148. Minutes of the Secretary of State’s Staff Meeting1


  • The Secretary of State, Henry A. Kissinger
  • Kenneth Rush, Deputy Secretary of State
  • William J. Porter, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
  • Curtis W. Tarr, Under Secretary for Security Assistance
  • Walter J. Stoessel, Jr., Assistant Secretary, EUR
  • Joseph J. Sisco, Assistant Secretary, NEA
  • David D. Newsom, Assistant Secretary, AF
  • Jack B. Kubisch, Assistant Secretary, ARA/LA
  • Arthur W. Hummel, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary, EA
  • Robert J. McCloskey, Ambassador
  • Thomas R. Pickering, Special Assistant to the Secretary and Executive Secretary of the Department
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[Omitted here is material unrelated to the Middle East.]

[Secretary Kissinger:] I thought I would say something for a very few minutes about the Middle East situation. Then Bill, if you want to say something for five minutes about your trip.

Mr. Casey: I spent a half-hour dictating a memorandum, just to give the highlights.

Secretary Kissinger: Let me talk first about the Middle East situation—just to summarize.

On the Middle East, we learned about an imminent military operation about six o’clock Saturday morning.2 And I had tried to stop it from happening. Since there will be all sorts of legends when this is over, one legend that has absolutely no foundation in fact is that we prevented an Israeli pre-emptive attack. We were authorized by the Israelis to inform the Arabs and the Soviets that they were not planning a pre-emptive attack, in order to comply with their wish that we prevent the war. But we made no recommendation to the Israelis about any course of action. And indeed by the time we learned about it, it was too late to affect the action. Indeed, in retrospect, it is perfectly clear that at no time could we have prevented the action within the last twelve hours. All our intelligence and all Israeli intelligence indicated that there would be no conflict. In fact, the CIA gave an intelligence report to the President on the morning of the attack, pointing out that there would not be any action.3 This was confirmed to us by the Israelis separately.

So while the Israeli Prime Minister for her own reasons will have to say that she knew about it for several days ahead of time, if she did, she did nothing about it, did not inform us of her knowledge, nor ask us for our advice.

Since then we have been attempting to get the fighting stopped. I must say getting increasingly hysterical advice from our Ambassadors in various Arab countries.

The difficulty we have been facing—our basic objective is to keep in mind that as we settle this, that we have two problems. One is to get a cessation of hostilities. The second is to create conditions from which we can conduct the diplomacy in the Middle East designed to bring about a more permanent peace after the cessation of hostilities has been brought about. And therefore we have attempted to maintain a situation where we remain in contact both with the parties to the fighting, [Page 429]with the Soviet Union and other permanent members of the Security Council, and not to crystallize the situation just for public relations effects the inevitable consequence of which has to be to get us into confrontation with one or more of these elements.

Various newspapers, for example, have proposed that we propose a cease-fire. They don’t realize that, first of all, we have every day checked every permanent member of the Security Council, in addition to special consultations with the Soviets. Nor has a day gone by that we have not been in exchange with the chief Arab countries, including Egypt, and the Soviet Union—although you should not refer to contacts with Egypt.

Up to now the situation has been that the only resolution that could command support in the Security Council is a resolution that couples a call for a cease-fire with a return by Israel to the borders before the ’67 war started, a resolution which we would have to veto. And what has to be considered is where we would be if we vetoed a resolution calling on Israel to vacate occupied territories. And up to now it has not proved possible to get a simple cease-fire resolution, apart from the fact that the Israelis won’t accept a simple cease-fire resolution as long as the Arabs hold territory on their side of the pre-hostilities line. And that if, therefore, such a resolution were pushed precipitously, we would soon be faced with a subsequent resolution of sanctions against Israel which we would then have to veto, or have a domestic uproar that we are voting for sanctions against a country which has been the victim of aggression.

I just want to give you a feel for the complexity of the situation in which we are attempting to navigate.

So we will not make any public moves until we have crystallized the consensus on which we are working extremely actively. And after we have that, then we may make a move.

Now, the new element in the situation compared to the previous two wars is that the Israeli military operations have simply not been so successful as they believed when the war started, and of course not proximately as successful as in the previous wars. They are approaching the situation of Germany and the two world wars, where they can win victories, but they can never knock out one of their principal opponents, and failing that, they can never concentrate enough forces against the other opponent to knock him out. And it is the first time that they have to deal with a two-front war over, for what is for them, an extended period of time.

If the intelligence reports are correct that they have lost a thousand dead, that would be the equivalent in American terms of 100,000 dead, or twice as many in five days as we suffered in eight years of the Viet-Nam war.

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So however the war ends, it is going to be a profoundly shocking experience to Israel, even if they roll up the Arabs tomorrow, which could happen. We don’t expect it, but in desert war, you can have a very sudden turn of events. But even if it ends tomorrow, the strategic and therefore the political situation in the Middle East has changed radically, and therefore our current moves have to be assessed not in terms of short-term publicity, but in terms of where we want to go after this is over. And that has been our principal objective.

You know, we are dealing with a volatile situation, and any one of those maniacs that is involved could kick over the traces. But if we can hold it together another forty-eight or seventy-two hours, I think we may be able to crystallize the consensus that is needed to begin moving it to a conclusion. When I say holding together, I don’t mean for a particular military outcome. My definition of a successful outcome is one which both parties accept, though grudgingly, that does not get us into a confrontation with the Soviets, and it doesn’t radicalize the moderate Arab countries. And if we can navigate between all these shoals, we may then be in a condition after the Israeli elections to face the issue of a more permanent settlement, which I think has been improved by these events.

Joe, do you want to add anything?

Mr. Sisco: No, sir—other than I think perhaps you didn’t see that report that the election has been postponed indefinitely in Israel. I just wondered if you were aware of that.

Secretary Kissinger: No, I have not seen that report.

Mr. Sisco: It was scheduled, as you remember, on the 29th.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, all right. Then we have to proceed with what we have got. I mean then there is no deadline.

Mr. Sisco: None. And we never felt, as you remember, that the government would be basically any different after the election than it was before, in any event.

Secretary Kissinger: No—I was not aware of the fact that it had been postponed. Well, that just means we can start whenever we think conditions are right, which in any event won’t be before two weeks. I think timing is everything in these matters. And we now have to end the hostilities at the right moment. When I say “the right moment” it doesn’t mean we are holding up ending the hostilities. We first have to discern a willingness to end them by at least one of the parties, and after that we have to find a method to end them in such a way that the ending does not break more china. And if we can get all of that achieved, then we have to pick the time for a diplomatic move, which will have to be after the Israelis have had a chance for the consequences of this to sink in.

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I don’t know whether it has been yet, but this will turn out to be a shattering event for the Israelis—because if the Arabs can fight and if the Arabs can sustain a war of attrition, then the Israelis face a totally different strategic situation. In fact, one could make a very good case for the proposition that the Israelis would have been more secure with a demilitarized Sinai, with no sand belt, than they were with a militarized—with being right up against the sand belt on the Suez Canal. But that is for later, and that is not to be said publicly ever. And this is for our own reflection.

We will still have a hairy three or four days of juggling to do. We will know in another thirty-six hours how the thing is jelling.

[Omitted here are material related to discussion in the United Nations and material unrelated to the Middle East.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–77: Lot 78 D 443, Box 1, Secretary’s Analytical Staff Meetings. Secret.
  2. October 6. See Document 99.
  3. Document 98.