57. Minutes of Senior Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Lebanon and Middle East Hostilities


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • William Porter
  • Joseph Sisco
  • David Korn
  • Defense
  • William P. Clements, Jr.
  • James H. Noyes
  • JCS
  • Vice Adm. John P. Weinel
  • CIA
  • James Schlesinger
  • John Waller
  • Samuel Hoskinson
  • NSC Staff
  • Brig. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Richard T. Kennedy
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that:

1) A Working Group would prepare some plans based on various contingencies;

[Page 174]

2) State and Defense would prepare an options paper on Libyan nationalization of American oil companies;

3) the overall strategy paper on the Middle East will be updated and submitted.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Schlesinger) Can you give us a run-down?

(Mr. Schlesinger briefed from the attached text.)2

Mr. Sisco: I agree with this evaluation. It accords with State’s analysis.

Mr. Kissinger: What I want to get out of this meeting is to get a Working Group started on three contingencies: (1) a plan for an outbreak of fighting in Lebanon that might involve Syria—an approximation of what we should do if a situation similar to that in Jordan in 1970 occurs. What might the Israelis do? What would we want them to do? How would we react to a Syrian invasion of Lebanon?

Mr. Porter: Would you include an Israeli invasion to push the Syrians out?

Mr. Kissinger: That’s right.

Mr. Sisco: Eban told us that when the Israelis last got together with the Lebanese in their Military Armistice Commission contacts, the Lebanese said they assumed Israel would be there if the Syrians should intervene.

Mr. Kissinger: In 1970 Jordan wanted the Israelis to come in at the right moment. Let’s focus on our diplomatic posture, our military posture, and our attitude toward the Soviet Union and any moves they might make in such a situation.

Mr. Porter: Including the evacuation of American citizens?

Mr. Kissinger: I have assumed that was a State Department responsibility.

Mr. Porter: This could put you ashore momentarily if you wanted.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t know whether we will want to go ashore, but we had damned well better have the option and know how to do it. I would like to know with some precision the various ways in which we might become involved. For example: (1) if the Israelis go in and the Soviets threaten; (2) if the Israelis go in and we want to get them out; (3) if we want to keep the Israelis out while we evacuate American citizens. We’re certainly not looking for an excuse to go into Lebanon; we want [Page 175]to stay out. But in 1970 the planning we did in this room enabled us to move with great speed if we had had to.3

I also want to know the contingencies in which US intervention might be contemplated. We shouldn’t focus initially on military movements, but on political and diplomatic moves and what military moves we might have to make to back them up.

The second contingency relates to the kinds of things the Egyptians might do, the various ways in which the Israelis might react and the diplomatic issues that might ensue. Short of actual Soviet intervention, it’s hard to envisage any direct US action. But we should consider what to do to keep the Soviets out; the ways in which we might use the crisis to get diplomatic movement, if that is what we want, or to return to the status quo ante if it is decided that is desirable.

Mr. Schlesinger: We have just seen the fourth bucket from our most recent photo run, and Egypt has moved no equipment up to the Canal. This means that their military options are limited to an air attack on Israel which would be extremely ill-advised.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s all they could do?

Mr. Schlesinger: Yes; they’re extremely limited.

Mr. Kissinger: Didn’t I see a report that they were dropping a parachute brigade into Sinai?

Mr. Sisco: That was one isolated report.

Mr. Schlesinger: If Egypt should start something, it would be part of a diplomatic move to elicit sympathy when they were whipped by the Israelis.

Mr. Sisco: They’re trying to follow the Vietnamese pattern. They need a little fighting to attract attention. I think the reason Egypt played a major role in mediating the situation in Lebanon was that they are afraid the balloon might go up in Lebanon, Syria might invade, and Egypt might be shown up as a paper tiger.

Mr. Clements: (to Schlesinger) What was the date of your last photo mission?

Mr. Schlesinger: It was seven to ten days ago. All indicators were that things were calming down.

Mr. Porter: Do you think there’s any connection with the Security Council review?4

[Page 176]

Mr. Schlesinger: Possibly, if it is considered a prelude to a diplomatic or military move for sympathy.

Mr. Kissinger: What form of military move? If they bomb Israel, they would forfeit sympathy if they should get a tremendous Israeli counterblow. It would be all over. There would be no war going on. They have to start something that they could continue.

Mr. Schlesinger: I agree it would be unrealistic. Even if they are talking about only getting a toehold on Sinai, the best estimate is that they could hold it only for a week. It wouldn’t give them the kind of war they need to get negotiations started.

Mr. Clements: I take a different view. The area to watch is Syria. They’re volatile as hell.

Mr. Kissinger: The thing might develop a momentum of its own. Let’s do a contingency plan for that. Dick (Kennedy), will you help them, based on your Jordan experience.

Mr. Porter: What about the draft cable that has been circulated authorizing an approach that is meant to be reassuring to the Lebanese?5

Mr. Kissinger: If there is no great urgency, could we wait on that until we have a chance to develop some of these contingency plans?

Mr. Sisco: We can hold it another week. We have two problems: (1) no answer we can conceivably give will provide the kind of blank check the Lebanese want, so any reply will be disappointing; (2) on the other hand, they asked for this last September and no reply at all will have a worse effect.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m in favor of an answer. In fact, we think we can be a bit more forthcoming than your draft.

Mr. Porter: It would be better to wait then.

Mr. Schlesinger: With regard to the telegram, I’d like to raise a question about pressuring them on Black September. Let’s be careful we don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire. If we force Black September headquarters out of Lebanon, they will go to Syria. [1½ lines not declassified]

Mr. Kissinger: Why are they not in Damascus?

Mr. Porter: They like it in Lebanon.

Mr. Sisco: If they were operating out of Syria, the counterblow would come from Israel on Syria, not Lebanon.

Mr. Porter: And the banks that pay them are in Lebanon. No responsible bank will operate in Syria.

Mr. Clements: How much of the pressure on the fedayeen is really coming from Israel?

[Page 177]

Mr. Sisco: There are two kinds of pressure. The Israeli pressure is operating on a worldwide scale to rout them out wherever they are. But the more important pressure is coming from the Lebanese Army and Government. They’re not trying to kick the fedayeen out of Lebanon. That would buy Syrian intervention. They’re just trying to make the situation more manageable, by restricting them to light arms, concentrating them in camps, etc.

Mr. Clements: Isn’t there Israel–Lebanon government-to-government pressure?

Mr. Noyes: Dayan has been making strong statements against Lebanon, not Syria.

Mr. Sisco: We have called that to their attention. We think they should continue to do what they’re doing, but should keep quiet about it.

Mr. Noyes: Do we accept the Israeli thesis that Jordan can be equated with Lebanon?

Mr. Sisco: We have to acknowledge that Israeli military pressure has forced the hand of the Lebanese Government and Army. And they have been more forceful than we thought they would be.

Mr. Kissinger: I have reluctantly come to that conclusion.

Mr. Sisco: We would be concerned if we thought the Lebanese Government objective was to drive the fedayeen out. But they have no such intention.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to Middle East contingencies.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Insititutional Files (H–Files), Box H–117, Minutes Files (1969–1974), WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Codeword. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Attached, but not printed.
  3. For documentation on the U.S. response to the 1970 crisis in Jordan, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970.
  4. After an April 11 Israeli commando raid on Palestinian guerrillas in Beirut, the UN Security Council decided on April 20, at Egyptian request, to examine the situation in the Middle East on the basis of a comprehensive report to be prepared by the Secretary General. (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1973, p. 176)
  5. Not found.