56. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Berlin, Sino-Soviet Hostilities, and the Middle East


  • Henry A. Kissinger—Chairman
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Martin Hillenbrand
  • William Cargo
  • Rodger Davies
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • CIA
  • Thomas H. Karamessines
  • JCS
  • Vice Admiral Nels C. Johnson
  • NSC Staff
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • William G. Hyland
  • Col. Robert M. Behr

[Omitted here are the “Summary of Decisions,” discussion of Berlin, and Sino-Soviet hostilities contingency planning.]

Kissinger opened discussion of the Middle East paper2 by noting that it is conceptually good but confusing in format. He asked for Saunders’s view of the paper. Saunders agreed that it is unwieldly and suggested there be developed a “basic issues” paper for each scenario. He asked the Group if the drafters had chosen the most useful scenarios. Secretary Johnson replied that the scenarios were the ones agreed to by [Page 193] the WSAG at an earlier meeting3 and that he considered the paper to be on the right track.

Davies called attention to a section of the paper that disturbed him. At one point in Scenario I there is expressed a time-sequenced need for a “hunter-killer” submarine force in the Mediterranean, yet the paper reveals that it may require eight days to position the force. Kissinger said the submarine force was not the only example of unreality. He noted also the long delays incident to the positioning of ground forces, thus calling into question the basic suitability of the tactic. He wondered whether these actions are operationally sound. Another question relates to the requirement for obtaining the force disposition and operations plans of U.S. allies in the Mediterranean. Don’t we have these now? Admiral Johnson said force dispositions are known but not operational plans.

Kissinger then inquired why military alerting actions should be disguised. After considerable discussion the decision of the Group was to use alerting actions as signals of U.S. concern.

Admiral Johnson called for a discussion of base availability, which is a severely limiting factor for U.S. operations in the Middle East. He doubted, for instance, that Spain would be available. Davies agreed, but qualified his agreement with the thought that Spain would become more tractable (as would other friendly Mediterranean powers) if the Soviets became actively involved. Admiral Johnson observed that the nature of the Soviet involvement would be the determinant—if only logistic support were involved allied reluctance to provide base support would remain high; if direct military assistance were the case, the reluctance would soon disappear. With regard to this ambivalence, he remarked that we should continually remind our allies of the increasingly evident Soviet naval activity throughout the Mediterranean.

Kissinger questioned the likelihood that France would deliver Mirage fighters to Israel in the event Israel’s existence became jeopardized. Davies replied that the French have indicated they would consider releasing the fighters if a case for dire military necessity could be made.

Kissinger concluded the meeting with an observation that another “Lebanon operation”4 is not possible. We will have neither the operating bases nor the forewarning. Furthermore the balance of forces in the area has been upset by increased Soviet naval presence. He asked that the remainder of the Middle East paper be addressed at the next meeting.

[Page 194]

Before departing Secretary Johnson inquired whether the Nixon Administration had reviewed the rules of engagement for the area. Admiral Johnson said that the only review he knew of was concerned with Southeast Asia. He will look into the matter and prepare a document on rules of engagement for WSAG review.

The Group adjourned at 5:12 P.M.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS–76, Committees and Panels, Washington Special Actions Group, October 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text omitted by the editors. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Saunders summarized the paper, which presented the contingencies for two scenarios, in a September 17 memorandum to Kissinger. The first scenario involved “an increase in tension followed by overt and major involvement of Soviet military forces supporting Arab forces seeking to oust Israel from the occupied territories and to inflict a major defeat.” The United States would respond in four phases: 1) “before open Soviet involvement, diplomatic efforts to restore cease-fire and deter Soviet involvement”; 2) “efforts to restore cease-fire fail, Israel is being pushed back and Soviet personnel are involved; U.S. decides to supply additional combat aircraft into Israel”; 3) “Israel being pushed back; President determines that it is necessary to halt the flow of Soviet supplies and personnel to the Mid-East”; 4) “effort to block Soviet lines of communication has failed; Israel is about to be driven back beyond 1967 borders; President decides to intervene.” The second scenario posited “a situation in which USSR naval units have attacked Israeli targets and the U.S. decides on retaliatory action of some sort.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–072, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Mtg. 2/9/70 USSR and Egypt)
  3. See Document 44.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 4.