. See Document 203.
  4. See Document 211.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 224. In his memoirs, Kissinger asserts that Rabin showed him the proposed paper in “mid-April before surfacing it at the State Department,” and that he persuaded Rabin to modify “some elements” of the Israeli proposal that would have made the negotiation “a total non-starter.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1282)
  6. See Document 238.
  7. See footnote 4, Document 234.