317. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Middle East


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State—
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Talcott Seelye
  • Defense—
  • David M. Packard
  • Robert Pranger
  • James Noyes
  • JCS
  • Thomas H. Moorer
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Vogt
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • David Blee
  • [name not declassified]
  • NSC Staff—
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • Adm. R.C. Robinson
  • Jeanne W. Davis
  • Samuel Hoskinson
  • Peter Rodman
  • Gen. Alexander Haig
  • Col. Richard Kennedy


It was agreed that:

1. State and the NSC Staff would vet the JCS checklist of possible US actions from the point of view of things that might trigger a Soviet response and provoke the thing we are trying to prevent.

Mr. Helms briefed from the attached notes (Tab A).

Mr. Kissinger: What is the Palestinian infantry you referred to—is that the Fedayeen?

Mr. Seelye: That is the Palestine Liberation Army. It is a cross between the Fedayeen and paramilitary units.

Mr. Kissinger: Has it been stationed in Syria?

Mr. Helms: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: If this “agreement” is valid, what does it mean?

Mr. Helms: Victory for the King.

Mr. Johnson: Seventy-five percent victory for the King.

Mr. Kissinger: What does it mean in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict? Does it sharpen it? Does it push the PLO against Israel?

[Page 896]

Mr. Seelye: It might. If the Fedayeen get out of the cities, they can focus more of their attention on the border.

Mr. Johnson: This “agreement” is with a captured Fedayeen, not with Arafat.

Mr. Kissinger: It could be a face-saver.

Mr. Helms: I think it is cosmetics.

Mr. Kissinger: With regard to the Syrian withdrawal, Vorontsov jumped me at the UAR Embassy last night, asking why we had not answered their note.2 He claimed the Soviets were trying desperately to get the Syrians out of Jordan, and asked if we would settle if they would just stop. I replied it was not up to us. Vorontsov said we may not believe them, but they were trying very hard with the Syrians and also trying to get in touch with the Palestinians.

Of course, their record for veracity is not overwhelming.

Mr. Helms: We know nothing inconsistent with his claim. They usually lie at high levels.

Mr. Johnson: We are working on a reply to the Soviets.

Mr. Kissinger: Will we see it before the meeting?

Mr. Johnson: We will bring it to the meeting. I note Dobrynin is coming back today, arriving in New York at 6:30 this evening.

Mr. Kissinger: Is he coming directly here?

Mr. Johnson: Apparently; they have asked permission for his car to go up to get him.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Johnson) Do you have the check list?

Mr. Johnson: Yes, we have a check list (attached at Tab B) and talking points for us with the Soviets (attached at Tab C). These are only first drafts. We are feeding information to Ellsworth, who is keeping NAC fairly well informed. The NATO Military Committee wants more Defense reporting, and we are having trouble shaking it loose.

Admiral Moorer: That is DIA. I will check on it.

Mr. Kissinger: Are there any comments on the check list or the talking points?

Mr. Seeyle: We have also modified public statements (Tab D), the suggested Israeli statement (Tab E) and the suggested UN action (Tab F) to take into account Israeli action against Syria.

Mr. Johnson: We have received the list of JCS actions vis-à-vis the Soviets and they seem very consistent with the work done previously. (to Admiral Moorer) I would like Rodger Davies to go over the list with your people.

[Page 897]

Admiral Moorer: (handed a paper to Mr. Kissinger—attached at Tab G) I would like to explain this paper. On the first page, we have assumed Israeli intervention has taken place, have shown the actions already taken, our posture now, and stated the purpose of additional actions. There is an index on page 2, with the idea that if the Israelis intervene, we would want to take early action to deter the Soviets. We assume they would respond and we would then counteract. This would be the sequence. The actions are in two categories: those in the Middle East and those in other areas, either inspired by a third country or a direct Soviet response. We then list the series of actions. On the last page, we list the enabling actions that would be required as the tempo increased, principally in the U.S., and also the initiating agency. We have indicated with asterisks the things we can do now and the things which would take additional enabling action. I must emphasize that we have real limitations with regard to resources. We have gone as far as we can go without additional resources and additional authority.

Mr. Johnson: There is a conceptual problem that we should discuss. To what degree are the actions we would take in the name of deterrent likely to be read by the Soviets as an intention to intervene, and thereby provoke the very thing we are trying to prevent?

Mr. Kissinger: Vorontsov also asked last night if we are going to intervene in Jordan. I mumbled a reply, and Vorontsov said, “It is not in our vital interest so we don’t care, but you would be getting into terrible difficulties in the Arab world.” I replied, “Then you would win either way.”

(to Mr. Johnson) Is it your judgement that, if the Israelis intervene, and we would do the things we are talking about, the Soviets are more likely to intervene against us? Possibly in Egypt, yes, but in Jordan?

Mr. Johnson: I do not necessarily think they are more likely to intervene. I think, however, we must guard against the sequence in which Israel intervenes; we make a lot of moves, publicized and unpublicized; the Arabs conclude we are preparing to intervene, with all the consequences for our relations with the Arabs, and call on the Soviets for help to deter us from coming in. This is tricky business. We may think our motives are pure, but others may not.

Mr. Packard: But if Israel intervenes, we probably wouldn’t have to. In this case, I think there is nothing the Soviets are likely to do.

Mr. Helms: We will get a blast from them, saying “Get them out— they are going to do what they did in ‘67.” The Soviets would probably move a unit to Damascus to show the flag, but I think that is as far as they will go. We shouldn’t slide over Vorontsov’s point. If anything happens, American institutions and American citizens in the Arab world will “have their hats taken off.” We should give all our people in the area maximum warning, if the Israelis intervene, to save their skins.

[Page 898]

Mr. Packard: We should get them out.

Mr. Johnson: That, in itself, is a problem.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Johnson) Would you vet Admiral Moorer’s list of actions? If Rodger Davies meets with a JCS staffer, I would like a member of my staff present.

Mr. Packard: There are lots of things we can do to deter the Soviets which would have no impact on the Middle East situation.

Mr. Kissinger: I find this a very useful paper.

Mr. Helms: It is the best of its kind that I have seen—the most complete.

Mr. Johnson: I agree.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s vet the JCS list from the point of view of anything that might trigger a Soviet response. We should also consider, in general, what would be more likely to deter the Soviets: a ferocious stance at first or a slow escalation.

Mr. Johnson: We should consider the Soviets on the one hand and the Arabs on the other.

Mr. Kissinger: We would not get much mileage with the Arabs by not doing it. The Arabs won’t pick up much, but the Soviets will. But let’s not prejudge the paper. Let’s get everyone’s views. (to Col. Kennedy) Let’s get someone from our staff—possibly a Soviet expert. (to Admiral Moorer) The chief question is not the military moves but their impact on the Soviets.

Admiral Moorer: There is a definite interplay between the two check lists. I might note that the hospital planes are now on 24-hour notice.

  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. The tabs are not attached and not found.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 307.