55. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mr. Abba Eban, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Ambassador Simcha Dinitz, of Israel
  • Mr. Avner Idan, Minister of the Embassy of Israel
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Mr. Harold Saunders, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

Eban: The people I spoke to made an effort to devote their attention to what I was saying. They had a kind of glazed look.

Kissinger: Really?

Eban: Rogers and Shultz. They spoke to me with a kind of lordly assumption that nothing was happening here.2 Has there been any foreign reaction yet?

[Page 167]

Kissigner: No.

Eban: From Moscow?

Kissinger: No.

Eban: Did they talk [in Zavidovo] about us and our region?

Kissinger: Yes. Very passionately and very aggressively.3 They think there is the possibility of a war. They say they are exercising a restraining influence. We have independent evidence of that.

Eban: Yes, we do also. If our neighbors were not Arabs, the probability would be zero. But they must give the impression of an eve-of-war atmosphere, to show movement. Everything proceeds now from their internal situation, which is always the first order of business. Internationally they are not only antagonistic to us and to you but also they are increasingly suspicious of the Soviet Union. It is now explicit, not just coffee-house gossip.

The result would be catastrophic for them, militarily, politically, domestically, and internationally. The humiliation at home; the Soviet Union would say we told you so.

Kissinger: But the Soviet Union might not do that. They might try to stop you. And if an oil boycott is organized, they would gain something in the west.

Eban: But a boycott wouldn’t work, because Iran would not go along.

This is unlike 1967 when the Soviet Union was instigating it.

Sadat is not bright, but he can think a few moves ahead. He is not so volatile.

Kissinger: That is not my impression. He shows no capacity for thinking moves ahead.

Eban: But domestically he has shown an enormous capacity to reconcile the belligerent rhetoric with non-shooting. He has shown a meticulous ability to avoid shooting.

On the ground, the Mirages are effectively in Egypt. Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait have aircraft, but not long-range. The army across the Canal is unshaven, playing cards; there is no vigilance. Sadat shows up at the Canal with a hat, expecting to be photographed.

We have told our military to assume we may fight.

[Page 168]

Kissinger: The Soviets said you were constructing field hospitals in the Sinai.

Eban: [laughing] They are already there.

Politically they are trying a pressure tactic. They see the Summit and hope to see it take place in the context of an international crisis atmosphere, and a United Nations Security Council debate. They are unhappy because they are not getting enough attention here; the press is occupied with other things!

Kissinger: Are you keeping this going!

Saunders: The Egyptians are saying that.

Eban: They are disappointed with the relative quiet.

Kissinger: Of course, you have an interest in keeping things appearing excessively quiet, to keep us from doing anything.

Eban: Yes. The usual problem of the wish as father to the thought.

Kissinger: During the Khartoum incident, someone suggested we ask you for help. You would have blown up Beirut.

Eban: You know that it was from Beirut that the phone call went to finish them off.4

Kissinger: We know that.

Eban: We don’t have the feeling we should revise our estimate of the general situation. It is developing positively but slowly.

Kissinger: How do you see things developing?

Eban: Assuming he does not want to start shooting, he can even use these diplomatic events—the Summit, the Security Council—to avoid shooting. Politically, they want to use international pressure on us to commit ourselves to total withdrawal—which we won’t do.

I wondered about your reaction after Ismail’s visit here—which I assume might have a continuation. If there is no continuation, he will have to find a substitute.

I am relieved at my conversation with the Secretary.5 I felt no sense of having to do something urgently. It would be objectively bad.

We have to block their actions. In the Security Council, they want to set up international machinery. I can’t blame them. We oppose new machinery. Secretary Rogers says he opposes new machinery. It would be an alibi for them to avoid realistic negotiations. We don’t need further channels. If there is no negotiation, it is not because of a shortage of frameworks, channels or gimmicks. If we are to get them to change their view, we follow our psychological plan of trying to get them to see [Page 169]that their options are really very few—the status quo or realistic negotiation.

In the President’s statement we see a general feeling that immobility is unsatisfactory.6 What is behind this?

Kissinger: As I have told your Ambassador, American passivity is due to a fortuitous combination of circumstances and cannot be counted on indefinitely. If you look at the constellation of leading officials, you cannot count on the continuation of the present . . . So far, the Egyptian policy is so stupid, there is no particular challenge. But what would the American response be if the Egyptians became more flexible, even procedurally, it is hard to say. It may be in your interest to try to preempt this with a scheme of your own.

I have been reluctant to get us into the position where both sides can shoot at us without considering any scheme. Unless one side or the other gives us a foothold . . .

Dinitz: You think the Egyptians might come around to a special agreement on the Canal?

Kissinger: No. What might be possible is some souped-up version of Resolution 242 that might provide an alibi for the Egyptians for a Rhodes-type negotiation. It could be a link to an interim agreement in the guise of being linked to an overall one. It might be extended over years.

I have not seen any indication from the Egyptians that they are willing to show that degree of flexibility.

When I saw Ismail, he said he would think about ways of reconciling sovereignty and security. But we never heard from them.

Eban: I don’t think they make the distinction in a way that the Israeli military presence can remain anywhere. They see it as complete withdrawal and complete sovereignty.

Kissinger: I have no evidence otherwise.

Eban: On the Israeli side, we definitely don’t accept the idea that boundary changes must be ruled out. Whether we could get them in negotiations cannot be foreseen. Whether they would be substantial or not cannot be foretold. There is a dynamic and transforming element in a negotiation itself. But no Israeli government will say in advance that it rules out boundary changes.

There are gimmicks that reconcile the sovereignty of one with the security of another. We are aware of that. Golda once told Rogers that [Page 170]Sharm . . . he suggested a 99-year lease; she said 49 years would be o.k.! Further north, it is harder.

They want 100% withdrawal in stage one but won’t offer 100% in stage one.

It is too optimistic to think they are in that stage of flexibility. On our side, I believe there would be flexibility in a negotiation. But I don’t think we will give up our positions ahead of the negotiations.

Kissinger: There are more pleasant experiences than negotiating with Israelis who are holding the subject matter of the negotiations.

Eban: I congratulated Bhutto on the UN resolution last year. He said, “We have the resolution; those bastards have the territory.” I said, “No comment.”

I hope you realize on sovereignty versus security that your only problem is not Egypt.

Kissinger: No, I understand. I personally have no desire to seek the Nobel Peace Prize in that area.

Eban: We favor a no-prejudice formula for early negotiations. They can’t graft their position onto us.

Kissinger: How about the Jordanian side?

Eban: He now asserts quite frankly, that he doesn’t want to be first. He told Lord Balniel after Hussein was here. He feels he could not bear the brunt of it.

The Shah told me he was advising Hussein not to be first.

On the question of the Persian Gulf. I found the Shah very relaxed, for two reasons: He was very satisfied with the United States for the first time. They are usually very querulous that he can’t get enough; now he can. Secondly, on oil, he feels there is a United States interest now. What he told Cyrus Sulzberger was revealed doctrine. He wants to be strong enough to resist any threat except the Soviet Union. He thinks the Soviets are shifting away from Egypt to the Persian Gulf because of less American resistance.

Kissinger: They would be wrong.

Eban: He feels that documents are not important. For instance, the India–Pakistan crisis showed this. But he is creating an American interest there, which is more.

He sees a triangle—Israel, Ethiopia, and Iran—which if buttressed by US support will be a stabilizing influence. We exchanged information with respect to the internal stability, and the problem about Ethiopia. We hope he [the Emperor] gets strong support here. The military always say he can’t use this and that—I hope your criteria are something other than that.

Kissinger: Our military are especially hard on allies.

[Page 171]

Dinitz: We know.

Kissinger: You can’t complain! The trouble is he is the most tiresome head of state.

Eban: He insists on surviving.

Kissinger: I mean he is boring.

Eban: On airplanes, the Ambassador said he was told it was stuck particularly for preoccupation reasons. With the Mirages, our concern is naturally a little more lively now.

Kissinger: There is no problem in substance, but it is a matter of getting attention.

Eban: On the Soviet Jews.

Kissinger: They said they would not increase it but it would continue at the same level, 36,000. They would consider the special cases I gave them a list of. They had the preoccupation that every time they made concessions we increased our demand. We think we have done a helluva lot.

Eban: We think it is of because of public pressure.

Kissinger: Up to a point it is helpful—but not to the point of defeating MFN.

Eban: They are going to have trials in Minsk. This could stimulate trouble.

Kissinger: I raised it twice. There was an explosion each time.

[The meeting then ended.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 135, Country Files, Middle East, Rabin/Dinitz Sensitive Memcons, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office at the White House. All brackets are in the original.
  2. On May 2, heavy fighting between the Lebanese army and Palestinian guerrillas erupted in Lebanon. The fighting continued despite a cease-fire agreement reached the evening of May 3. A new cease-fire agreement was reached May 4. Fighting erupted again on May 7 and the Lebanese Government declared a state of emergency, placing the country under martial law. A third cease-fire was announced on May 8 several hours after Syria closed the border with Lebanon and threatened to intervene on behalf of the Palestinians. (Memorandum from Director of Central Intelligence Schlesinger to President Nixon, May 9; ibid., Box 51, President’s Daily Briefings, President’s Daily Briefs, May 1–15, 1973)
  3. See Documents 53 and 54.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 41.
  5. Eban met with Rogers at the State Department, May 10, 3:10 p.m. (Personal Papers of William P. Rogers, Appointment books)
  6. Eban is possibly referring to President Nixon’s May 3 radio address about his administration’s fourth annual foreign policy report to Congress. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 345–347.