169. Memorandum From William B. Quandt of the National Security Council Staff to Secretary of State Kissinger1


  • Options in the Middle East

It appears to be increasingly likely that no formal ceasefire will be reached in the Middle East in the near future. Instead, fighting on the Syrian front will subside, but not stop entirely, with Israel in control of a line somewhat to the east of the previous ceasefire lines. Israel would probably be glad to have a ceasefire on the Syrian front in order to turn attention to the more important task of dislodging the Egyptians from [Page 474]Sinai. But there are no reasons for the Syrians to accept such terms unless the alternative is total destruction. Israel might achieve this latter objective, but only at an extraordinarily high price and at a cost in time, which by now is a serious problem for Israel. Each day the war goes on it costs Israel over $250 million. Within one month, this adds up to Israel’s entire annual GNP.

Consequently, the prospect is for a standoff on the Syrian front, with Israel in control of additional, but not very valuable, territory. Within a few days, Israel will have to consider dealing seriously with the Egyptian front. A massive onslaught might succeed, but at heavy cost. Outflanking tactics will not easily work. Airpower cannot alone do the job, and in any event risks heavy losses. The Egyptians seem determined to fight, but on their own terms, which means they will not easily be drawn from the SAM-protected area they now occupy unless Israel’s forces are obviously weakened.

Soviet supplies to the Egyptians and Syrians assure that fighting will not stop on the Arab side for lack of equipment. Nor is manpower or financing likely to be a problem. The Arabs are well positioned to fight a prolonged, low-intensity war of attrition that will force the Israelis to remain mobilized and alert. The longer the war goes on, the better their chances.

If the Israelis do manage to force the Egyptian forces back across the Canal, this will not assure a ceasefire. Israel will be reluctant to cross to the west bank to destroy the Egyptian army. Consequently, some form of hostilities, perhaps reminiscent of the first half of 1970, could go on even after Israel gets back to the ceasefire lines. Israeli casualties will mount and the costs of such a war will be very great.

As the war drags on, several important developments could occur:

—Greater Soviet involvement, such as flying defensive fighter patrols to protect Damascus and Cairo.

—Provision of more advanced Soviet equipment, such as SCUD missiles and TU–22 bombers to the combatants.

—A decrease in Arab oil production, causing serious shortages in Europe, Japan and the United States.

—Attempt to close Bab al-Mandab at the southern entrance of the Red Sea to oil tankers from Iran to Israel.

—Moroccan closure of our communications facilities, thereby degrading the effectiveness of the Sixth Fleet.

—Virtual isolation of the United States as the sole supporter of Israel, thereby complicating diplomatic and military resupply efforts.

—Jordanian involvement in the hostilities will become inevitable.

U.S. Alternatives

1. Continue efforts to build consensus for ceasefire and negotiated peace settlement. Unless the situation on the ground or the costs of the war for [Page 475]both sides change dramatically in the next few days, this alternative seems unlikely to succeed. The Egyptians will resist any proposal requiring them to withdraw from territory they have reoccupied. The Israelis will not willingly stop fighting until they have at least tried an all-out counter-offensive on the Egyptian forces in Sinai. While this approach may eventually succeed, it is bound to take considerable time during which U.S. interests in the Middle East are likely to suffer and Soviet influence to grow.

2. Try for a ceasefire in place and agreement on the first stage of an overall settlement. This effort would try to end the fighting as soon as possible by offering something to both sides. The key issues would involve the Egyptian-Israeli front. If fighting were to stop, Egypt would be in control of an area comparable to what they could have expected to regain in the first stage of any peace settlement. They have now acquired this by force, but no one contests that it is Egyptian territory. The problem is to get the Israelis to accept this outcome of the fighting and to link it to a more general settlement. This would require strong efforts to persuade the Egyptians and Syrians to accept face-to-face negotiations on a phased settlement, complete with arrangements for demilitarization and separation of forces in key areas. Egypt would have to accept the principle that Israeli withdrawal will not be automatic, but rather will take place over time, as Egypt takes actions consistent with a full peace agreement. On the Syrian front, no progress would be expected until the Egyptians had begun negotiating. In short, this formula would favor the Egyptians at the outset by letting them keep recaptured territory, but would set the stage for subsequent peace negotiations on terms acceptable to the Israelis. Considerable European, and perhaps even some moderate Arab, support might be generated for such an alternative.

3. Take no action for a ceasefire or a peace settlement at present. U.S. efforts would shift from trying to end the fighting immediately to providing Israel with sufficient economic and military support to insure that a war of attrition will not succeed. The objective, as in 1970, would be to demonstrate that force cannot settle the conflict, that Soviet help to their clients will be met by our efforts to help Israel, whatever the costs to our interests in the Arab world. In the short term the chances for peace would be dim and US–Arab relations would be seriously weakened, but in time one could hope to work again for a negotiated peace once the balance of power in the area had been restored. One would have to anticipate and accept radical changes in the Middle East if we were to adopt this strategy, but vital U.S. interests would probably not suffer excessively. It would however, be several years before we could expect to rebuild the regional network of relations we have been fostering in the Middle East in the past few years.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 664, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East War, Memos & Misc., Oct. 6–Oct. 17, 1973. Secret. Sent for information. A handwritten notation at the top of the page reads: “HAK has seen. BS.”