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97. Message From Israeli Prime Minister Meir to Secretary of State Kissinger1

1. Information that has been accumulating obliges us to take into consideration that the military preparations in Syria and Egypt, the battle deployment and state of alert of their armed forces, and in particular the increased military concentrations at their front lines with us,2 may be motivated by one of the following two possibilities:

A. A bona fide assessment by both or one of these countries, for whatever reason, that Israel intends to carry out an offensive military operation against them or against one of them;

B. The intention on their part—or on the part of one of them—to initiate an offensive military operation against Israel.3

2. In case, however, this development stems from their apprehensions about an offensive military operation from the side of Israel, such apprehensions are completely without foundation. We wish to assure you personally that Israel has no intention whatever to initiate offen[Page 285]sive military operations against Syria or Egypt. We are, on the contrary, most eager to contribute towards an easing of the military tension in the area. On these grounds we wish, through your good office, to inform the Arabs and the Soviets of our attitude, with the view of allaying their suspicions and the aim of restoring calm to the area.

3. Should Syria or Egypt intend to launch offensive military operations, it would be important to make it clear to them in advance that Israel will react militarily, with firmness and in great strength. We would like you to bring this to the knowledge of the Arabs and Soviets through the channels at your disposal.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 136, Country Files, Middle East, Dinitz, June 4–Oct. 31, 1973. No classification marking. This message is attached to an October 5 transmittal memorandum from Scowcroft to Kissinger stating that Shalev had called on him at 5:30 p.m. at which time he passed this message to Scowcroft. Scowcroft’s transmittal memorandum is marked Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only; Via Special Channel and bears the typed instruction: “Deliver to Peter Rodman in Sealed Envelope.”
  2. At 5:30 p.m., Shalev also handed Scowcroft an Israeli report stating that during the last 10 days the Egyptian army had reinforced its deployment in the canal zone within a range of up to 30 kilometers west of the canal and that all arms of the Egyptian army were in a state of high alert. Syria’s state of alert and the Syrian army’s move into emergency dispositions continued, and the Syrians had advanced fighter bombers to relatively close airfields in which they had not previously been stationed. During the night of October 4–5, 11 Soviet passenger planes landed in the Damascus and Cairo airports and some had already taken off in the direction of the Soviet Union. The report concluded that these measures were in part connected with maneuvers and in part due to fears of offensive actions by Israel, and it considered “the opening of military operations against Israel by the two armies as of low probability.” (Ibid.)
  3. In his memoirs, Kissinger described the reassuring assessments just before the war by Israeli intelligence as well as by CIA, DIA, and INR that the Egyptian and Syrian military movements were routine, coincidental, and “not designed to lead to major hostilities.” He wrote: “Clearly, there was an intelligence failure, but misjudgment was not confined to the agencies. Every policymaker knew all the facts. The Israelis were monitoring the movement of every Egyptian and Syrian unit. The general plan of attack, especially of the Syrians, was fairly well understood. What no one believed—the consumers no more than the producers of intelligence—was that the Arabs would act on it. Our definition of rationality did not take seriously the notion of starting an unwinnable war to restore self-respect. There was no defense against our own preconceptions or those of our allies.” (Years of Upheaval, pp. 464–465)
  4. Kissinger, who was at the United Nations, recalled that Scowcroft immediately wired the messages to his New York office, but that since his staff saw no urgent reason to interrupt him, he did not see them until the next morning. He wrote: “Nor am I sure I would have done anything immediately with the messages had I received them. It was now the middle of the night in all capitals concerned; nothing menacing seemed afoot. We were not informed that Israel had taken any special precautions—and it had not called up reserves. It is also clear in retrospect that any effort by us then would have been academic. The Arab assault was deliberate, not even remotely prompted by fear of an Israeli attack. Any last-minute message to Egypt and Syria reassuring them that Israel would not preempt would only have been greeted with elation in the war rooms of Cairo and Damascus.” (Ibid.)