303. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Middle East


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • CIA
  • Lt. Gen. R.E. Cushman
  • State—
  • David Blee
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Talcott Seelye
  • NSC Staff—
  • Gen. Alexander Haig
  • Defense—
  • Col. Richard Kennedy
  • David Packard
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • Samuel Hoskinson
  • James Noyes
  • Adm. R.C. Robinson
  • JCS
  • Jeanne W. Davis
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt


It was agreed that:

State will prepare two versions of a draft public statement we might make after an Israeli move: one confined to the local situation in the area and one in the general context of the peace initiative;
the NSC staff will collect the various aid packages for Israel into one package;
State will prepare a scenario including:
  • —what we might say to the Soviets, the NAC, the Security Council
  • —a UN strategy
NSC staff to put together a book of all the contingency plans, with the readiness times.

Mr. Johnson: Cairo radio has announced that there will be a summit meeting in Cairo and that Hussein has agreed to attend.2

[Page 845]

Mr. Kissinger: (referring to the recent flurry of telegrams from Amman) You pick your telegram and you take your choice.3 Do you believe the Cairo announcement?

Mr. Johnson: We have no reason to doubt it.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s review the situation. The Jordanians still want an air strike—if necessary, an Israeli air strike. It is our Ambassador’s judgment that their request for assistance does not include Israeli ground action. We are asking him to get a clear-cut answer on this from the Palace. We also have an Israeli request for staff contacts. The King wants the U.S. and the British to prepare for ground intervention. If the Syrians withdrew, do we think the Jordanians might be able to handle the remaining problem?

Mr. Seelye: If the Syrians localize their activity in the Irbid area and the Iraqis do not intervene, there is a chance the King could take care of it. He could deploy his armor in the north. It would depend on whether or not he has secured the cities. There are two critical factors: whether the Syrians move south and Iraqi intervention.

Admiral Moorer: The King has made reasonable progress in Amman. Assuming he succeeds there, the Syrians withdraw, the Iraqis do not move, and Hussein takes the cities he would be okay.

Mr. Kissinger: He has been making reasonable progress in Amman for four days. Is he moving fast enough to cope with the situation?

Mr. Packard: He will still need some armor in Amman.

Admiral Moorer: Yes, but not as much.

Mr. Kissinger: If the Syrians withdraw and the Iraqis do not intervene, is it our judgment that Hussein could handle the Fedayeen?

General Cushman: It depends whether or not the Fedayeen continue their present tactics.

Mr. Packard: He probably could not put them out, but they could not put him out.

Admiral Moorer: He could handle them in the cities, but guerrilla activity and sniping would continue for an indeterminate period.

General Cushman: Particularly if their leadership remains intact.

Mr. Johnson: If the Syrians don’t move south and the King effects a reasonably stable situation in Amman, he could turn to them later. What the Syrians have done so far has had no catastrophic effect on [Page 846] the Jordanian forces except for the psychological effect. It has had not real military effect.

Admiral Moorer: It has had an effect on the morale of the troops. Here, we are talking about the King’s will.

Mr. Johnson: The last message indicated that the Syrians are moving into the villages around Irbid, not necessarily driving south.4

Mr. Kissinger: What conclusion do you draw from this?

Mr. Johnson: That we have more time—that the urgency of the action is somewhat reduced.

Mr. Kissinger: That is true if we assume that the only threat to Amman is the Syrian tanks moving on Amman. In some cables, the King has said that the presence of Syrian forces in Irbid has demoralized his troops.

Mr. Johnson: I read that as meaning the threat represented by the Syrian troops—not merely their presence.

Admiral Moorer: But the threat exists as long as they are present.

Mr. Kissinger: (to General Cushman) Would you like to update the situation for us?

General Cushman: We have a report [less than 1 line not declassified] that some tanks are moving from Irbid toward Mafraq. We have no hard confirmation but are watching this movement. We also have a Reuters report of an Amman radio announcement that the King has ordered a cease-fire. We don’t know what conditions he may have attached or what he actually said.

Mr. Johnson: Didn’t I see a report that some Syrian tanks had moved back?

General Cushman: Yes. The bulk of the force is digging-in in Irbid. But some tanks are moving to the southeast and some have gone home. This situation is unclear.

The Iraqis have still not fired a shot, although they have brought their forces together in the Mafraq area. They have asked the Jordanians to get their aircraft out of the field there and move them to H–5 so that the Iraqis would not be affected on the ground by any air combat. In Amman, fighting is still going on around the Embassy. The Jordanian Army does not have control. We have conflicting reports of what has happened in the refugee camps. The Jordanian Army holds parts of them. The Embassy area is still full of snipers, some commando re-infiltration has been reported, but we don’t know how serious this is. There have been some flights by the Jordanian Air Force Hawker Hunters—they have 18 of them. The 104s have not been used so far. [Page 847] There has been heavy Israeli air recce, with reports of helicopters being used. Israel has increased its alert measures and has moved two mechanized infantry brigades into the Golan Heights area.

Mr. Kissinger: Does this mean they have called up their reserves?

General Cushman: Yes. They have called some reserves, but we have no details.

Admiral Moorer: It doesn’t take them long to mobilize.

Mr. Kissinger: I understand from 48 to 72 hours.

Admiral Moorer: They have both regular and reserve personnel in the same units. They only have to call up the reserves to fill up the cadres.

Mr. Kissinger: Any further movement on the diplomatic side?

Mr. Johnson: No.

Mr. Kissinger: In the meeting of the principals this morning with the President,5 it was agreed to ask Amman to find out exactly what the King thinks about Israeli ground activity. Also, State has told Rabin: (1) that we agree in principle to their intervention; (2) that we would prefer an air strike but would understand if they feel ground action is essential; (3) we prefer they not enter Syria; (4) our agreement is contingent on the King’s acquiescence; and (5) we reserve the right to reconsider our position in the light of changes in the situation during the day.6 We don’t know what the Israelis will reply, but we need to plan on the assumption that the operation will take place, even though we hope it will not be necessary. We have two major problems: our diplomatic posture and our public posture.

The President has asked this group to talk about Congressional consultations. What should we say? Everyone agreed in the meeting of the principals that Congress should be briefed today if possible on the factual situation, but not on anyone’s intentions. They also agreed we should make no commitment at that briefing as to what we would or would not do. The more difficult question is what we tell Congress if Israeli action becomes inevitable.

Mr. Packard: In the factual briefing, we should stick to the line that our alerting actions are precautionary moves in the event we have to evacuate American citizens—nothing beyond.

Mr. Kissinger: I didn’t understand that. I thought we were to leave this hanging in the posture of last week, saying only that we were planning for contingencies.

Mr. Packard: The contingencies include the possibility of an evacuation to save Americans.

[Page 848]

Mr. Kissinger: For today, we should brief on the military situation, and say that all planning is contingency planning without saying for what. Tomorrow, if the Israelis take action, we can say our planning is for the purpose of evacuation. We can promise to consult with the Congress if we go beyond that. Today I think it is important not to defuse our possible actions too much. We should say nothing about Israeli actions and say nothing one way or another about our own actions.

Mr. Johnson: Can’t we say we have been in touch with the Israelis?

Mr. Kissinger: We are talking about the President or Secretary Laird briefing the Congressional leadership?

Mr. Packard: We are sending Dick (?) up to see Senator Russell and Stennis and Congressman Mahan to give them the facts. He will say our actions are preparing for the possibility of evacuating Americans. This is no more than Secretary Laird said on Saturday.7

Admiral Moorer: There is a newspaper story today that the 82nd Airborne has been alerted. After we brief them on the military situation, we can say we are taking normal precautions to protect Americans.

Mr. Kissinger: Ron Ziegler last week, on the instruction of the President, left it open to what we might do.8 I don’t see what we gain by foreclosing the situation.

General Haig: Ziegler thinks that, if he is asked whether or not we intend to intervene, an attempt to stone wall would bring on a massive scare story. If asked about our planning, he would like to say that there are many Americans in the area and we are taking precautionary measures.

Mr. Packard: Our reports to Congress will be limited to two or three people the President can trust. That is why we are going to Stennis and Russell.

Mr. Johnson: What about Senator Mansfield?

Mr. Packard: Yes, but Defense is not going to Mansfield.

Mr. Johnson: We are working on a master fact sheet9 to provide the basis for further briefing. It will be available within the next hour, we hope, and we will circulate it.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Saunders) Make sure everyone gets it.

Mr. Johnson: We are starting with the peace initiative, saying that all of these recent actions are directed toward sabotaging that peace effort.

[Page 849]

Mr. Packard: With regard to our relations with Israel, we can say we are exchanging information but no more.

Mr. Johnson: Yes, that would be the natural thing to do. I will check on consulting with Senator Mansfield.

Mr. Seelye: The Jordanian Government instructed their man in New York to request a Security Council meeting. His Arab colleagues all objected, and he has gone back to Amman for further instructions. This means the Jordanians won’t call for a meeting soon, but the British are now gung ho to do so. The Secretary is going to the British to try to cool them off.

Admiral Moorer: Are we also trying to coordinate our evacuation plans with the British?

Mr. Kissinger: Is the Secretary discussing that with the British too?

Mr. Seelye: I don’t know.

Mr. Kissinger: Can you give a read-out on the Secretary’s conversation with Freeman so all are informed.10

Mr. Johnson: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: In the Congressional briefings, if the Israeli attacks take place, the Secretary of State feels strongly, and I agree, that we must talk to the Congressional leaders ahead of time. There are two problems:

(1) the degree to which we want to indicate our advance knowledge of Israel’s plans; and (2) the degree to which we indicate the limitations we have put on the action. From the point of view of honesty, we should of course tell them as much as possible. From the diplomatic point of view, both Israel and the US might prefer not to be so closely coupled. It is not in our or Israel’s interest for Israel to appear as an agent of American imperialism. It would be better for Israel to act to protect its national security. Although this is unpalatable to the Arabs, they have lived with it for twenty years. If Israel is protecting its own security and also running errands for the US, it would be most unpleasant. We should have minimal formal association with Israel from the point of view of the Arab world. Also, we would not be needed with the Arabs if Israel goes in in a major effort. We would be needed to keep the Soviets out. We don’t have to couple our intentions with those of Israel. We could take the position that Israel is acting in its own interest, and we will prevent Soviet military intervention in the Middle East. We have a ticklish problem, though. One could argue that a show of US toughness will assure that the Soviets won’t intervene. What can we tell Congress ahead of time? Consultation with Congressional leaders would be okay, but putting the issue to a vote might weaken the deterrent. Is that a fair statement?

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Packard: Yes.

[Page 850]

Mr. Kissinger: Does anyone think we should publicly avow joint planning with Israel? If no one does, what degree of prior knowledge can we admit?

Mr. Packard: We have been thinking about this and we might get Israel to make a statement along the following lines: (Reading)

“The invasion of Soviet supplied tanks from Syria against the Government of Jordan, for whose people Prime Minister Meir has expressed concern, poses an intolerable threat to the security of Israel. Therefore, action is being taken to meet this threat. The Government of Israel has stated that it could not tolerate any shift of military forces in the Middle East which could threaten the safety of the citizens of Israel. For this reason, Israeli aircraft and ground force units are attacking the forces from Syria which have invaded Jordan and their support elements. No further details are available at this time.”

Then, the US response could be to refer to the Israeli statement.

Mr. Johnson: We could add that Israel has said it is not interested in occupation.

Mr. Kissinger: Do we say we agree with the Israeli statement? Or understand the statement?

Mr. Packard: We could just refer to it with no further comment.

Mr. Kissinger: Remember we would probably be in the UN within 24 hours. Are we prepared to veto a resolution condemning Israel’s actions?

Mr. Johnson: From the UN side, obviously the best situation would be to preempt on the withdrawal of Syrian forces. Then Israel can be in the holy position of helping support the UN.

Mr. Kissinger: The Soviets wouldn’t agree to condemn Syria.

Mr. Johnson: No, but we would be in the best position.

Mr. Kissinger: With regard to public posture, in the meeting of the principals this afternoon, I intend to sum up our general philosophy, but we have left open what we should say about Israel’s actions. Should we say we knew beforehand? That we were generally informed?

Mr. Packard: It would be hard not to say at least that.

Mr. Seelye: The Arabs will assume collusion. We have to give them the least possible justification.

Mr. Kissinger: What is the least possible justification?

Mr. Seelye: That we didn’t know.

Mr. Johnson: Israel won’t let us get away with that.

Admiral Moorer: And no one would believe it.

Mr. Johnson: We could say we knew of their concern over the situation.

Mr. Kissinger: We could say we knew in a general way if things got to a certain stage, the Israelis would probably feel compelled to move. [Page 851] This is why we have been urgently pleading with others to stay out; why we told the Soviets they should try to get the Syrians to withdraw. After three days of a Syrian advance, we understand why Israel felt it had to take action.

Mr. Seelye: Could we say we couldn’t hold off the Israelis any longer?

Adm. Moorer: The Israeli position would be consistent with the statement we are proposing they make—they would say they could not tolerate any shift of military forces in the Middle East which could threaten their citizens.

Mr. Johnson: We will try to work out some language. I would like to get back to the point that all this is designed to sabotage the peace initiative, and we are trying to get a restoration of the situation.

Mr. Kissinger: Israel won’t buy that.

Mr. Johnson: But we can and should say it.

Mr. Kissinger: (to State) Could you bring us two versions of a draft statement: one confined to the local situation in the area and one in the general context of the peace initiative. The question is first what we tell the Congressional leaders, which has to be consistent with what we plan to tell the public. Can we follow the line “you brought this on by expanding the conflict in the area, but we will not intervene unless powers outside the area intervene?”

Mr. Johnson: What can we say to Congress if powers outside the area do intervene?

Mr. Kissinger: We are committed to Israel.

Mr. Johnson: But what can we say publicly?

Mr. Kissinger: We can say that, if there is outside intervention, we will confer with Congressional leaders before considering US intervention. Would that be enough for the Israelis? More important, would it be enough for the Russians?

Mr. Seelye: Yes, I think so.

Mr. Johnson: It depends on the degree to which it backfires and we get statements from the Hill denouncing it.

Mr. Kissinger: If we have any hope of getting this over quickly, it will be by overwhelming the Soviets.

Mr. Johnson: I don’t think the Soviets will overtly intervene.

Mr. Kissinger: Then there is no problem. We would then get to the various aid packages for Israel if the Egyptians, with Soviet help, move against them. Are we getting these together? (to Saunders and Kennedy) Can you get all these things in one package?

Mr. Packard: I would like Bob Pranger to work directly with the Israeli Attaché on this. We are ready to go but we need some details.

[Page 852]

Mr. Kissinger: Go ahead and do it, and feed it to Saunders and Kennedy so we will have it all in one place. All the principals will get copies.

Mr. Packard: We need some feedback on what the Israelis need.

Mr. Kissinger: This would not go into effect unless they need it and without our concurrence in what they do.

Adm. Moorer: The DIA assessment concludes that the Soviets will not intervene, but we can’t give the impression publicly that we accept this and are ignoring the Soviets. That is the most likely outcome, but we should keep looking over our shoulders.

Mr. Packard: We must be prudent.

Mr. Nutter: They might be thinking the same way we are about an initial show of force.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s get a draft statement of exactly what we should say.

Mr. Johnson: We shouldn’t publicly say that we don’t think they will intervene.

Mr. Kissinger: But we should warn against anyone outside the area going in.

Mr. Johnson: In effect, yes. We will let Israel deal with the Arabs, just as we were willing to let the Jordanians deal with their own conflict. But we are against broadening the conflict. We have two problems: we have to say something to the Congressional leaders about what we will do. This may be close to what we have to tell the Soviets. Congress will ask what an Israeli attack means so far as US action is concerned. We will say we have no plans for intervention unless the Soviets intervene. This will leak, but I think that’s the only kind of public statement to make. We can’t have Ziegler and Henkin and McCloskey stand up and say that. How about the diplomatic scenario?

Mr. Johnson [ Seelye ?]: We just have a checklist at the moment.

Mr. Kissinger: We need an outline of what to say to the Soviets.

Mr. Johnson: Yes, to the Soviets, to NAC, to the Security Council, etc.

Mr. Kissinger: We need a checklist, the content of an approach, a UN strategy—whether to veto or not. I assume we would veto.

Mr. Seelye: If we did not, we would get the best of both worlds.

Mr. Kissinger: How can we tell the Israelis, at the President’s request, that they should do something, and then let them be condemned at the UN?

Mr. Johnson: They would not understand.

Mr. Saunders: As a variant, we might try for a resolution calling for a balanced withdrawal?

[Page 853]

Mr. Kissinger: We might recommend a balanced withdrawal.

Mr. Saunders: Then Syria, Iraq and Israel would all withdraw.

Mr. Seelye: How about the hostages?

Mr. Johnson: If we say we will not intervene if the Soviets don’t intervene, doesn’t this lead to our saying that we will intervene if the Soviets intervene? Won’t this create problems with Congress and the public?

Adm. Moorer: We could make a flat statement that we would not intervene if the Soviets did not intervene. We could say if they do, we would consider positive counteraction, or some such phrase. We would evaluate the situation and reach a decision.

Mr. Johnson: We would be making a commitment to Israel.

Mr. Kissinger: We made a commitment yesterday. Israel believes we have promised to protect them against Soviet retaliation. We are committed. The question is whether we say it.

Mr. Johnson: If we say the first, we strongly imply the second.

Mr. Kissinger: We would say that, before our forces were committed, we would consult Congressional leaders. This is desirable from a domestic point of view, but what does it do to us from the deterrent point of view?

Mr. Johnson: It depends on the Congressional reaction.

Mr. Kissinger: Soviet actions are inexplicable from many points of view. To put missiles into the standstill zone before the negotiations even started doesn’t make sense. It would have been understandable if they had done it later, when the negotiations were stalemated. Their actions are very hard to understand unless we think they see the possibility of a showdown. It is particularly hard to understand in view of other problems we are having. If we see a 10% possibility that they merely want to get even with us for 1962 and are saying “to hell with international repercussions,” then they may be trying to push us against the wall. Their behavior is hard to understand.

Mr. Johnson: It is hard to draw any other conclusion.

Mr. Packard: It is possible that they think they have to move the missiles every day because the Israelis are flying over every day.

Mr. Kissinger: When we got the first reports of missile activity, I told the President their action was insane; why do it on the first day of the cease-fire?

Mr. Johnson: I thought the activity would level off after the first week.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, for the first week you could argue that they had them in the pipeline and didn’t know what else to do with them. But we should keep open the possibility that we might have to be fairly stern with the Soviets. Let us meet again this afternoon before the principals [Page 854] meet. Can we get some things down on paper? Just talking points— enough to help us get the issues down. Can we meet at 4:00 p.m.?11

All agreed.

Adm. Moorer: The 82nd Airborne will attain readiness at 8:00 p.m. tonight. The first reaction force was ready at noon. The brigade in Germany is being rigged for airborne operations. The first battalion was ready at 12:12 and the second will be ready at 5:30 p.m.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Kennedy) Can you get together a book of all these contingency things, with the readiness times.

Adm. Moorer: We can do that. The carrier aircraft that went to Tel Aviv has returned. Our people met with the Israelis, reviewed their intelligence, discussed overflight rights, established procedures for communications, IFF, flight corridors, diverting airfields, etc. It was a very fruitful discussion.

  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. On September 22, a meeting of Arab leaders convened in Cairo to find a solution to the fighting between the JAA and fedayeen. The conference sent a mediation mission to Amman that day, led by Sudanese President Numeiri, in an attempt to talk with King Hussein and make contact with Arafat. The mission returned to Cairo to report on the conditions in Jordan, and then traveled again to Amman on September 24. The mission met with Arafat and abetted his escape to Cairo by providing him a disguise. Ultimately, King Hussein flew to Cairo, and on September 27, he and Arafat signed a cease-fire agreement at the Cairo Hilton.
  3. See footnotes 5 and 6, Document 302.
  4. Telegram 5007 from Amman; see footnote 6, Document 302.
  5. See Document 299.
  6. See footnote 4, Document 302.
  7. September 19.
  8. See footnote 2, Document 257.
  9. Paper prepared by the NEA Working Group, entitled, “Fact Sheet on Events Leading Up to Syrian Invasion of Jordan.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–077, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Middle East 9/21/70)
  10. See footnote 2, Document 302.
  11. See Document 304.