299. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • Jordan


  • The President
  • Secretary of State William Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense David M. Packard
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs General
  • Alexander M. Haig
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs Joseph Sisco

The President opened the meeting by asking Dr. Kissinger to review the situation as it had developed over the past 24 hours with the reported entry of Syrian forces into Jordan and the decisions made during the night.

Dr. Kissinger stated that at 5:15 that morning Ambassador Rabin had called and reported that Irbid had fallen to the Syrian forces, that the Israeli Government did not believe their intervention should be limited to air action alone, and that they had posed a series of questions and conditions on which they would like a response within three hours. Later, at about 6:45 a.m. Ambassador Rabin had called again and stated that Israeli reconnaissance had observed Syrian units south of Irbid but they were not sure whether the units represented security forces or were the vanguard for a move south. The Israelis stated that the King could maintain his position for at least another day or more. The Israelis had no territorial ambitions vis-à-vis Jordan, however, they did believe that an attack in support of the King must have some “political cause” and that some adjustment of a technical nature would have to be made as a result of their attack to preclude future technical difficulties. Among Israeli conditions were assurances that the U.S. would protect Israel against Soviet counteraction.2 Following this call, Dr. Kissinger then called the President.3

[Page 832]

Admiral Moorer then reviewed the military situation with emphasis on the ambivalent position taken by Iraqi forces on the eastern flank of the Jordanian army.

Assistant Secretary Sisco stated that it appeared the Israelis had determined that air action alone would not be adequate in view of the deteriorating military situation. Sisco added that we could not assess the time of possible Israeli intervention, that we would not know the hour and that we would probably not have advance notice, although he did not believe that the Israelis could launch attacks prior to Tuesday morning.4 The question at hand was at what point our coordinating with the Israelis would make their action irreversible. This morning, he stated, it would be necessary to arrive at a new decision on the issue posed by Israel to combine both ground and air action in any intervention which they might undertake.

Secretary Rogers then stated that the important issue was whether or not the Syrians were actually moving south with the view toward taking Amman or whether they intended merely to carve out an enclave in northern Jordan. Admiral Moorer stated that his intelligence suggested that a spearhead of 40 Syrian tanks was indeed moving south. Secretary Laird confirmed that military intelligence suggested that the spearhead was on a route which led to Amman.

Sisco then stated that before the Israelis move one of the conditions listed by them early that morning was the requirement that the King know what they were doing and be in full agreement with it. For this reason, State had sent a message to Embassy Amman to confirm that the King in fact does wish to have Israeli air and ground support.5 A second issue which must be resolved rapidly is the fact that the Israeli Government apparently insists on establishing liaison with the Jordanian Government before taking any military action. Finally, they have made it clear, as Dr. Kissinger pointed out, that they have no territorial designs in Jordan, although this certainly remains to be seen.

Secretary Laird stated: “At this point, my main concern before any intervention by Israel or the United States is the Congressional attitude and the lack of public understanding of this problem. Whatever we do we should make it clear that Jordan has been attacked and that the survival of the King is crucial from the U.S. interest, especially the long-term perspective. Finally, if there is to be intervention, it must be done quickly with intervening forces moving in rapidly and pulling out rapidly.”

[Page 833]

The President then stated that the question at hand is what we do. This depends on whether the Syrians are moving south towards Amman. The question is not necessarily whether the Israelis can win. The question, rather, is what effect will Israeli intervention have on the King. Secondly, what effect will Israeli intervention have on the Soviets. It is difficult to believe that the Soviets are not aware of what the Syrians have been doing. If the Soviets were to move in the face of our messages, both public and private, then I suspect further delay on our part would be dangerous. From the King’s perspective also it should be kept in mind it is not so much a question of whether the Syrians intend to take over Amman, but rather the impact that any Syrian action is having on his morale.

Secretary Rogers stated that he agreed with the overall assessment of the situation and was relieved to learn, as the Israeli Ambassador pointed out, that we have some additional time. Secretary Rogers added that although the King thought that the Syrians were moving on Amman, this was not the case in his view. Therefore, it was necessary to find out again what the King’s feelings were with respect to Israeli intervention. In light of the possibility that the Syrians were not moving on Amman, obviously, Rogers stated, Israel was playing it cool. They wanted liaison with the Jordanians, perhaps even a common staff for the conduct of their operations in Jordan. On balance, Rogers insisted, it would be far better if the King could do the job himself. If he had to call on Israel, it was likely that he would be doomed in any event. Secretary Rogers also raised the question of U.S. motivations for encouraging Israeli intervention and asked whether this was not really benefitting the Israelis more than anyone else. He judged that Israel had probably not made up its own mind yet with respect to intervention. Finally, he cautioned, it was most important that we know exactly what course of action the U.S. should pursue with respect to the Soviets. He stated: “I am relaxed about the situation, but for God’s sake, let’s know what we are going to do. I am relieved to learn that we have a little more time.”

Secretary Laird stated that we should not give the Israelis a go-ahead at this time, but that we should tell them to be prepared to move. The President commented that it would be necessary to investigate what the consequences would be of too long a delay. We have considered carefully, he stated, what the effect of our own intervention might be and the possibility of Soviet counteraction. The U.S. has also made it clear to all parties that this Government considers the Syrian action most grave. If the King falls and we take no action, then we still will have to face the possibility of a requirement to intervene to evacuate our people. The President stated that if he were the King, he would take a rather dim view of the prospect of Israeli intervention in his country. On the other hand, the King can ask himself, who will help. [Page 834] Without air or air and ground assistance in the present circumstances, the King will probably fall. The worst thing the U.S. could do would be to delay too long in deference to either the Soviets or the King’s own inhibitions. Both are grim prospects. Intervening now has its risks, but the other consequence is to let the King fall and then to have to intervene to evacuate our people. At the same time our warning to the Soviets and the Syrians would be permitted to go unheeded.

Assistant Secretary Sisco suggested we might again consider the United Nations. President Nixon stated firmly that he wanted no more exchanges of notes between Governments and no more references to the United Nations. Secretary Rogers interjected that he was not asking for a delay but rather extreme caution before moving so that we do not get into an inflexible position. The President commented that the Administration would take a severe beating domestically. He added that the King must make his own position clear and that we must know this position. Above all, it was essential that he know that we are supporting him so that his morale and own determination would be strengthened at this critical time. Secretary Rogers again made the point that previous requests for assistance from the King were based on his assumption that Syrian tanks were moving on Amman.

The President then noted that one option might be for the Israelis to move into Syria. Secretary Laird added that they might strike Syrian air fields. Secretary Rogers commented that in his view militarily Syria was the best target, but politically Jordan was preferable.

Assistant Secretary Sisco cautioned that another twenty-four hour delay might be too much for the King’s morale. Perhaps it would be better, he suggested, to inform the King and the Israelis that we agreed in principle to air and ground intervention, subject to final review sometime later that day. It was obvious that the King would agree with Israeli air strikes and perhaps we might urge them to initiate at least the air strikes that day. Secretary Sisco then stated that while there would be no further diplomatic move toward the Soviets, he hoped that the President would keep an open mind on a further approach in the event the signal was given to Israel to initiate air strikes so that the Soviets would know our position on the situation. The President agreed but cautioned that another note to the Soviets without any action on our part or on the part of Israel was not a practical course of action.

Secretary Rogers then said that he had some severe reservations about telling Israel how to conduct their operation. It would be difficult for the United States to dictate to the Israelis in this regard. Perhaps all we should do was tell them to go ahead in principle, get an answer from the King with respect to his desires, and then suggest to Israel that they do it in such a way as to achieve maximum results and a quick solution. In any event, it would be a terrible diplomatic mess.

[Page 835]

The President indicated that first, he wanted whatever action was taken to be taken with the view toward maximum success. The operations, he stated, must succeed militarily. Second, with respect to political and diplomatic considerations, it was obvious that air action alone would be preferable. Third, if it was Israeli military judgment, however, that ground action must be taken as well, then indeed we should support both air and ground operations.

The President then asked the group to consider the Syrian invasion problem, and questioned whether or not an Israeli invasion of Syria did not in effect constitute a more difficult problem. If the Israelis moved into Syria, the Soviet involvement certainly would be more likely. Secretary Rogers asked if Israeli action against Syria was the only alternative. The President replied that it might be possible that they would feel impelled to strike Egypt. Secretary Rogers then recalled that Allon had stated Sunday that action against Egypt was not necessary. The President stated that in any event, air action alone would be preferable. Dr. Kissinger agreed but noted it might not be sufficient to do the job. The President then commented that obviously the surest solution was to favor both air and ground action by the Israelis. If they go they will obviously, as they have already told us, want to do both.

Secretary Rogers asked if it might not be possible to start close air reconnaissance that day. Assistant Secretary Sisco stated that he would suggest air action today and if that proved to be defective, we would have bought at least some time before having to decide on full intervention. At the same time, we could tell the Israelis that we agree to both actions in principle. The President stated that on balance he felt that it would be preferable not to tell the Israelis how to do the job. They were in control of their own military and they had their own political motives. We should use the Israeli message as a pretext to check once and for all whether or not the King would agree with Israeli intervention. The President confirmed that it was important to know the King’s feeling as to the present situation. Admiral Moorer commented that the Israelis may not be in too much of a hurry to act since they might prefer to let the Arabs deplete each other’s strength before actually moving, out of purely military and political considerations.

Secretary Rogers then asked, if the King falls, what will the Israelis have achieved? Admiral Moorer replied that the situation would be changed little, but that the Israeli military task would be considerably easier with both sides depleted. Secretary Rogers referred to the message received on Sunday from the Israelis in which they expressed a desire to establish liaison with the Jordanians. Dr. Kissinger stated that those conditions established yesterday by Israel occurred before the exchange with the Israelis the previous night. Assistant Secretary Sisco commented that in any event, the Israeli communication of early Monday [Page 836] morning would be a good vehicle for inquiring again as to the King’s view.6

The President stated that we should get a message off immediately to the King and asked how long it would take to get a response. Secretary Rogers stated that this would be difficult to judge since we would have some difficulty on the ground in Amman communicating with the King and that we had used a combination of radio and telephone. The President stated that in the meantime, we should inform the Israelis that we are checking with the Jordanians.7 Tell them we are favorable in principle to their intervention pending final receipt of the King’s reaction. In either event, the Israelis must know that they have a free hand. If we do tell them this, we are, of course, bringing the whole thing to a head.

The President then asked if our evacuation plans were ready to go if required. Admiral Moorer stated that they had intensified readiness measures and thereby lowered essential lead times for military action by U.S. forces. The President asked how long specifically it would take. Admiral Moorer stated that our forces were on a four-hour alert which when added to 41/2 hours flight time would total roughly 81/hours to get the force of first U.S. elements on the ground. He also added that the need to obtain overflight clearances from the Austrians was still outstanding. The President commented that we could just move and not worry about the clearances.

The President than asked Mr. Sisco whether or not we had coordinated possible action with the British and what the British plans were. Sisco replied that they have no forces that could assist and that Mr. Hume had suggested that they would do nothing. Secretary Laird stated that they have personnel also in Jordan and should certainly feel an obligation.

Assistant Secretary Sisco stated that we have not really put it to the British in these terms. Secretary Rogers asked whether or not we should tell the United Kingdom about our plans if we decide to support Israeli intervention. Dr. Kissinger stated that the only thing the British know at this point is that we have conveyed the message they received from the King requesting intervention.8 The President stated [Page 837] that he could see no objection to letting the British know. Secretary Laird commented that we should make our contacts now in the event of a possible need to intervene by U.S. forces for the evacuation of U.S. citizens. The President concluded the discussion of this point by stating it was important that the British know what we are going to do but only at that point in time in which we are sure of what we are going to do ourselves.

Secretary Rogers asked how we should play Israeli intervention. Should we suggest that the Israelis initiated this action on their own with U.S. knowledge or in fact with U.S. encouragement? The President responded that this would have to be resolved and that it was equally important that we know precisely how we would act with the Congress and that the Congress was even a more important consideration. Perhaps it would be better not to do any consultations that morning but to tell them later that we are ready to move to evacuate U.S. citizens. In this way, they would know that some military action was imminent.

Secretary Laird suggested that we also consider giving to the Congressional leadership the military facts of life right now, perhaps through a military briefing. We could tell them that we have prepared evacuation contingency plans but that nothing has been decided. The President asked if anyone had an objection to this course of action. Secretary Rogers stated that what we are really talking about, however, is Israeli intervention. This could lead to a new Middle East war. If we are to give the Israelis a go-ahead, the results could be most serious. Congress, Secretary Rogers stated, must know the consequences of these actions. The Soviets also must know. The Soviets have to be aware of what is being done and why, if we are to avoid another confrontation with the Soviet Union. We also have the problem, Secretary Rogers stated, that everyone will suspect that we plotted with the Israelis for the action. Thus, we will need very careful and detailed Congressional coordination if we are to acquiesce in Israeli intervention.

The President then asked Dr. Kissinger how he thought the situation should be played. Dr. Kissinger stated that it would be most difficult to specifically inform the Congress that we were working in collaboration with the Israelis. On the other hand, we might keep our consultation in the most general terms with some emphasis on the fact that it might be necessary to use U.S. military forces short of intervention and that before using these forces we would consult. The President reaffirmed that the U.S. should inform the Congress that we would indeed consult before intervening. Secretary Rogers stated that this was well and good but that with respect to Israeli intervention, we cannot lie to the Hill. Would it not be possible to just inform the leaders that we have discussed this with the Israeli Government but have [Page 838] made no decision? Secretary Laird commented that he did not think that the Congressmen would press us that hard. The President stated that we should just discuss the military situation with them.

Secretary Rogers then asked what we would tell Congress if we decided to go ahead with Israeli intervention. Certainly it would become public quite soon and if it comes out in the newspapers that we have worked in collaboration with the Israelis, then what. For all these reasons, Secretary Rogers strongly suggested that we should consult with the Congress specifically about Israeli intervention. The President stated that it might be that we would not wish to make the King’s request public because it would certainly be damaging to him. Therefore, opening up the whole issue of Israeli intervention with the Congress posed great difficulties. Assistant Secretary Sisco said that if we say “yes, we have consulted with the Israelis”, this is tantamount to collusion. Maybe we would be much better off just suggesting benevolent acquiescence. The President stated that should the question arise, we should state that we were aware of the possibility of Israeli intervention, but deny that we were working with them actively on this possibility. And finally, we should add that we understand the reasons for their action.

Secretary Rogers then stated that certainly the Soviets should know where we stand on this issue. Dr. Kissinger commented that the Israelis will not want us to inform the Soviets for purely military reasons and they certainly would not want us to go to the Soviets in the role of negotiating Israeli military action. The President stated that this was obviously a correct conclusion. The facts are that the Israelis are moving, that the Secretary warned the Soviets of this possibility,9 that we understand the reasons for the Israeli action, and that we want to caution all other states not to further complicate the situation.

Secretary Rogers stated that we will need Congressional support if the going gets rough, and certainly it is necessary that we consider notifying key members of the Congress. The President stated this may be so but that he thought that Secretary Laird’s idea of a briefing was preferable.

Secretary Rogers said that he was talking about the situation that would come next after the Israelis move in. It was likely, he stated, that Senator Russell10 would insist that the U.S. not intervene if and when the Israelis decide to move. Then we could say that we would move only if the super powers get involved. The President stated, just tell the Congressional leaders that we would not intervene without consultation. [Page 839] Dr. Kissinger then commented that he believed the first thing that must be done is to provide them with a military briefing, as Mr. Laird has suggested. Secondly, we can tell the leaders that we will not intervene without consultation but we must be careful not to deflate the balloon. One of the operative pressures on the other side is their fear of a unilateral U.S. move. The President indicated that Dr. Kissinger was correct and that he saw this point. He added that Ziegler should say nothing beyond the fact that we have stated our position, that the Secretary of State’s statement of yesterday11 stands on its own, and that we are watching the situation most carefully. It is important that we do consult with the Congress before the Israelis move so that we achieve their cooperation. Dr. Kissinger confirmed that he favored the action as outlined by Secretary Laird and elaborated further in the conversation.

The President then stated that he wanted the WSAG to put a precise scenario together. Dr. Kissinger replied that there would be a meeting of the WSAG at noon.12 Secretary Rogers again stated that he believed we should tell the Congressmen what we know about Israeli actions and that we have been in consultation with them. We should tell them that while we will not intervene, we won’t discourage Israel from doing so, and that if they move, it is with the King’s blessing. Dr. Kissinger added that it was very important that no one suspect that we have been moving jointly with the Israelis on this issue. The President agreed stating that all we need say is that we were aware of the Israeli plans and had discussed them but nothing further.

Secretary Rogers then commented that on the question of the use of U.S. forces, we need merely tell the leaders that we are making preparations in the event it is necessary to evacuate U.S. personnel. The President stated that we should limit this consultation to Russell and Stennis and not a whole number of others. Secretary Laird asked about Senator Mansfield. The President agreed that Mansfield should be consulted. The President added that Mansfield had told him that he would support action if it were required.

The President then directed that the WSAG work out a precise scenario and that it get a message to the King to obtain a precise feeling for his most current view of Israeli intervention, especially on the ground. Secretary Rogers suggested that the group meet again before the day ended. The President agreed that they should meet as soon as the King’s reply was received. Dr. Kissinger suggested late in the afternoon. The President then concluded the meeting by informing the group that they would reconvene at 6:00 p.m.13 The meeting adjourned.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Meeting Minutes, NSC Minutes Originals 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room.
  2. No other record of either of Rabin’s calls has been found.
  3. See Document 297.
  4. In September 22.
  5. In telegram 154462 to Amman, September 21, 1233Z. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 172, Geopolitical Files, Jordan Crisis, Selected Exchanges–Jordan, September 1970)
  6. Telegram 5211 from Tel Aviv, September 21, 1138Z, reported the Israeli Government’s continued desire to create an operational and political liaison with Jordan to coordinate an attack on Syrian forces. The Israelis wanted information from the Jordanians to assist them in identifying Syrian forces from Jordanian forces as well as other intelligence to aid them in launching an operation. (Ibid.)
  7. The instructions to inform the Israelis were transmitted in telegram 154501 to Tel Aviv, September 21, 1630Z. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 619, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan Crisis)
  8. See Document 279.
  9. See footnote 2, Document 276.
  10. Senator Richard Russell (D–GA) was Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  11. See footnote 3, Document 275.
  12. See Document 303.
  13. See Document 307.