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372. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 30/3–73

THE ARAB-ISRAELI SITUATION AND THE OIL CRISIS

Major Judgments

The ceasefire agreement between Egypt and Israel has taken some of the heat from the Middle East confrontation. The parties have accepted the principle of peace talks which at least hold out the prospect of basic change in the conflict. Highly contentious issues remain unresolved: principally the disengagement of forces and some important modalities of the peace conference—including representation issues. While the parties recognize the need to begin the peace conference without delay, the negotiations will be long and difficult and an early breakthrough cannot be expected.

Egypt knows what it wants from negotiations, and it wants it relatively quickly. President Sadat began the war to galvanize the Great Powers to impose a solution on Israel. While he will bargain over such matters as the phases of disengagement and the extent of demilitarized zones in the Sinai, Sadat is determined to restore Egyptian sovereignty over the peninsula. He feels he must make rapid progress toward a start of Israeli withdrawal to head off criticism.

In dealing with Israel, Damascus will probably follow the Egyptian lead, lagging a few steps behind, and taking a harder bargaining position. Yet if the Syrians are not satisfied, they may renew hostilities.

Serious peace talks raise extremely divisive questions within Israel. Territorial issues have always proved extraordinarily touchy matters for the Israeli body politic, and public opinion will find it especially hard to consider giving up the security that the Sinai, Golan Heights, and West Bank buffer zones provided. Moreover, in the context of the campaign for elections on 31 December 1973 Mrs. Meir’s government feels particularly vulnerable to its political critics.

Substantive progress in negotiations is thus not likely at least until formation of a new government with a new mandate following the [Page 1027]elections. Should Mrs. Meir’s coalition lose its majority in the Knesset, Israel’s terms for a peace settlement would harden.

Both the Arabs and Israel look to the US as the key element in peace negotiations.

—The Arabs believe the US can force a total Israeli withdrawal, and they will grow increasingly impatient with Washington, and with the negotiating process, if movement toward this goal is not soon forthcoming.

—Israel still looks to the US to protect its interests and to serve as a counterweight to the USSR. But Israeli leaders cannot escape doubts about the reliability of Washington in light of the oil embargo, the strains in the European alliance, and the US–Soviet détente. Hence, Tel Aviv is inclined to move as slowly as it can in the peace process without alienating Washington.

Soviet actions reflect the depth of Moscow’s commitment to preserving, and, if possible, extending its influence in the area.2 The Soviets are determined to insist on being accorded a role as arbiter of developments in the Middle East. While much of their activity will be directed to demonstrating support to their Arab clients, their own particular goal will be to get a settlement which gains formal US acknowledgement of their role in the area.

If hostilities resume, Moscow would support the Arabs. Should the Arabs face military disaster, the chances are that the Soviets would intervene in some fashion.

The linking of Saudi oil to Egyptian military might has been one of the striking new elements in the current phase of the Arab-Israeli dispute. While there may be some flexibility in using oil as a weapon, the Arabs will demand progress including substantial Israeli withdrawals from occupied territory before ending the squeeze on oil supplies. King Faysal will concert his actions closely with those of his Arab partners, especially Egypt. Beside supporting Sadat, Faysal’s religious convictions impel him to insist on some form of Arab control over the old city of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians also cannot be left out of the peace process. While Sadat and the leaders of other Arab states are not much swayed by Palestinian desires, the fedayeen are likely to resort to terrorism in an effort to disrupt negotiations if they are ignored.

Both Arabs and Israelis are at maximum alert. Already eagerness to fight is spreading among the troops of both camps, and accidental fire-fights will become increasingly difficult to control.

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Military action would not promise easy success for either side. Given the high state of alert, surprise attack is not possible. Resumption of fighting would involve high casualties on both sides.

Nonetheless, Arab impatience, Israel’s inclination to delay, and the arms resupply increase the risk of renewed hostilities. Indeed, if a peace conference does not soon promise significant results and the ceasefire threatens to freeze the situation on the ground in present positions, another round of war would be almost inevitable.

[Omitted here is the body of the estimate.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 362, Subject Files, National Intelligence Estimates, Part 6. Secret. The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, Defense, the Treasury, and NSA participated in the preparation of the estimate. The Director of CIA submitted this estimate with the concurrence of all members of the United States Intelligence Board, except the representative of the FBI who abstained on the grounds that it was outside his jurisdiction.
  2. For the reservation of the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, on this point, see footnote 2 on page 9. [Footnote in the original. That page of the SNIE is not printed here.]