99. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Dr. Henry Kissinger
- Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin, of Israel
- Brig. General A.M. Haig, Military Assistant to Dr. Kissinger
Dr. Kissinger opened the discussion by referring to the exchange of notes between Soviet Premier Kosygin and President Nixon during the first week of February.2 He recalled the report he received several days after the exchange of letters to the effect that the Soviets were concerned that President Nixon did not appreciate the seriousness of Premier Kosygin’s letter and that they were contemplating the introduction of Soviet military personnel into the UAR.3 Dr. Kissinger stated that we had received this report both through intelligence channels and as a result of statements by junior Soviet Embassy personnel to a member of the U.S. press corps. Dr. Kissinger stated that as a result of these reports he called in Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin and confronted him with these reports, discounted the methods which the Soviets had employed to circulate them, and strongly warned Ambassador Dobrynin that the United States would view with the greatest concern the introduction of Soviet combat personnel into the Middle East.4 The U.S., he said, was choosing this method of communication with the Soviets rather than making a formal declaration. At the same time we want to make sure that the Soviet leaders would be under no illusion about the possibility of grave consequences. (Dr. Kissinger showed Ambassador Rabin the summary sheet (Tab A) which included the specific points he covered with Dobrynin.)
Dr. Kissinger continued that he saw Ambassador Dobrynin again this week on a routine matter involving the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, but that it was obvious that Dobrynin was primarily interested in discussing the Middle East. During the meeting Ambassador Dobrynin read a prepared written reply to some points that Dr. Kissinger had [Page 330] raised at their earlier meeting. The statement in effect proposed a de facto cease-fire between Israel and the UAR.5 Dr. Kissinger allowed Ambassador Rabin to read the text of a portion of the message read by Ambassador Dobrynin at this meeting, attached (Tab B).
Dr. Kissinger stated that the White House shares the Israeli analysis of recent events in the Middle East, but emphasized that these events confirm that some movement can occur. Dr. Kissinger said it is our judgment that the USSR made a commitment to Nasser in January, during his visit to Moscow,6 and that during the next few months this will be manifested by additional Soviet arms shipments to the UAR. Dr. Kissinger added that it was President Nixon’s view that a U.S. decision to provide arms to Israel should be accomplished on the basis of a response to stepped-up Soviet shipments and that while this was the President’s view it was not necessarily shared by others in the U.S. bureaucracy. He pointed out that with respect to assistance to Israel the President hoped to break out immediate action from the longer term action. In other words, to treat both separately.
Dr. Kissinger stated that he could forsee no problems with respect to economic assistance to Israel and showed Ambassador Rabin the summary of proposed economic assistance (Tab C).
Concerning military hardware, Dr. Kissinger statedthat with respect to immediate action the U.S. government would replace actual Israeli aircraft losses during the period 1969–71, up to 8 Phantoms and 20 Sky Hawks. On the longer term, the U.S. would supply the major part of the Israeli hardware request if more significant USSR arms shipments into the UAR take place. Dr. Kissinger then handed Ambassador Rabin a draft Aide-Mémoire which affirmed this commitment (Tab D). Dr. Kissinger emphasized that we considered that the phraseology of the Aide-Mémoire which reads “the significant introduction of Soviet arms into the UAR as endangering the military balance” to be negotiable language. It would be extended to include arms shipments to other countries and from other sources. He then added that the President recognizes his commitment to Prime Minister Meir and emphasized again that President Nixon prefers to furnish assistance to Israel in response to Soviet arms shipments to the UAR, and confirmed the U.S. intention of amending the contract on the Phantoms and pro[Page 331]viding for some standby production capability if this can be done secretly. He emphasized that the Aide-Mémoire was not written in diplomatic language because it was prepared unilaterally in the White House and was not being presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Referring to the final portions of the Aide-Mémoire, Dr. Kissinger stated that President Nixon is requesting also that the Israeli government stop bombing the UAR, providing the UAR in turn ceases its military action against Israel. He pointed out that the Aide-Mémoire restated President Nixon’s commitment but added the request for a de facto cease-fire. The Aide-Mémoire, Mr. Kissinger stated, would be signed by President Nixon if it were satisfactory to the Israeli Government.
Dr. Kissinger then turned to a proposed U.S. public announcement concerning military assistance to Israel. He stated that the language of this announcement went far beyond the consensus of the U.S. bureaucracy on this issue. It will be made by the Department of State sometime next week7 after it has been shown to Ambassador Rabin by the Secretary of State. It was our hope that the Israelis would agree to an Aide-Mémoire along the lines of that being given to Ambassador Rabin prior to the public announcement. Dr. Kissinger again emphasized that the President hoped to be in a posture which would enable him to respond tp the Israeli arms request as a result of additional Soviet shipments and that this would facilitate his handling of the issue both domestically and bureaucratically.
Ambassador Rabin expressed his concern that the U.S. and the Israelis would share different opinions as to whether or not the Soviets had in fact introduced a significant amount of Soviet arms. He stated that the U.S. Government would continually delay in accepting the justification for a decision to proceed with shipments to Israel under the conditions proposed in the Aide-Mémoire. He recounted his experience in recent months and the difficulty he had with the U.S. intelligence community in arriving at an agreed assessment on the level of Soviet arms supplies to Egypt. He pointed out that, for example, since July 1969 Israeli intelligence concluded that Egypt had received 130 planes and that the Arabs as a whole had received 254 planes. The U.S. intelligence community did not agree with this figure.
Dr. Kissinger stated that we would check these figures and added that perhaps the Israelis would prefer to establish a combined U.S.-Israeli framework for making these assessments. Rabin replied that no [Page 332] matter what is concluded the Soviets will deny that they made such shipments.
Mr. Kissinger stated that recent events had had a serious impact on the U.S. attitude on the subject and that the Israelis’ friends here had done great damage to their interests. Dr. Kissinger recommended that the Israelis make some proposal on how we could arrive at an agreed position on facts from which a decision could be made. He asked that Ambassador Rabin advise him before Tuesday (March 17) and expressed sympathy for the Ambassador’s concerns.
Ambassador Rabin stated that this morning Israel penetrated 60 miles west of the Canal and struck some bunkers that appear to have been configured for SAM III weapons. They observed no missiles but the bunkers which have been constructed by over 100 workers on an urgent basis were definitely of a distinctive type. Dr. Kissinger noted that the Israelis had hit a facility in the UAR containing Soviet personnel and asked if this had been a deliberate strike. Rabin replied that they were aware that this was a main training center but inferred that the strike was not specifically targeted against the Soviets although they knew that many Soviet personnel had been killed and wounded. Rabin then stated that he believed the Russian threat to introduce their armed forces into the UAR was a trick.
Referring to the Aide-Mémoire, Ambassador Rabin stated that he is convinced that President Nixon is sincere but that he felt the importance of this matter required that he speak to his Prime Minister. It was agreed that Ambassador Rabin would fly to Israel tonight and return sometime Sunday after consultations with Prime Minister Golda Meir.8 Then Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Rabin would meet sometime Tuesday.9 Dr. Kissinger asked Ambassador Rabin to inform Assistant Secretary Sisco this afternoon that he had been called home. Rabin replied that this would make some sense since speculation to this effect had already been rampant in the Israeli press. Dr. Kissinger cautioned him that nothing of their conversation should appear in the Israeli press as a result of his visit, emphasizing that Ambassador Rabin had more information than anyone in the U.S. Government with the exception of the President, himself, and General Haig.
Dr. Kissinger emphasized that the U.S. Aide-Mémoire was a unilateral document but that he believed the following portions of it were negotiable:
1. The Israelis might elaborate on the conditions for determining a disruption in the arms balance in the Middle East.[Page 333]
2. Some flexibility for the period of the undeclared cease-fire appears possible.
Rabin replied that the main problem with this sequence of events would be the reaction of the Israeli Cabinet to the U.S. public announcement. Pressure would immediately develop to incease military activity, not to stop it. Dr. Kissinger cautioned that the Israelis must have discipline on this issue and Rabin countered that this is a problem of emotion, not logic. The U.S. public announcement will encourage the Arabs. Experience has shown that the only way to cool them down was the kind of military action which has been employed by Israel recently. Dr. Kissinger stated that from the viewpoint of Israeli security, if they can obtain a de facto cease-fire which the other side breaks, no one here in the United States would object to strong counter-action. Ambassador Rabin did not contest this logic and added that if the Prime Minister could announce such a decision at the Israeli Cabinet meeting on Sunday and if we held up briefly on our public announcement this sequence might suceed. He pointed out that if the Israeli Cabinet accepts the decision it would of course not be announced publicly but merely implemented. Dr. Kissinger added that the Israelis should inform us however. Ambassador Rabin then questioned whether or not the Soviets were talking about deep penetration raids or all kinds of air raids against the UAR. Dr. Kissinger stated that he had asked Dobrynin the same question and did not really get a reply. Rabin stated that they really worry about the deep raids. Dr. Kissinger asked what the purpose of the shallow raids was and Rabin replied that they are designed to prevent any SAMs from being installed. He added that since the Israelis have received the Phantom fighters they are able to stand-off above the more dangerous ack-ack which is effective at lower altitudes and deliver ordnance in relative safety. Dr. Kissinger asked Ambassador Rabin if the story about the two Egyptian pilots who bailed out after one of their planes was hit by their own SAM was correct. Ambassador Rabin confirmed that this was so and that it had occurred about six months ago, adding that unfortunately the Israelis had done the same thing with a Hawk missile which shot down an Israeli light aircraft. Dr. Kissinger stated that he felt the President would be very interested in a cessation involving only deep penetrations for a period of perhaps sixty or 45 days. The U.S. could then tell the Soviets that Israel has demonstrated restraint and that they in turn will have to prohibit the UAR from taking advantage of this by building additional SAM sites. The U.S. would also warn the Soviets that additional arms shipments to the UAR would trigger a new round in the arms race. This in effect would tend to put the Soviets on the defensive.
Dr. Kissinger asked Ambassador Rabin to develop the proposed rules of engagement for a de facto cease-fire and recapped the discus[Page 334]sion with respect to the coordination of the Aide-Mémoire with Prime Minister Meir. Ambassador Rabin then inquired about the nature of the U.S. public announcement. Dr. Kissinger showed him a copy of the current version of the announcement. After reading the announcement several times Ambassador Rabin stated that it made him very unhappy. Dr. Kissinger acknowledged that the U.S. recognized this but that the document was actually far less negative than the versions originally prepared within the bureaucracy, adding that the Aide-Mémoire went way beyond anything recommended and that the President had prepared it strictly on his own initiative. For this reason if it were compromised the most serious consequences would develop. Ambassador Rabin asked for a copy of the proposed press announcement and Dr. Kissinger agreed to have one prepared for him this afternoon which could be picked up by a messenger.
The meeting concluded at 12:25 p.m.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 612, Country Files, Middle East, Israeli Aid. Top Secret; Nodis. The conversation was held in the East Wing of the White House in the Military Aide’s office. Tabs A–D are attached but not printed.↩
- See Document 88.↩
- See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 132.↩
- For the memorandum of conversation of Kissinger’s February 10 meeting with Dobrynin, see ibid., Document 131.↩
- For the memorandum of conversation of Kissinger’s March 10 meeting with Dobrynin, see ibid., Document 140.↩
- In a memorandum to Nixon on February 1, Kissinger wrote: “There is a strong likelihood that Nasser made a secret visit to Moscow January 22–27.” (Ibid., Document 123) Hyland informed Kissinger on June 8: “We have the hardest possible intelligence that the decisions leading to the present situation were approved by Brezhnev on January 28–29, in the wake of Nasser’s secret visit to Moscow. The Soviets had no choice but to support Nasser, and strong moves were obviously called for.” (Ibid., Document 163)↩
- The announcement was made by Secretary Rogers on March 23. The text of the announcement and the transcript of the news conference that followed are printed in the Department of State Bulletin, April 13, 1970, pp. 477–484. Nixon discussed Rogers’s upcoming statement in his press conference on March 21. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 288–298.↩
- In his memoirs, Rabin recalled that “the reaction in Jerusalem was indignant, and I relayed that response to Kissinger upon my return.” (The Rabin Memoirs, p. 170)↩
- March 17. See Document 103.↩