304. 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
  • Peter Rodman
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • Jeanne W. Davis
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt
[Page 855]


It was agreed:

State will prepare new drafts of the proposed public statements for use if Israel should move into Syria rather than Jordan;
State will concert with the British with a view to briefing our NATO allies on the situation;
to review overnight the list of readiness measures the US might take vis-à-vis the Soviets, and select the most likely actions for discussion at the next meeting.

Mr. Johnson: Here is the package you asked us for.2 It was produced in haste and represents only the views of the authors, but it is something to focus on. With regard to Senator Mansfield, the Secretary thinks the President spoke to him at breakfast this morning.

Mr. Kissinger: I think he did talk to him about the possibility of an evacuation. I will check this with the President. Could we have the latest on the situation?

General Cushman: There is some fighting reported between Jordanians and Syrians in the Irbid area. Eighty tanks are moving up from Amman to reinforce the 90 the Jordanians had there originally. We have nothing different from Amman.

Mr. Kissinger: Have you all seen the latest Israel assessment Rabin has given Sisco?3

General Cushman: The Arab summit meeting is apparently on. The Tunisians and Libyans have arrived, and the Sudanese is on his way. Others have indicated they are coming.

Mr. Johnson: We have an Amman telegram, saying Jordan will be represented by their Ambassador in Cairo.4

General Cushman: [21/2 lines not declassified]

Admiral Moorer: That may not be so bad.

General Cushman: There has been no change in the Soviet position.

[Page 856]

Mr. Johnson: We have a telegram from Moscow saying that TASS is carrying the Jordanian line in a fairly straightforward fashion.5

General Cushman: Yesterday three Soviet destroyers came into the Mediterranean from the Black Sea, but there has been no rapid move to gear up.

Mr. Kissinger: With regard to the Congressional briefing, are there any comments on the State paper?

Admiral Moorer: It covers all the points that were mentioned this morning.

General Cushman: I agree it covers everything.

Mr. Packard: It is okay in general, but we haven’t had a chance to digest it.

Mr. Kissinger: I have one question. We are informing the Soviets we have no plans of our own to intervene, and we are warning them against intervening, but we are not giving them any indication of the consequences if they should.

Mr. Johnson: We are not saying this to the Soviets; we are saying it publicly. Tab B is our proposed public statement.6

Mr. Kissinger: This is a very elegant way of putting it: “It is essential that the conflict not be further extended by participation of outside powers. So long as the conflict is limited to the countries of the area, the United States intends to pursue its objective of a just peace in the area through diplomatic means.”

Mr. Johnson: Now we need to work out exactly what to say to the Soviets.

Mr. Seelye: We have a draft in the Department.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s find an equally elegant way of saying it to the Soviets. I recognize we might want to be a bit blander to Congress than to the Soviets.

Mr. Johnson: We can draw from the Fact Sheet for all kinds of uses.

Mr. Seelye: We have done the two alternative statements: one pegged to the peace initiative and one to the local situation.

Mr. Kissinger: The last sentence of the second version seems a little sharper.

Mr. Seelye: We can use it in both versions.

Mr. Nutter: Not to the Soviets.

[Page 857]

Mr. Johnson: No, to the public.

Mr. Kissinger: Have you all seen Amman’s 5023.7 In this connection, the President has ordered that we explore with Rabin the possibility of encouraging the Israelis to move into Syria after all—the course which we rejected yesterday. I realize we were all united against this yesterday on political grounds, but I would like to present some of the President’s reasoning. Israeli ground intervention will be very tough on Hussein. An attack on Syria will be less dangerous to him than if it were directed against his territory. Also, it would be easier to get Israel to withdraw from Syrian territory than from Jordanian territory. If the situation unravels in Jordan, Israel could use it as a pretext to stay in. Also, it might give some help to the moderates, if there are any left in the Arab world, who could blame the Syrians for having brought on the fighting. Sisco is exploring this with Rabin. State might look at its draft texts to see how they might be changed if Israel went into Syria. It may be easier to reposition things in the event of a move on Syria even though our original judgement was in the opposite direction.

Mr. Johnson: I have no judgement of the move in a military sense.

Admiral Moorer: There is a real bottle-neck at the Syrian border. Once they seal them up, they can’t get out. Also, the Israelis could get in behind them and cut them off.

Mr. Kissinger: We all rebelled against the notion of involving another state, but the impact would be easier on the King.

General Vogt: What would be the impact on the Soviets?

Admiral Moorer: The Soviets may react very differently to an attack on Syria.

Mr. Kissinger: One of the purposes of this exercise is to face them down. They will scream, and it will have to be over in 72 hours. I doubted at first the desirability of pegging the statement to the peace effort, but now that I see it, I like it. (to Mr. Seeyle) Can you consider what to say on the same general theme if Syria were invaded rather than Jordan? The second version lends itself well to this.

Mr. Seelye: The suggested Israeli statement is Mr. Packard’s with one slight change in the second sentence.

Mr. Kissinger: That is almost dual purpose—it’s equally suited for a move against Syria. The Fact Sheet is just historical.

[Page 858]

Mr. Johnson: We haven’t had a chance to discuss possible Security Council action yet. That will require more careful consideration.

Mr. Seelye: This is consistent with the idea that we should seek parallel action.

Mr. Kissinger: If Israel moves into Syria, can we condemn Israel in the SC?

Mr. Seelye: We wouldn’t have to. We would just say everyone should get back to his own territory.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we go over the Issues?8 The President has already rejected another approach to the USSR before an Israeli strike.9 And we have pretty well decided to do 2 and 3 under the USSR. Under Near Eastern Nations, we can’t take a position based on a call for immediate Israeli withdrawal in the face of what we’ve done. We can’t single out Israel after we put them up to it.

Mr. Packard: We will ask everyone to get out. What is the difference between 2 and 3?

Mr. Saunders: That’s an error. They are the same.

Mr. Kissinger: On the fourth issue, we can’t deny having some prior knowledge—Israel won’t let us. On the other hand, if we go too far, it will produce the charge of collusion with all its consequences. We must strike a line between.

Mr. Seelye: We can say Israel decided independently to move and, in the light of the circumstances, we view the move sympathetically.

Mr. Kissinger: The UN issues are dealt with in the UN paper.10 Can be do something to brief our NATO allies before they jump out of their skins? Can we give Ellsworth a few facts?

Mr. Johnson: Yes. We should probably concert with the British on this.

Mr. Kissinger: Shall we review the diplomatic actions. Obtaining the King’s concurrence is in train. Establishing communication between Israel and Jordan is in train. The Secretary of State has briefed the British.11

Mr. Johnson: He discussed joint planning of an evacuation. General Vogt and Mr. Nutter are briefing Ambassador Freeman at 6:00 on the military situation.

[Page 859]

Mr. Kissinger: We will brief the French, less fully. We are preparing our approach to the Soviets. State is preparing instructions for our Ambassadors in the Arab capitals.

Mr. Johnson: Do we see any serious danger to our people in the Arab capitals from an Israeli air strike?

Mr. Seelye: Yes, there will be heightened tensions. We plan to warn them once the decision is made to give them a few hours advance notice of the strike so they can batten down the hatches.

Mr. Kissinger: Could we plan it so the warning reaches them as the strike is commencing?

Mr. Seelye: It depends on the time of day.

Mr. Kissinger: The various contingency plans seem to be in good shape.12 Col. Kennedy will get them together for the contingency planning book. On the assumption that one of our objectives is to convince the Soviets that if they move, we will take action, what measures can we take to indicate we are stepping up our readiness?

Mr. Johnson: We have done some preliminary work on this. There is a paper in the red book.

Mr. Kissinger: We have been talking about moving an additional ASW group to the Mediterranean.

Admiral Moorer: There is a whole list of actions the US could take, and a list of the existing plans the actions would be related to.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s go over the list tonight and pick out the ones for discussion tomorrow that seem the most likely. We have already done some of them.

Admiral Moorer: We are continuously refining this list.

Mr. Kissinger: I think it would save time if we reviewed it tonight and picked out the most likely candidates.

Admiral Moorer: This is a list of all the things that should be considered. I have given Col. Kennedy the table on response times you asked for.

Mr. Seelye: We also have a draft study of short-range and midterm assistance packages.

[Page 860]

Mr. Johnson: We need to do more work on the economic paper. It concludes that if we provide additional help, we would have to take it away from other high-priority projects, but doesn’t say which ones.

Mr. Kissinger: Let us meet at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.13

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, Washington Special Action Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1969 and 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Reference to the “Fact Sheet;” see footnote 9, Document 303.
  3. Telegram 154557 to Tel Aviv, September 21, 1824Z, reported that Rabin told Sisco that at noon EDT Israeli intelligence detected the JAA inflicting “substantial losses” on Syrian forces and that the Syrians appeared to be constructing defensive fortifications in Irbid. Sisco asked Rabin if he thought the Syrians would attempt to attack Amman, but Rabin believed this would require the Syrians to commit more tanks. Overall, Rabin reported the JAA’s military situation in Amman as “reasonably good” and improving in Jerash, Salt, and Ajlun. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 619, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan Crisis)
  4. Telegram 5026 from Amman, September 21, 1800Z. (Ibid.)
  5. Telegram 5470 from Moscow, September 21, 1320Z. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 JORDAN)
  6. Attached to the Department of State Fact Sheet.
  7. Telegram 5023 from Amman, September 21, 1719Z, reported that Rifai told Brown that Hussein would accept Israeli ground forces attacking the Syrians, but only if the Israelis engaged the Syrians outside of the Jordanian border. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 619, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan Crisis)
  8. Reference to the paper “Issues in Diplomatic Scenarios”; see footnote 2, Document 290.
  9. See Document 299.
  10. Paper prepared in the Department of State entitled “Possible UN Security Council Action In Event of Israeli Military Action in Jordan.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 619, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan Crisis)
  11. See footnote 2, Document 302.
  12. The contingency plans, prepared pursuant to the WSAG and NSC meetings of September 20–21 (see Documents 290, 299, and 303), included various moves in the event of an Israeli strike on Syrian forces. These consisted of possible UN Security Council action, various public statements, and talking points for briefing selected members of Congress. Papers and public statements not cited previously include “Suggested Israeli Public Statement” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 619, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan Crisis); and “Talking Points for Briefing Selected Members of Congress.” (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–029, Special NSC Meeting, Jordan 9/21/70)
  13. See Document 312.