269. Memorandum for the Record1

CJCS Memo M–88–73


  • NSC/JCS Meeting, Wednesday/Thursday, 24/25 October 1973, 2230-0330 (U)


  • (1) Ltr fm Leonid Brezhnev to President Nixon 2
  • (2) Ltr to Leonid Brezhnev fm President Nixon 3
  • (3) Ltr to His Majesty Faisal 4

1. At 2230 I received a call from Larry Eagleburger advising me that we had just received a real piss-swisher from Brezhnev regarding [Page 738] the Arab/Israeli Conflict. SecDef Schlesinger, CIA Colby and myself were requested to assemble in the Situation Room. When we arrived, HAK seemed to be quite upset and he passed around the exchanges that had occurred between Brezhnev and PresUS during the last two or three days.

2. The Brezhnev letter proposed that the USSR/US urgently dispatch to Egypt, Soviet and American military contingents to ensure implementation of the Ceasefire and, further, containing the threatening sentence: “. . . it is necessary to adhere without delay. I’ll say it straight. If you find it impossible to act jointly with us in this matter we should be faced with the necessity urgently to consider the question of taking appropriate steps unilaterally . . .”

3. HAK reviewed the progress of the diplomatic route pointing out that, as late as 1630 today (Wednesday, 24 October) he had been discussing with Dobrynin the modalities of the forthcoming negotiations and, at that point, everything seemed to be on track.5 The big question then became “Why did the Soviets suddenly reverse themselves and without any warning all day then ‘bang’ we receive the Brezhnev threat?” HAK advanced the following possibilities:

a. The Soviets had this in mind all along beginning with the time when the Egyptians collapsed, about 13 October, and went through the charade of inviting HAK to Moscow with the intention of seizing on any opportunity offered by the Israelis in violation of the Ceasefire, first.

b. The Soviets did not have this action in mind but have gradually had sunk in the consequences of the outcome of the war wherein the Soviet client was the loser and the Arab world could see that the supporter of the US usually went to the winner.

c. The Soviets felt they had been tricked by the Israelis who, when viewed from Moscow, were guilty of gross violations of the Ceasefire Agreement.

4. If the Soviets were playing a game with us, it is clear that they have decided to throw all US relationships down the drain and, hence, the possibility.

5. (a) is questionable—the Soviet motivation probably comes from possibly (b) and (c). The discussion continued with Haig joining in (Brent Scowcroft was also present).

6. I pointed out that the military indicators which might lead one to believe that this was a premeditated action on the part of the Soviets were:

[Page 739]

—The continuous alert under which they had placed their seven Airborne Divisions;

—The abrupt stand-down of the airlift which could now be reoriented to lift troops to Cairo; and

—The heavy sealift which possibly could have been delivering weapons to be used in Egypt by the Airborne forces when they arrived in that area.

I also pointed out that, in view of the fact that this would not be a NATO war—but would be a unilateral action by the US—who now has access to but one Airfield (Lajes) between the US and Israel, that any direct confrontation on the ground with the Soviets would be very difficult. In short, the Middle East is the worst place in the world for the US to get engaged in a war with the Soviets.

7. Haig seemed to be convinced that the Soviets were going to move at daylight—which was just a few hours away. He said the question was whether or not this was a rational plan or a move of desperation as the Soviets watched their influence in the Middle East go down the drain. Haig went on to say that the Soviets realized that they were losing and that they are now trying to capitalize on what has happened this weekend in Washington which has served to weaken the President. He said (Haig) that the Soviets then invited HAK when they noted that the Arabs were beginning to lose and went on to note that the only hope lay in the fact that this involved Israel because if we were trying to support some other country other than Israel we would have a public outcry of large proportions.

8. I noted that it appeared to me that the Israelis had, in fact, violated the Ceasefire and that, as they turned South to encircle Suez City and block off the Third Egyptian Army across the Canal, that they simply continued this operation until it was completed and they established a holding point on the Red Sea. Consequently, the Soviets were correct in saying that the Israelis had violated the Ceasefire.

9. SecDef said he thought the Soviets were using this to put pressure on the US or to develop an excuse to move in their own forces in the Middle East. HAK then, thinking out loud, pointed up that he had never forced détente and he also thought the Soviets were influenced by the current situation the President finds himself in. The Soviets can now move into Egypt with 5,000–6,000 men and take credit for stopping the Israelis and regaining their status in the Arab world and that, if they could do this, we should consider telling the Israelis to hit the Third Egyptian Army. I said this might be counter-productive because, then, the Soviets would have all the excuse they needed.

10. HAK commented on the thin margin in the Politburo and said that it appears now that the Hawks prevailed over Brezhnev and that it [Page 740] was clear that they changed their course of action on Tuesday6 and then he recalled (as I have said many times before) if the Democrats and the US public do not stop laying seige to their government that, sooner or later, someone will take a run at us. Friday the PresUS was in good shape domestically. Now the Soviets see that he is, in their mind, non-functional.7

11. HAK then noted that he would brief the Congressional Leadership at 0830 the following morning (25 October, Thursday).8 He said the Leadership must take action and that we should get a vote for a Supplemental. So far the Congress has had a great time enjoying détente, wrecking Defense and destroying the President. He was still puzzled by the action taken by the Soviets noting that if the Soviets wanted a Ceasefire they could have gotten an Agreement which forced the Israelis back to the 6 October line. He said he has been very hard on the Israelis and that he told them “We are not going to war for you.” He said this morning he gave the Israelis unscathed hell because he thought they were at fault.9 However, today, he thought the Egyptians were at fault in violating the second Ceasefire. (HAK is wrong here, it was the Israelis on both counts).

12. Colby noted that the Soviets can recoup with the Arabs if they placed a major force in Cairo which could be used essentially to establish a bridgehead. HAK asked “What does 5,000 men in Cairo really mean?” It means that the Soviets want a challenge and that, if they get in, they’ll never get out. He repeated that we cannot go without a commitment from Congress and we must tell the Congressional Leaders the gravity of the situation if we do put Marines or troops into the Middle East it will amount to scrapping Détente and cutting off all relations with the Soviet Union. HAK asked “What did we do wrong? Certainly we will be criticized for being too soft by the Liberals and too tough by the Conservatives.”

13. HAK then tabled a proposed reply to the Brezhnev letter. It was a tough one and, in effect, said that the US would in no event accept unilateral action on the part of the Soviets since this would be a viola[Page 741]tion of our Understandings of the agreed opinions we signed in Moscow in 1972, and of Article II of the Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War. Such action would produce incalculable consequences . . .

14. After some discussion concerning the wording of the reply, it was generally agreed that the reply should be a tough one and that if the Soviets answered it right away it means that their reply was prepositioned and they are going to move their forces (Haig’s estimate). I pointed out that it would be a tremendous effort to move all of their Airborne Divisions by airlift since they only had 28 AN22s and about 23 AN12s available—at least 400 AN12s sorties were required per division.

15. HAK noted that, yesterday, the Israeli violation of the Agreement “broke the camel’s back”. Then the Soviets decided to move. Today, they only made one proposal to us and this proposal escalated the dialogue to a threat. The overall strategy of the Soviets now appears to be one of throwing détente on the table since we have no functional President, in their eyes, and, consequently, we must prevent them from getting away with this.

16. We then agreed on several actions designed to indicate to the Soviets that, while they may have thought they picked a moment of maximum US weakness, that we can still make responsible decisions concerning the use of force. HAK said he had learned, finally, that when you decide to use force you must use plenty of it.

17. We took the following actions:


—Moved John F. Kennedy from West of Gibraltar into the Med;

—Moved Roosevelt from the vicinity of Sicily to join Independence South of Crete;

—Got the Amphibious Ready Force underway from Suda Bay;

—Alerted European Forces;

—Alerted the 82d Airborne Division;

—Recalled 75 B52s from Guam.

[Page 742]

18. HAK wanted to know if DEFCON III would result in the recall of personnel? I told him, in some cases it would and that it would be immediately leaked (which it did about 0300, Thursday, 25 October). After taking the above actions I then proceeded with SecDef to the Pentagon where I had called the Joint Chiefs in for a meeting. I reviewed the situation as it stood and took several additional actions which were called for as a result of the DEFCON III decision. I also advised the Joint Chiefs of the contents of the Brezhnev letter as well as the contents of the proposed reply. I also called Gen Goodpaster (CINCEUR) and gave him a run-down on the situation and prepared a summary to forward to all the CINCs.11

19. At 0400 we went to bed to await the Soviet response.

T. H. Moorer 12

P.S. During the discussions we kept coming back to the $64.00 question: “If the Soviets put in 10,000 troops into Egypt what do we do?” During the meeting HAK called Ambassador Cromer to advise him of our actions and which, undoubtedly, shook him up!13

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 218, Records of Admiral Thomas Moorer, Diary, October 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive—Hold Close. Prepared by Moorer on October 26. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule the following attended the meeting: Kissinger, Schlesinger, Colby, Moorer, Scowcroft, Haig, and Jonathan Howe. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) Kissinger later noted that the White House described this as an NSC meeting, while State Department records called it a WSAG “meeting of principals.” (Years of Upheaval, pp. 586–587) Cline called it a “curious little rump NSC meeting,” to which Colby was invited to “give a semblance of regularity to decision-making.” (Cline, “Policy Without Intelligence,” Foreign Policy, No. 17 (Winter 1974–1975), p. 128)
  2. Document 267.
  3. Document 274.
  4. See footnote 7, Document 186.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 263.
  6. October 16.
  7. Reaction to the October 20 “Saturday Night Massacre,” when Nixon ordered the resignations of Attorney General Richardson and Assistant Attorney General Ruckelshaus, was intense and raised public calls for Nixon’s impeachment.
  8. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, he met with the Congressional Leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House at 8:40 a.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) Kissinger recalled that the leaders were enthusiastic about the refusal to accept a joint U.S.–Soviet force, but he believed that their support reflected more the Vietnam-era isolation than a strategic assessment. “The American component of the proposed forced bothered them a great deal more than the Soviet one,” he wrote. “By the same token, they would object to the dispatch of American forces even if, in our view, they were needed to resist a unilateral Soviet move.” (Crisis, p. 356)
  9. See Document 254.
  10. Kissinger recalled that immediately after they instituted DEFCON III, he instructed Scowcroft to call Dobrynin to tell him to desist from all action until there was a U.S. reply, and to warn him that any unilateral actions by the Soviet Union would have the most serious consequences. He recalled that Dobrynin made no reassuring comment, saying only that he would transmit the U.S. message to Moscow. Kissinger added that the group’s sense of impending crisis increased when they learned that eight Soviet AN–22 transport planes—each capable of carrying 200 or more troops—were slated to fly from Budapest to Egypt in the next few hours. The group decided that going to DEFCON III would not be noted quickly enough by Soviet decisionmakers, and that something more was necessary. At 12:20 a.m., they alerted the 82d Airborne Division for possible movement, and at 12:25 a.m., they ordered the carriers Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to the Mediterranean. (Years of Upheaval, pp. 588–589)
  11. In Cline’s October 26 memorandum to Kissinger (quoted in his 1974 Foreign Policy article), he commented: “In view of some of the unwarranted criticism of the government for its decision [on the military alert], I regret that you never advised your State Department intelligence arm that you had a problem nor asked us for an opinion on the evidence of Soviet intention to intervene with troops in the Mideast. Certainly the technical intelligence evidence available in INR did not support such a Soviet intention. I presume your alarm was based, again, on your exchanges with Moscow. If so, it would have been useful to you, in my opinion, to consult some experts in Soviet political strategy and some experts in evidence of Soviet military capabilities and intentions.”
  12. The original bears this typed signature.
  13. At 1:03 a.m. on October 25, Kissinger informed Cromer that the United States was moving to a DEFCON III alert and asked for the United Kingdom’s “very strong support” in this “grave situation.” When Cromer asked him what he wanted Britain to do, Kissinger replied: “Well, don’t say the Americans have gone crazy.” He explained: “We feel that the only chance we now have which will be . . . is defense readiness around the world.” Kissinger concluded: “What they [the Soviets] are asking us to do is join forces . . . forcing Israel to comply.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Transcripts (Telcons), Chronological File, Box 23) The ellipses are in the original transcript.