248. Editorial Note
On September 18, 1971, President Richard Nixon, President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger, and Attorney General John Mitchell discussed “some shooting going on along the Suez Canal” in the Oval Office. According to Kissinger, Israel shot down an Egyptian reconnaissance plane “by accident” earlier in the week, not long after which Egypt shot down an Israeli plane “thirty miles inside Israeli territory,” leading Israel to strike SAM sites in Egypt on the morning of September 18. Nixon remarked that he was “inclined to stay out” of the matter because he did not think it would [Page 900] “do any good” to get involved. He added, “And I don’t want to do anything that’s impotent. So they’re fighting around a little. Let them fight a little. They aren’t going to have a war about this, Henry. The Israelis aren’t going to go to war—I mean a war isn’t going to come unless the Egyptians start roaring in there.” Kissinger agreed, explaining that Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin had called him earlier that morning to tell him that “unless there’s a retaliation, they won’t do any more.” When Mitchell asked if “the Palestinian raids on the Lebanese border” were “any part of this,” Kissinger responded, “Not that we can tell. That’s mostly caused by the fact that the fedayeen are getting pushed out of Jordan,” to which he added, “The Jordan thing has worked out very well.”
Next, they discussed the meetings that Secretary of State William Rogers intended to have with Israeli, Egyptian, and Soviet officials in New York in September at the session of the UN General Assembly. Nixon said, “On the Mideast, it appears that the main thing is to be sure to keep Bill in line.” Kissinger worried that Rogers would “pull some spectacular that he isn’t telling anybody,” explaining that “the danger we have in the Middle East is if we raise expectations.” Later, Mitchell said, “On this Middle East thing, Mr. President, I hope that Bill doesn’t foolishly come down on our Israeli friends up there,” to which Nixon later responded, “I see no reason to push it.” Kissinger told them that he instructed AmbassadorGeorge Bush “to keep me informed about what’s going on at the U.N.” When Nixon remarked, “There’s no reason to push the Israelis out the window,” Mitchell said that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan sent a message through an intermediary that Israel “would be perfectly happy” with “a secret commitment on future deliveries of their Phantoms.” Nixon agreed that “the best thing, probably, is to have a secret deal. Frankly, I would rather have it that way, than for them to raise hell with us in the Senate.” Nixon later added, “Well, I don’t want—well, the main thing is, John, I don’t want Rabin to know. We—this has to be totally secretive. Because I don’t want him running to Rogers and the State Department and then saying we blew the deal.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation No. 576–6) The editor prepared this transcript of the tape recording specifically for this volume.