60. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Lebanon

PARTICIPANTS

  • Henry A. Kissinger—Chairman
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Rodger Davies
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • CIA
  • Thomas H. Karamessines
  • JCS
  • Vice Admiral Nels C. Johnson
  • NSC Staff
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • Col. Robert M. Behr
[Page 203]

SUMMARY OF DECISIONS

1. Incident to Lebanon2 and the general Arab-Israeli problem, the WSAG will develop for the President a paper on Libya which determines and analyzes alternative pressures that can be brought to bear in an effort to make the radical government more tractable.3

2. President Helou will be queried regarding Lebanese arms needs and will be advised of our willingness to assist.

3. Preparations will be made to supply arms (on a covert basis) to the Falange. Implementation will be withheld until the WSAG determines the action to be necessary and in the U.S. interest.

3 [sic]. Interagency evacuation plans for Lebanon will be deposited in the White House Situation Room.

4. Situations II, III and IV will be amended to include greater specificity in military detail. Integrated political-military scenario format will be followed.

5. The issue of Israeli versus U.S. intervention will be brought before the NSC.4

The meeting began at 2:08 P.M.

Davies reported the military situation in Lebanon as of early morning, October 29th. GOL regular forces have engaged the fedayeen with considerable success. The only remaining major fedayeen stronghold is in Tripoli. The Lebanese army has been heartened by these operations. Kissinger inquired about the unexpected effectiveness of the GOL forces. Davies attributed their success to the strong leadership of the mostly-Christian Officer Corps.

Kissinger reported his discussion of Lebanon which he had had with the President shortly before the meeting. The President wishes:

1. Formal consideration of a “tough option.”

2. Recognition of political trends in the Middle East which, if not checked, will lead to the downfall of the remaining moderate regimes in the area.

[Page 204]

3. A determination and analysis of the pressures that can be brought against Libya (e.g., reduced oil draw-down) to make the radical government more tractable.

With regard to Point 1, above, the Group agreed that a “tough option” is already contained in the Lebanon paper5—specifically, the U.S. military intervention actions described in Situations III and IV. More work needs to be done in detailing these options.

After a brief discussion of Point 3 (Libya), the Group agreed that the WSAG should develop a paper for NSC consideration. State will chair the interdepartmental working group.

Kissinger then turned to the Lebanon paper, asking Secretary Johnson for his comments. Johnson deferred to Davies for introductory remarks.

Davies reviewed Situation I (a two-part option consisting of providing arms overtly to the Lebanese regular forces and/or covertly to the Falange). State, he said, sees little short term benefit in providing arms to GOL. Even if the requested line items were made immediately available, they would be insufficient to make much of a difference militarily. The action would, however, constitute a morale booster for Helou. Before discussing the option of arms for the Falange irregulars, Davies observed that the descriptor “fascist” is perhaps too harsh a term for these forces. They are more appropriately described as militant, right-wing Christians. State’s view of this option is that it should be done only under the circumstances of a collapse of the GOL with ensuing confessional strife—and then it should be done covertly.

Secretary Johnson asked about lead times. Karamessines outlined two methods of delivery:

1. The USG would intercede with a private U.S. firm such as INTERARMCO that maintains stocks of arms in Europe. The Falange would arrange for delivery without involving the USG as transfer agent, but the U.S. would pick up the tab for the arms. This could be done covertly.

2. Large scale air drops of arms and munitions to points specified by the Falange (this probably could not be done without some risk of exposure).

[Page 205]

Kissinger returned to the first option, that of supplying arms directly to the GOL. Would we do it covertly, and would there be financial or political problems? Davies said the assistance would be openly provided, but more to the point is the apparent lack of urgency in doing it at all. The GOL doesn’t need the arms at this juncture. Moreover, the option has to be viewed in the broader context of the overall Arab-Israeli problem. Neither Muslims or Christians in Lebanon can comfortably, at this point in time, accept arms which will be used against the fedayeen to the benefit of the Israelis. Kissinger disagreed. If the U.S. desire is to preserve a moderate government in Lebanon, we should be prepared to send the arms necessary to keep the government in power. He recommended, therefore, that we tell President Helou we are prepared within reason to give him what he wants in the way of arms and to ask if financing will be a problem. The Group agreed with this course of action. Davies was charged with preparing a cable to Ambassador Porter requesting that he communicate with Helou.

Kissinger then outlined the steps that should be taken by the WSAG before arms are sent covertly to the Falange.

1. Define the conditions under which we would give covert assistance.

2. Coordinate with the 303 Committee.

3. Determine when the conditions for shipment have been met.

Nutter inquired why we should not do it now. Secretary Johnson replied that the possibility of embarrassing security leaks seemed to be the main drawback. Kissinger elaborated on the pros and cons of the action saying that, on the one hand, provision of arms to the Falange could make them overly adventuresome, but on the other hand, withholding the arms could encourage the Muslims to greater militancy. On the whole, the best option seems to be arms for GOL forces because they are controlled by officers sympathetic to the Falange. What you have, in effect, is support of the Falange by proxy, while retaining the option of covert support should the GOL show signs of imminent collapse. What we need to do is make the necessary logistic arrangements now, but put a hold on the package until a decision is made that the course of action is appropriate. The Group agreed. Karamessines advised that the airlift would require four C–118s or their equivalents.

Nutter asked if the Russians are supporting the fedayeen. Davies replied affirmatively. The Soviets have strongly supported not only the fedayeen but also the PFLP. At first the support was furnished by the UAR, on a replenishment basis. Now the Soviets appear to be dealing directly with the guerillas. Because this cannot but disturb Nasser, the Russians will have to play it cool. Much depends on the outcome of the [Page 206]talks in Cairo.6 As far as our interests are concerned, the results will inevitably be bad—it is merely a question of how bad?

Davies then reviewed Situation II, which has to do with evacuation of U.S. personnel from Lebanon. There are, he reported, detailed interdepartmental plans covering this contingency. Kissinger asked for copies of the plans to be kept on file in the White House Situation Room. He then asked about the current location of the forces that could be employed should it become necessary to secure the airfield at Beirut as a part of evacuation. Admiral Johnson advised that a Marine Battalion Landing Team is located at Souda Bay in Crete, about 44 hours out of Beirut. Kissinger wondered if the Marines shouldn’t be moved closer. Secretary Johnson thought not. The situation is not that grave.

Admiral Johnson noted an alternative possibility to the use of the Marines. If military airlift from Europe is used, the aircraft could transport a rifle company to Beirut. Secretary Johnson agreed, but observed that such an action might be unnecessary because it is not certain that we will be faced with a totally hostile population.

Kissinger asked that the military aspects of Situation II be expanded to include greater detail on required forces, their places of origin, and the timing incident to their employment. He wondered, moreover, if we need a political scenario to cover evacuation procedures. Davies said we should have no basing problems. Turkey, for instance, would be amenable to staging operations provided evacuation and not military involvement were guaranteed. Secretary Johnson asked about the safety of Americans in other Arab countries. Davies was confident that in a purely evacuation scenario no difficulties would be encountered. The case would be entirely different in the event of U.S. military involvement.

Kissinger said the paper would be improved by developing an integrated political-military scenario for Situation II similar to the Korean paper7 but not as extensively detailed. All agreed it could and should be done.

[Page 207]

Davies outlined the principal elements of Situation III—U.S. military intervention in response to serious internal disorder in Lebanon. Karamessines cautioned the Group to be careful about the definition of “internal,” reporting that the Lebanese had captured 150 “fedayeen” prisoners who turned out to be Syrian regulars. Kissinger pondered the question of whether the U.S. would ever commit forces if the Lebanese problem were strictly internal. The consensus of the Group was generally negative, but all agreed that planning for such an event is an imperative. Kissinger asked if the internal disorders in Lebanon could get completely out of hand. Secretary Johnson said they could, and most assuredly would if polarization developed along confessional lines. Kissinger indicated that, if confessional strife developed, our action would be to support the Falange. Saunders noted the possibility of an “in-between” scenario, in which Lebanese internal disorders increase alarmingly and Helou advises U.S. that without help his government is doomed. This prompted Kissinger to ask if Situation II and III could not be complementary, that is, couldn’t “evacuation” provide a pretext for “intervention”? The Group mulled over the question before concluding that after the period of time required for evacuation had elapsed (roughly 48 hours), the continued presence of U.S. troops would be a transparent ploy.

Kissinger requested additional detail for Situation III in the form of greater specificity about forces, timing, logistic support, airlift requirements, etc. Again, the re-work should follow the style of earlier integrated political-military scenarios developed for the WSAG but not necessarily in the same detail. The important point which should come through is a clearly revealed statement of actual military needs. Secretary Johnson mentioned overflight rights and basing problems, noting that WSAG Middle East papers8 contain a useful treatment of these problems. Kissinger inquired about actual air corridors that would be available in the event of U.S. intervention. The Group agreed that European overflight may not be possible and that routing through the Straits of Gibralter may be the only alternative. Kissinger said that we must consider not only the problems in Lebanon but the consequences of our actions in terms of their effects in other Arab states. What other force commitments or evacuation efforts might be required?

Davies remarked that Situation IV—U.S. intervention in response to external aggression—would also present very difficult problems. Secretary Johnson agreed saying there is a great deal of fuzziness between Situations III and IV. In actuality, there could be a combination of both. Kissinger asked what the Israelis would be doing while all of this is going on. Davies remarked on the unfortunate geographical situ[Page 208]ation. The Lebanese Muslims and the fedayeen are located in the areas contiguous with Israel, while the Lebanese Christians and the Falange are farther to the north. If they concluded it necessary, the Israelis would strike the territory in Lebanon occupied by the fedayeen. Nutter observed that the Israelis would respond to a Syrian invasion of Lebanon by striking Damascus. Admiral Johnson thought we should develop in Situation III and IV a statement of likely Soviet responses. Although this point was not pursued, the Group agreed that such considerations were absolutely germane to the problem.

Kissinger said the Group should work out intervention scenarios that will show the President the full amplitude of the problem. There is, however, an issue even broader than intervention. If the Israelis are likely to respond positively to a deteriorating situation in Lebanon, why not let them do the job? If we did this, given the unambiguous and seemingly irreversible decline of the GOL, the Israelis might be able to handle the problem while the U.S. attempts to hold off the USSR on the basis of non-intervention by the superpowers. This is a matter, Kissinger said, that should be addressed by the NSC at an early date. He concluded the meeting by asking for a revised paper on Lebanon by Tuesday, November 4th.

Before the Group adjourned at 3:20 P.M. Admiral Johnson distributed a paper on rules of engagement9 (called for at the WSAG meeting on October 21, 1969).10

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1969 and 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. All brackets are in the original except “[sic]”, added for clarity. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Beginning on October 15, Lebanon experienced an upsurge of fedayeen activity against the government, including pro-fedayeen military intervention by Syria, which sparked the second major political crisis of the year. (Memorandum from Rogers to Nixon, October 23; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23 LEB; telegram 8896 from Beirut, October 25; ibid.) Prime Minister-designate Rashid Karame resigned over the government’s inability to define a fedayeen policy, and President Charles Helou struggled to form a viable cabinet. (Department of State Intelligence Note 763, October 27; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 620, Country Files, Middle East, Lebanon, Vol. I)
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–5, Part 2, Documents on North Africa, 1969–1972, Document 44.
  4. See Document 74.
  5. Saunders sent a summary of the contingencies to Kissinger on October 27 prior to a November 24 WSAG meeting (see Document 68). (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–071, Washington Special Actions Group Meeting, WSAG Mtg. 10/29/69 Lebanon) An updated version of the contingency paper is ibid.
  6. The United Arab Republic offered to mediate the dispute between Lebanon and the fedayeen, prompting representatives of the Lebanese Government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to meet in Cairo at the end of October to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the confrontation. (INR Intelligence Note 777, October 31; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23 LEB; telegram 9012 from Beirut, October 29; ibid.) While the two sides settled on general principles regarding the relationship between the Government of Lebanon and the fedayeen, the so-called “Cairo Agreement” of November 2 contained few details. (Telegram 9178 from Beirut, November 4, and telegram 9582 from Beirut, November 19; both ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 620, Country Files, Middle East, Lebanon, Vol. I)
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIX, Part 1, Korea, 1969–1972, Document 27.
  8. See footnote 2, Document 68.
  9. Not found.
  10. See Document 56.