345. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to Secretary of State Kissinger1


  • Middle East—Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement

Attached is a paper on Egyptian-Israeli military disengagement revised to take into account the latest positions as we know them and to refine the concept I put to you before your trip.2

I note that both Egyptians and Israelis are talking about reaching some agreement on disengagement before the peace conference. If their talks continue along this line, something more limited than the total move outlined in the attached may be needed.

You will note that the suggestions in the attached really cover a disengagement in two steps. The first deals with the troops along the canal; the second involves a pullback from the canal toward the passes. The concept is presented so that the second could be either the second stage of disengagement or the first phase of a later withdrawal.

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Peace Conference, Phase I

The purpose of this paper is to develop a general concept for an agreement on disengagement of Egyptian and Israeli troops during the first phase of the Geneva peace conference.

Opening Positions

Neither side has taken a definitive position on what disengagement would look like, but each made an initial proposal, which has been modified in subsequent discussions. The initial proposals were:

Israeli Position

1. Egyptian forces would withdraw from the east bank of the Canal; Israeli forces would withdraw from the west bank.

2. Both sides would then thin out their forces along the Canal.

3. Egypt would undertake to clear and reopen the Canal to international shipping.

Egyptian Position

1. Israeli forces would withdraw to a line inside Sinai which in principle would lie east of the passes.

2. A disengagement zone, as wide as possible, would be created between Egyptian and Israeli forces in Sinai. UN forces would be stationed in such a zone. Egyptian forces would remain in their present positions east of the Canal.

3. When Israeli forces reach the disengagement zone and UN forces are stationed therein, the operation of clearing the Canal would begin.

4. At the time the disengagement phase is set up, a peace conference would be convened under UN auspices.

In subsequent conversations, the Egyptians have seemed willing to defer discussion of disengagement to the first stage of the peace conference, while in Israel Prime Minister Meir, Allon and Dayan seem to have reached a preliminary judgment that disengagement would best be discussed between the military representatives before a peace conference.

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Wherever the discussion takes place, the prime difficulties at this stage will be:

—The Israelis are asking the Egyptians to give up territory on the east bank of the Canal which is the only tangible sign of Egypt’s military successes early in the war. We can expect Egypt to reject this proposal, with the possible exception of the Third Army.

—The Egyptian position will be unacceptable to the Israelis because it moves too quickly on the issue of withdrawal. Some sort of negotiation will presumably be necessary on the overall framework of an Egyptian-Israeli relationship before the Israelis will pull forces back from the Canal.

Despite these difficulties, there are some points of general agreement that might provide the basis for progress. For example:

—The convening of a peace conference will in itself convey a measure of the Arab recognition of Israel on which Israel has placed a high premium.

—Both sides appear to be willing to consider the concept of disengagement of forces.

—Both sides appear to agree that Egypt should begin work on clearing the Canal at an early date.

A Possible Disengagement

In developing a disengagement step, it will be necessary to keep these imperatives in mind:

—Israel, if it is to pull its forces back from the 1967 ceasefire lines, will be looking for concrete evidence that Sadat is serious about making peace. Among the specifics that Israel might consider as constituting such evidence are the lifting of the blockade at Bab al-Mandab; willingness to disengage forces without seeking military advantage; actual beginning of work on the Canal; willingness to allow Israeli cargoes or ships through the Canal; end of the boycott; exchange of people like journalists; readiness for a diplomatic relationship.

Sadat will need to portray Israel’s pullback as a first phase of withdrawal toward the pre-1967 borders, will be looking for evidence that disengagement is not just an Israeli stall, and will need to place the move in the context of the restoration of full Egyptian sovereignty in the occupied territory.

—The US will need to portray this as a move which does not significantly jeopardize Israel’s security, which gains Israel a measure of Arab recognition, and which buys Israel time for negotiating the elements of a final settlement.

One possible arrangement might be based on an Israeli withdrawal to the passes in return for (1) promised Israeli use of all the waterways, [Page 952]including the Suez Canal, plus (2) the measure of recognition that the Arabs would have accorded Israel by the act of negotiating directly and being prepared to sign an agreement with Israel. The Israelis have repeatedly said that freedom of shipping is a primary strategic concern in the area and that its denial is a cause for war. Opening the Canal to Israel—or at least to Israeli cargoes—would be a concrete manifestation of the end of belligerency without necessarily requiring an Egyptian declaration of the end of belligerency. Specifically:

1. An agreement would state that the steps outlined below had been agreed between the parties as first steps in their efforts to achieve an end of the state of belligerency and durable peace in which each would respect the other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and right to live in security. [The purpose of this article would be to put Israel and the US in the best possible position to argue that the Arabs are serious about making peace and have already taken a significant step toward the full recognition of Israel by signing an agreement and stating such intent.]

2. The Egyptian Third Army would withdraw to the west bank of the Canal; Egyptian civil administrators would move into the area vacated by the Third Army. Israeli forces would withdraw to positions on the east bank which would be east of the area vacated by the Third Army. [A possible variant of this would be to leave the Third Army in place but to require a substantial thinning out of both the Second and Third Armies.]

3. Egyptian forces on the east bank north of Ismailiya would remain in place. The number of Egyptian troops and equipment levels allowed on the east bank during the disengagement phase would be the total with the army in this northern sector. They would be subject to various resupply restrictions that could be monitored by UN teams with Egyptian and Israeli participation. [The purpose of this provision would be to put the Israelis and US in a position to say that the Egyptian military presence east of the Canal was primarily of symbolic rather than of military significance and that Israelis had the right to monitor that presence. One additional proposal which the Israelis will probably make is a general thinning out of Egyptian forces west of the Canal, including a pullback of artillery, SAMs, and amphibious equipment.]

4. Once this first move was completed, the following simultaneous moves would take place:

—Egypt would begin work on reopening the Canal, would acknowledge Israel’s right to use the Canal in the context of a peace settlement once it is open and would acknowledge Israel’s right of free passage through all the waterways in the area, including the Bab al-Mandab and the Strait of Tiran. Egypt would agree, at least pri[Page 953]vately, to allow Israeli cargoes through the Canal as soon as it opened. Israeli ships would be allowed transit rights when final agreement is reached.

—Israeli forces would move back to positions at the passes, retaining control of the passes. Israel would state that this is not the final border.

—Between Egyptian and Israeli forces a disengagement zone would be created in which UNEF forces would be stationed. Egyptian and Israeli liaison officers would serve with the UNEF.

5. Both parties would declare their intention of continuing negotiations beyond this disengagement of forces to achieve a durable peace and the normalization of relations between them. They would state their willingness to examine all proposals in a positive spirit in an effort to reach an agreement at the earliest possible date.

At this point, the negotiations themselves could take up the terms of a broader settlement and further withdrawal, which itself might be staged.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 664, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East War, Memos and Misc., October 18, 1973, Vol. II. Secret; Sensitive; Outside System. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the memorandum. All brackets are in the original.
  2. See Document 319.