290. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Middle East


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • CIA
  • State—
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Joseph Sisco
  • Gen. Robert Cushman
  • David Blee
  • [name not declassified]
  • Alfred Atherton
  • NSC Staff—
  • Defense—
  • Gen. Alexander Haig
  • David M. Packard
  • Col. Richard Kennedy
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • Robert Pranger
  • Jeanne W. Davis
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt


It was decided to:

prepare a diplomatic scenario of what to do when an Israeli strike comes;2
check on the various arms packages for Israel to be sure they have everything they need to protect their border and that everything is underway or can be started;
prepare for a Congressional briefing tomorrow after checking with the President;
prepare a military assistance package for Israel, similar to the one for Jordan, of what Israel would need to replace materiel expended against the Syrians;
prepare contingency plans for a possible Soviet response;3
outlne in writing the principal points we would make to the Soviets, after an Israeli strike has taken place;4
hold the medical planes;
inform our Embassies in Amman and Tel Aviv of today’s actions.

Mr. Kissinger: To bring you up to date on what we have done, Joe Sisco and I telephoned Rabin with Option A which had been approved by Secretary Rogers and the President.5 We asked him to run a recce and come back to us with their information. We would then give them our judgment as to the desirability of their mounting a strike. Rabin had just asked us whether we would look favorably on this, when we were handed the new telegram from Amman reporting that the King had said the situation was deteriorating and asking for help.6 We told Rabin we had new information and would call him back. We called Secretary Rogers, who said he thought we had no choice but to say, if the Israeli recce confirmed the reported situation, that we would look favorably on an Israeli strike.7 We told the President of the Secretary’s judgment, with which Sisco and I agreed, and the President approved.8 He told us to tell the Israelis that if they decided to go ahead, we would make up any materiel losses they incurred and would protect them against the Soviets. The President also wanted us to take certain readiness measures in case we had to evacuate American citizens, including alerting the 82nd Airborne. Rabin called back.9 The President was [Page 801] in the office during the call but we did not tell Rabin this. We gave him the substance of the Amman telegram but not the text, and told him if the information was corroborated by their recce, we would look favorably on a strike, would make good any of their material needs and would protect them against Soviet reprisals insofar as it was within our power. Rabin repeated these three points to be sure he understood and said he would report to his Prime Minister and call back. He called back in an hour (the President also heard this conversation) at 11:25 our time to say: 1) the recce had been ordered and would start as soon as it was light enough; 2) their own intelligence confirmed that there were massive Syrian forces and that the situation around Irbid was very bad for the Jordanians, but they would check this; 3) he could not say what they would do if this information was confirmed, but the Prime Minister had instructed Dayan to look favorably on the U.S. request. He commented that they were not sure air action would be enough.10

Mr. Sisco: They also said they were in general agreement with our views as to the facts and the implications of the facts. Their information agrees with ours and they have the same judgment of the seriousness of the situation.

Mr. Kissinger: I think it would be prudent to assume some Israeli military action tomorrow.

Mr. Packard: That is all right.

Mr. Kissinger: I should tell you that the President has no excessive reluctance to commit American forces. If the situation in Amman should come unstuck, he might want to put American forces in to protect and evacuate American citizens.

Mr. Sisco: He also wants very much to concert with the British and try to get them to go in with us. The British have 160 nationals involved, and it would be good if this were a USUK operation.

Mr. Kissinger: We have passed the Amman message to the British; I have spoken to Freeman11 and to Greenhill’s assistant.

Mr. Johnson: Should we consider going back to the Soviets again?

Mr. Sisco: I think the most effective time to follow up with the Soviets is shortly after an Israeli air attack to give our approach some force. We should look at this though—whether to go back to the Russians now to ask what they have done about our Sunday afternoon approach.12

Mr. Johnson: Yes, I think we should.

[Page 802]

Mr. Packard: No, I think we should go ahead.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree, we should go ahead.

Mr. Johnson: We could tell the Russians, “this is our information; what about it?”

Mr. Kissinger: If they had any comments to make about our approach, they would have made them.

Mr. Sisco: If we approach the Russians now, we imply that we are acting from a position of weakness and are worried about what the Syrians might do. If we wait until after the Israelis have struck, they will be worrying about the Israelis. We would be in a better position.

Mr. Packard: I think we should do what needs to be done first.

Mr. Kissinger: We should prepare a diplomatic scenario of what to do when the news of an Israeli air strike hits.

Mr. Packard: We will do two things: we will check on all the various arms packages for Israel to be sure they have everything they need to protect their border and that everything is already on the way, or we will start it on its way.

Mr. Sisco: We haven’t had time to write it yet, but Golda Meir told the President they want more of everything, and also wanted some qualitative improvement in additional items.

Mr. Packard: There was some argument on the [less than 1 line not declassified] package, but we will resolve it and get it moving.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, let’s move what we can.

Mr. Packard: And we have to advise the Congress. The American public is not prepared for this. We have to have a Congressional briefing first thing in the morning or it will be worse than Cambodia.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree, but I want to check this with the President. We will do it as early as possible tomorrow.

Mr. Packard: We can talk to our committees, and State can talk to theirs.

Mr. Kissinger: But not before the President gives the okay. We need a military assistance package for Israel vis-à-vis the Suez Canal. We also need the same sort of package you did for Jordan—what Israel would need to replace materiel expended against the Syrians.

Mr. Johnson: I expect a frantic call for ammunition from Jordan.

Mr. Kissinger: Are we all set on the Jordan package?

Mr. Pranger: On expendables, yes.

Mr. Kissinger: How about tanks?

Mr. Packard: We would have a very hard time getting tanks there in time. Could we put some in a C–5?

[Page 803]

Gen. Vogt: You could get four in a C–5.

Mr. Sisco: The President also asked if the Israelis go in and there are losses, and they have to continue a holding action on the Suez Canal, are we in a position to undertake a quick, massive supply of new aircraft—Phantoms and Skyhawks—if we had to?

Mr. Packard: Yes. I’ve just learned that we have 40 percent more aircraft than are shown on the list.

Admiral Moorer: We have 40 percent more than the UE. If we remove 40 percent, we reduce the UE.

Mr. Sisco: What is the UE?

Admiral Moorer: The unit of equipment; how many aircraft there are in a squadron.

Mr. Kissinger: So, we need assistance packages for Israel and Jordan. And we need contingency plans for any foreseeable Soviet response. Do the Soviets have the capability of attacking Israel directly?

Admiral Moorer: Yes, but with heavy losses.

Mr. Johnson: Without using Egyptian bases?

Mr. Packard: They have long-range bombers, but we could make it pretty hot for them.

Mr. Kissinger: Would we fly air cover for the Israelis?

Mr. Packard: If the Soviets attack Israel, we would have to protect Israel.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s get some plans for that. I think it highly unlikely that the Soviets will attack, but we should have some plans.

Mr. Johnson: If they attack from Soviet territory, they would have to overfly Iran or Turkey.

Mr. Packard: Or they could go from the other side of the Bosphorus.

Mr. Sisco: They have planes and pilots in Egypt they could use.

Mr. Packard: They could go over Romania and Bulgaria, with just a little tongue of Greece.

Mr. Johnson: If they attack from Egyptian territory, the ceasefire is finished.

Mr. Sisco: I think the ceasefire will blow anyhow.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Admiral Moorer) Can you get us some contingency plans?

Admiral Moorer: Yes. The most important thing is to get a communications plan established with Israel—IFF, coordination of air activity, etc.

Mr. Kissinger: Can you do it?

Admiral Moorer: Yes, we can do it with their people here in Washington.

[Page 804]

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s wait until we know whether the Israelis have decided to strike. Once we know, you can work out a communications plan without putting American equipment into Israel.

Admiral Moorer: It’s just a matter of frequencies.

Mr. Johnson: Dayan once told us that the biggest mistake they made in the Palestine war was in not fighting off the Irbid Heights. Is Israel likely to move on the ground?

Mr. Packard: They said they doubted that air would be enough, so they will probably have to.

Mr. Kissinger: The President said we should not encourage Israeli ground action, but that they should do what they feel they have to do.

Mr. Packard: It will probably be better in terms of a long-term solution if Israel comes out in a better position from this exercise.

Mr. Moorer: It will also be better if Israel does what it thinks it has to do quickly.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes. The quicker it is over, the better possibility there is of handling the Russians.

Mr. Packard: And the better bargaining position Israel will have.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m not inclined to encourage Israel to take any more territory.

Mr. Atherton: It is very likely they will want to hold those Heights. They are full of fedayeen.

Adm. Moorer: They could be in Damascus in three days and we’ll have trouble getting them out.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t think they’re interested in going to Damascus. Can they handle 200 tanks with air alone?

Adm. Moorer: With a combination of Jordanian and Israeli forces, probably yes. You still may have some activity around Irbid. I wouldn’t rule out Israeli ground movement.

Mr. Packard: How many tanks did they destroy with air in 1967?

Adm. Moorer: Six or seven hundred. They blocked them in the passes with their tanks.

Mr. Sisco: Should we raise with the British the possibility of their joining us?

Mr. Kissinger: It is premature. Let’s let the President sleep on it. We were talking in general terms. Would one British battalion or company be worth all the wailing?

Mr. Sisco: It would be a great political advantage, but I don’t think they’ll agree.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s concentrate tonight on the things it would be good to have for tomorrow: (1) contingency plans for possible Soviet moves; (2) assistance packages for Israel and Jordan; (3) a Congressional [Page 805] briefing; (4) a diplomatic scenario, with the understanding that we will talk to no one until the Israelis have struck.

Mr. Sisco: Assuming the Israelis have struck, what we should say to whom and when, what we should say publicly, etc. We can do a one-page check list.

Mr. Kissinger: When we call in the Soviets, what do we tell them?

Mr. Sisco: Tell them: (1) our efforts, as before the strike took place, continue to be directed toward ending the Syrian intervention; (2) we are still interested in seeing that there is no broadening of the conflict;

(3) in order to accomplish this, we want to get the Syrians out.

Mr. Kissinger: Should we warn them against Soviet intervention?

Mr. Sisco: I’m not sure. That may be premature.

Mr. Johnson: They already said they were approaching the Syrians.

Mr. Sisco: We can say we have a responsibility. We are prepared to do what is necessary to see about stopping the Israelis if they get the Syrians out.

Mr. Kissinger: It seems to me the chief purpose would be to tell the Soviets to stay out.

Mr. Packard: We could tell them to get the Syrians out first.

Mr. Sisco: Yes, and we will get the Israelis out. The Soviets have been worried about the possibility of our intervention. They have warned us.

Mr. Kissinger: Then why shouldn’t we warn them?

Mr. Packard: They are not taking any steps toward intervention. They are doing it by proxy.

Mr. Johnson: We’re not sure the Soviets wanted the Syrians to intervene or how much control they have over the Syrians.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m not sure the Syrians could have moved 200 tanks without Soviet blessing.

Mr. Sisco: The Soviets have influence if they will exert it.

Mr. Kissinger: We have two objectives: (1) to get them to use their influence with the Syrians to get them to withdraw; and (2) to make sure they do not believe they can escape the dilemma of an Israeli move by putting the squeeze on Israel. Our major interest is with the Soviets in the light of some of our other problems. I think waffling now will give us more problems later. We need not be truculent. We could use the same language they did to us last Friday.13

Mr. Johnson: What if the Soviets do not intervene but continue to use the Syrians and we decide we want to go in?

[Page 806]

Mr. Kissinger: We are not saying we will intervene. We would only say that if they intervene, we will intervene. The basic problem is Syrian intervention. If they get the Syrians out, we will use our influence with Israel.

Mr. Packard: But there is no evidence of Soviet intention to intervene. We have given some evidence of our readiness. I think we sould take one step at a time. Let’s address the Syrian question first with the Russians.

Mr. Johnson: Their natural answer will be that they won’t intervene if we won’t.

Mr. Packard: So if we intervene, they can too.

Mr. Nutter: We shouldn’t leave them with any doubt of what we will do.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s my view.

Mr. Sisco: We will write down in the morning the principal points we would make to the Soviets.

Mr. Kissinger: Shall we meet at 8:00 a.m.? State can jot down the principal points. Won’t someone go to the UN?

Mr. Sisco: Yes, and our attitude should be positive.

Mr. Kissinger: A request for a simple withdrawal would be the right line for the UN.

Mr. Johnson: Jordan will take the lead.

Mr. Kissinger: And we don’t tell the British anything?

Mr. Packard: Be polite.

Mr. Kissinger: We should also probably be prepared to brief our NATO allies. We should give Ellsworth some sort of instruction. Also remember the Shah. Can we give him some little word? Are there any other diplomatic moves? So at 8:00, State will come in with a diplomatic scenario, and Admiral Moorer will come in with some contingency plans for a possible Soviet move. Are there any other readiness measures we should take?

Adm. Moorer: We will go out tonight to all Unified Commands, telling them to augment their intelligence watch since the situation may change quickly—a general heads-up message.

Mr. Johnson: Will the movement of the brigade in Europe surface?

Mr. Kissinger: We should probably hold the medical planes.

Adm. Moorer: We can do that. Our problem is to start movements, not to stop them.

Mr. Sisco: We should also send a telegram to Tel Aviv and Amman telling them what we have done.

  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; Nodis. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. “Issues in Diplomatic Scenarios,” September 21. (Ibid., Box H–077, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Middle East 9/20/70)
  3. “Possible Soviet Intervention and U.S. Countermoves,” undated. (Ibid., Box H–076, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Middle East 9/22/70)
  4. “Talking Points for Use with Soviets in Event of Israeli Intervention against Syrians,” undated. (Ibid.)
  5. See Document 283.
  6. Document 284.
  7. See Document 285.
  8. See Document 286.
  9. See Document 287.
  10. See Document 289.
  11. See Document 288.
  12. September 20; see footnote 2, Document 276.
  13. September 18; see Document 266.