94. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Meeting of Special NSC Review Group on Israeli Assistance Requests


  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Elliot Richardson
  • David Packard
  • F.T. Unger
  • Richard Helms
  • Joseph Sisco
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr.

Dr. Kissinger opened the meeting by saying that he felt that he should acquaint the Group with the President’s views insofar as he knew them. He noted that Prime Minister Meir would not have been mistaken if she thought she had been promised something. Although Dr. Kissinger had not been present at all of the conversations, he had heard the President in several ways indicate that though the U.S. might not be able to please Israel on “software,” the U.S. would make it up to Israel on “hardware.” As far as Dr. Kissinger knew, the President had never talked specific numbers of airplanes or specific levels of economic aid.

Mr. Packard asked whether the President had said anything in that context that had indicated that the U.S. would not require anything in return for any aid it might give.

Dr. Kissinger replied that we can do anything we want. It would be logical for Mrs. Meir to assume, however, that the trade-off had already been made in that the U.S. had gone ahead with its unpalatable peace proposals.

Dr. Kissinger continued by recalling that on December 26, 1969, Ambassador Rabin had been in his office when the President had called for him.2 The President had asked Dr. Kissinger to bring the Ambassador over briefly. Secretary Laird had been present. The President had said that he realized the Israelis were unhappy but that the U.S. would make it up to Israel in hardware.

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Dr. Kissinger, noting that he would not cite various public statements by the President on the question of arms supply, completed his list by noting to the group that he had on February 18 sent to the President a compilation of the reports from U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East describing their estimates of Arab reaction to a sale of more planes to Israel. [Note: This was in the daily brief of February 18.]3 The President had written in the margin, “We must do this regardless of political reaction.”

Dr. Kissinger concluded these comments by saying that the Group should still state its views to the President. But he wanted to note for the Group these previous expressions of the Presidential viewpoint so that the Group could operate realistically in the knowledge of what the President may feel is a commitment, albeit vaguely defined.

Mr. Packard asked whether Dr. Kissinger felt that what he had said ruled out asking the Israelis for something in return for whatever we give. Dr. Kissinger replied in the negative.

Mr. Richardson said that he would prefer to think of the question in terms of how little we can do and how long the decision might be deferred. He also thought we should consider what we could do by earmarking aircraft to be available to Israel in an emergency as distinguished from making an announcement in the near future about a new sale. He suggested that there may be ways of delivering on our assurance of Israel’s basic security that would not necessarily arouse a strong Arab reaction.

Mr. Richardson continued saying that he did not feel that the U.S. ambassadors had exaggerated in predicting a sharp Arab reaction. He had the same impression from talking to Messrs. McCloy,4 Eugene Black5 and others who have recently traveled in the area. He felt that Israel has no right to expect the U.S. to destroy its position in the Middle East. Israel has no security interest in doing this.

Mr. Richardson concluded by noting the fact that we face a dilemma in that trying to find a formula that would provide least visibility would make it difficult to extricate concessions from the Israelis. By its very nature, the kind of package that would provoke little Arab reaction would not be big enough to make the Israelis willing to concede anything.

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Mr. Packard emphasized that it would be possible to take certain actions to assure that we could meet any legitimate Israeli needs in an emergency. Mr. Richardson seconded this by noting that a number of planes could be set aside in the United States for delivery under certain circumstances.

Mr. Richardson noted that Mr. Packard had asked whether it would be consistent with the President’s commitments to attach conditions to a sale. He said that he would pose a different question: Would the President consider it within the range of what he had promised if we were to work out an arrangement for meeting Israel’s basic needs without actually promising now to deliver more aircraft.

Dr. Kissinger said that he did not want to be in the position of interpreting the President’s views. He would prefer to stop at simply having passed on those expressions of Presidential viewpoint which he could pass on as things that the President had actually said. However, if he had to guess, he would suppose that the President would lean more toward the Richardson proposal than toward the Packard proposal. [The “Packard proposal” referred to a paper that Mr. Packard had circulated to the members shortly before the meeting.6 Each member had a copy of it there. When Mr. Packard had asked his questions about attaching conditions to the sale, he had indicated that such conditions would be those like the ones outlined in his paper—restoring the cease-fire, signing the NPT, etc.]

Dr. Kissinger continued saying that the Richardson position was more easily defensible. The problem is that the closer one gets to attaching conditions to a package, the larger the package needs to be.

Dr. Kissinger continued by summarizing as follows: There are two approaches to the decision. One is to attach specific conditions. If this approach is taken, there are two ways of doing it—attaching conditions to the agreement or attaching conditions to the actual delivery. The second approach is that suggested by Mr. Richardson which would offer Israel basic assurance while permitting us to continue a dialogue on the whole range of issues before us, not necessarily linking them to sale of weapons.

Dr. Kissinger felt that Israel would be so disappointed if the U.S. offered any of the smaller options that attaching conditions would just be rubbing salt in an open wound.

Dr. Kissinger summarized by saying that the first decision before the President is whether to go the Packard route of attaching conditions to whatever package may be decided on or to go the Richardson route [Page 314] of trying to achieve low visibility but without much prospect of attaching conditions.

Mr. Packard noted that the Richardson route would be “a little more troublesome” to handle in the U.S. It would be so refined that it would be difficult to explain.

Dr. Kissinger said, “Suppose we gave the full package that the Israelis had requested but attached conditions, wouldn’t the Arabs regard the conditions as phony?” Mr. Sisco said he was sure they would regard the conditions as phony.

Dr. Kissinger asked whether it was the judgment of the Group that if the U.S. were to meet Israel’s complete requests, it would “blow the place apart.” He then asked each member of the Group in turn for his judgment on this point, and each member stated his unqualified judgment that such a decision would “blow the place apart.” Mr. Sisco noted that Ambassador Rabin, in talking with Mr. Richardson, had defined a positive U.S. response to the Israeli requests as meeting at least 60% of them.

Mr. Richardson then turned to an option described in detail in a memo of February 18 which he had privately passed to Dr. Kissinger on February 20.7 [This memorandum entitled “Israel’s Requests for Arms and Economic Assistance,” is a memorandum from Sisco to the Under Secretary and the Secretary and was included in Dr. Kissinger’s briefing book under the Tab “Sisco Memo.” The option to which Mr. Richardson here referred is Option 4–2 which is described beginning on page 9 of that memo.] Mr. Richardson read from his paper describing his option as follows: “Without making a contract now with Israel, we could make arrangements to earmark and have available on an immediate stand-by basis for formal sale to Israel on short notice a number of aircraft for replacement purposes (1971–1972) perhaps a bit above the present anticipated replacement need (e.g., 16 F–4s and 24 A–4s, the latter to be used also to replace Mirages).” Mr. Richardson felt that this might be the best way to deal with the problem.

Dr. Kissinger said that he doubted that the President would feel that this would be enough to meet his commitment.

Mr. Richardson said that he would like to inject another element—somewhat along the lines of that described in Mr. Packard’s paper—which had come out of a meeting with Secretary Rogers that morning. This proposal is that the President use the occasion of an announcement of his decision to make a dramatic appeal for resolution of the Arab-Israeli problem. It is hard to think of anything concrete that [Page 315] would offer something dramatically new to be introduced into the situation. But the problem is that there is nowhere near the public understanding of the Middle East problem which exists on Vietnam. The Administration could make a pretty good public case on what it has done to try to restore a cease-fire, what it has done to try to begin negotiations, what it has done to assure Israel’s security, and what it has done to try to achieve arms limitation. It might put the Administration in a stronger position if the President were to make a full TV speech explaining the elements of the problem.

Mr. Packard proposed that one thing the President could do in this context would be to declare a moratorium on decisions on new arms agreements to continue while the U.S. made a dramatic new effort to achieve a peace settlement. [His paper called for the U.S. virtually to undertake a unilateral mediation effort.]

Mr. Sisco said he felt that a unilateral self-denying decision is not a good idea. Following the French jet deal with Libya8 and following the President’s offer of three reasonable political options to Kosygin9 with no Russian response, the U.S. would appear to have given in to unreasonable pressures if it then announced that it was not going to make a positive decision.

Mr. Richardson felt that there are two distinguishable elements in his proposal: First, there would be a Presidential statement on the components of the problem. Second would be the question of how to handle Israel’s requests. On the second, he was inclined to be against a moratorium, but it would be possible to say that a decision was being postponed for the moment and a definitive response would depend on the response of others.

General Unger noted that such an approach would be compatible with the President’s statement at his January 30 press conference when he said that we would analyze the situation and make our decision in the light of it.10 Any Presidential statement now could report the conclusions of such analysis, stating that Israel is in no immediate danger.

Dr. Kissinger said that, as a realistic matter, he doubted that the President could do that. He could imagine the President slipping the 30 day deadline but he found it difficult to visualize the President making a decision to do nothing now.

Dr. Kissinger noted that Congressman Celler had been in to see the President a few days previously.11 If he had walked out thinking that [Page 316] the President would do something for Israel, “he would not be lying.” In Dr. Kissinger’s view, the President has to do something for Israel.

Dr. Kissinger felt that the options have probably been narrowed by this discussion to “the two Richardson packages” [the one described above and a contract to replace Israeli aircraft losses up to specified numbers, 1969–71—Option 4–1 on page 9 of the Sisco memorandum] plus one package a little bit larger than either of those. In addition, the President would have the choice of accepting the suggestion Secretary Rogers had made of a major presentation to the American people.

Dr. Kissinger noted that one reason the Administration had not put across its Mid-East policy is that it does not have internally as clear a conception of its objectives as it has evolved on Vietnam. A Presidential speech might be a good device to focus on in this regard.

Mr. Sisco said that the next paper12 should include attachments on precisely what we tell Israel and what we say publicly. Two courses could be presented: First, there is an argument for a big Presidential announcement. Second, there is an argument for the lowest key handling possible.

Mr. Helms noted that one of the most difficult aspects of the problem is that the American public just does not realize how much Israel has and how much Israel is already getting. There is no understanding of the degree of Israeli wealth and military superiority. Mr. Helms read from a recent Agency memo on the new Israeli budget13 [included in Dr. Kissinger’s briefing book under the Tab “Israeli Budget”] to note how well Israel is doing and how much it is doing with still apparently a substantial economic cushion. Mr. Sisco noted that Israel was undoubtedly stockpiling in all categories of equipment.

Dr. Kissinger, picking up this discussion of Israeli economic performance, said that one of the most interesting questions raised in his mind as he had read through the material for the meeting was the Agency analysis of Israel’s ability to develop its own independent arms industry. Dr. Kissinger asked why it is not in the U.S. interest to help Israel develop such an industry.

Mr. Sisco noted that Israel is well on its way. He said he felt it is in the U.S. interest since it is the U.S. interest to help Israel preserve its security. Mr. Sisco said that he would encourage Israeli development of this capacity.

[Page 317]

Mr. Packard said that he would not disagree if there were no other solution. But he would hate to see Israel exporting arms. He would also hate to see Israel devoting so much of its resources to this purpose.

Mr. Sisco said he worried about that problem less in this case because the Israelis are relatively sensible in sorting out their own economic priorities. This is not the case of an underdeveloped country without much thought about its rational economic planning.

Dr. Kissinger noted that Israel might have just as much need for an armaments industry if it made peace as it would if the war continued. If there were peace, Israel would still have to be an armed camp. Israel would be no more secure than, say, France was after the Franco-German peace treaty of 1871.

General Unger felt that the U.S. could give Israel licensing privileges for the J–79 engine and that this would be better than giving them completed planes.

Mr. Helms returned to the theme that the public just does not understand how advanced Israel is in all of these respects. Therefore, the pressure on the Administration to provide arms is perhaps greater than it would be if the Administration could openly make the case that Israel is in no danger.

Dr. Kissinger asked the tactical question whether there was anything the Administration could do to get through this election year.

Mr. Sisco said that an announcement could be made along the following lines:

1. We have analyzed the situation carefully. In the foreseeable future, we judge that Israel has enough to protect itself.

2. We have assured Israel that, if there is any development between now and the end of the year which alters that assessment, we are prepared to provide the necessary equipment.

3. We have decided to postpone any decision for additional aircraft on the understanding that if there is any attrition replacements will be provided.

4. For the foreseeable future, we will redouble our efforts in restoring a cease-fire, pressing for a political settlement and attempting to achieve arms limitation.

5. We will go ahead with the predominant elements in the economic package.

Mr. Sisco summarized by saying that this would tell the American people that Israel has what it needs now. It would assure the American people and the Israelis that we will not stand by and see the situation turn against Israel. It would be a sign to the Soviets that we intend to act with restraint. It would, however, leave the situation open for later U.S. decision if the situation required.

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Mr. Helms suggested that if we were to go this route, we should “nail the Soviets to the wall” by saying that our position would have to be reviewed if the Soviets sent “one new weapon” to the UAR.

Dr. Kissinger said that we have to move quickly now to a point where the President can look at his choices. He felt that these consisted of the following:

1. A low option such as that described by Mr. Sisco. In connection with this we could, of course, say privately that the pipeline of basic supply items would continue to flow and that would amount to a lot of equipment.

2. The Richardson proposal for having ready on a stand-by basis the aircraft Israel might need in an emergency. Perhaps at this level the variant of signing a contract to replace Israel’s losses could be considered.

3. A minimum package of aircraft now large enough to consider trying to extract concessions.

One way of putting this decision into the larger context would be to try now to look five years down the road to see what situations we would like to avoid, to state a U.S. policy for this area.

Dr. Kissinger assumed that this decision would have to go to the NSC.

Mr. Richardson suggested that the analysis could distinguish among the following elements:

1. The various packages that might be possible.

2. What conditions or Israeli actions might be attached. These would increase in ratio to the size of the package.

3. The possible contexts in which the President would make this decision known, ranging from a quiet communication to the Israelis up to a fifteen minute address to the nation on TV.

Mr. Richardson expressed his preference for a minimum package with no conditions and a major statement on policy.

Mr. Packard acknowledged that whatever we do would provide the occasion at least for informal discussions with the Israelis. Mr. Sisco said that it was not clear to him what concessions Mr. Packard had in mind. Mr. Packard cited the ending of raids in the Nile Valley, signing the NPT, a more flexible position on peace terms, ending oil drilling in the Gulf of Suez.

Mr. Sisco questioned how far we could go in taxing the Israelis for continuing their raids. They have already agreed to abide by a mutual cease-fire.

Mr. Richardson reflected that the U.S. position in the Arab countries has deteriorated because the U.S. has not wanted to exert pressure [Page 319] on Israel to do things it does not think Israel will do. From that viewpoint, the conditions suggested would not be worth much to the Arabs because they would not address the issues which the Arabs are most concerned about. This is the route, Mr. Richardson said, by which he comes out to a minimal package. He said he was not even sure he would lean on Israel to end the deep penetration raids.

Dr. Kissinger said that it would be necessary to have a paper quickly. The ingredients are now available. He did not feel that it would be good procedure to try to define a minimum package to which we could attach conditions. He was inclined to feel that conditions would simply infuriate both sides.

Mr. Packard suggested that perhaps the possible conditions could be delineated separately.

Dr. Kissinger said he could see Mr. Richardson’s point on the Israeli raids. At some point, it will become apparent that time is not working for the Soviets. If they cannot get Arab territory back, the Arabs may well come to us. That would be the time to lean on Israel. However, we probably cannot calibrate that sequence of events finely.

Mr. Sisco noted that it would be important, whatever decision we make, for the President to get across his assurance to Israel that we would not allow the balance to shift against Israel. He felt it is also important that we not put ourselves in a position where the Soviets can claim credit for having forced the U.S. to back down.

Mr. Richardson suggested that if the President made a statement, he would have to say that if the Soviets escalate, all bets are off.

Mr. Sisco said he could have a paper ready for a Tuesday (March 3) meeting.14

Dr. Kissinger asked Mr. Saunders to collaborate on this paper.

Dr. Kissinger asked what views are on the economic issues. Mr. Sisco said that he had taken for granted the $30 million in military credit already granted, the $119 million in additional military credit which Israel had asked for, something like $40 million in P.L. 480 sales, continuation of the pipeline of basic military supplies and consultation with Israel on its projected economic problems.

Dr. Kissinger said he was inclined to see the merits of some sort of Presidential statement on TV as the only way to pre-empt the inevitable domestic outburst on almost any decision.

Mr. Richardson agreed that the President has to pre-empt the domestic reaction.

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Mr. Helms said that he had one intelligence note which he would like to bring to the Group’s attention before adjournment. He had a report to the effect that an Iraqi contact had been told by an official of the Arab Socialist Union in Egypt that the Soviet desk officer on Israeli affairs in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow had said that the Soviet Union judges that Israel has five atomic bombs.

Dr. Kissinger said this was just another indication that the Soviets are trying to keep the Arabs edgy.

Harold H. Saunders15
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, Senior Review Group, SRG Minutes Originals 1970. Top Secret. Drafted by Saunders on February 28. All brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 52.
  3. President’s Daily Brief, February 18. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1, President’s Daily Briefings)
  4. John J. McCloy was Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control.
  5. Eugene Black was Chairman of the Overseas Development Council, an international policy research institution.
  6. See footnote 10, Document 86.
  7. The memorandum is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 605, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. III.
  8. See footnote 5, Document 86.
  9. See Document 88.
  10. See footnote 2, Document 92.
  11. Nixon met with Congressman Emanuel Celler (D–NY) on February 19 from 10:51 to 11:21 a.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  12. The paper is attached as Tab A to the memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, Document 95.
  13. The intelligence memorandum, “Israel: Development of Military Industries,” February 1970, is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–043, Senior Review Group Meetings, Review Group Israel 2/25/70.
  14. This meeting did not take place. The paper, attached as Tab A to Document 95, is not printed.
  15. Saunders initialed “H.H.S.” above his typed signature.