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99. Memorandum From William B. Quandt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1

SUBJECT

  • Arab-Israel Tensions

Ambassador Keating met with Prime Minister Meir this morning2 and was informed that Israel had received information from totally reliable sources that Syria and Egypt are planning a coordinated attack against Israel today in the late afternoon. In addition, she confirmed that Soviet dependents and some advisers are being evacuated from Egypt and Syria. She has asked that we inform the Soviets and the Egyptians that:

—Israel is not planning to attack Syria or Egypt. It has called up “some reserves” on a contingency basis, but has not declared a general mobilization.

—Israel is aware of military dispositions in Egypt and Syria and knows that in any war they will lose, even if Israel will suffer some casualties.

Mrs. Meir assured Ambassador Keating that Israel does not intend to launch a preemptive attack and is genuinely interested in avoiding war.

Other information of note is that Cairo appears normal this morning, with no sign of special military precautions. We do, however, have confirmation that as many as 1,000 Soviet dependents have left Egypt. Some reduction in the number of Soviet advisers in Syria is also apparently underway. In addition, we know that the Egyptian forces, as part of their current fall maneuvers, are on a high state of alert and that Syrian forces have been repositioned along the Golan Heights cease-fire lines.

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Several possible interpretations of the evidence can be made:

1. Egypt and Syria, despite the military odds against success, do intend to initiate hostilities as a way of forcing international attention to the Middle East and activating the use of oil as a political weapon against the United States. The Soviets have gotten wind of this and are evacuating dependents and some advisers. In so far as Soviet advisers are included in the evacuation, the effectiveness of an Arab attack is likely to be somewhat degraded and the risks of Soviet involvement will lessen.

2. A major crisis is under way in Arab-Soviet relations, and under the cover of a war scare, Soviet advisers are being expelled from both Egypt and Syria. There have been numerous strains in Arab-Soviet relations recently, and King Faisal has been pressing hard to convince Sadat and Asad to cut their ties to Moscow.

Our intelligence services have continued to downplay the likelihood of an Arab attack on Israel and still have no signs that such action is imminent. They appear to favor the alternative explanation of a crisis in Arab-Soviet relations.

If hostilities are imminent, we should immediately consider the following actions:

—Démarche to the Soviets and Egyptians to convey Prime Minister Meir’s message and to add our own statement about the need to avoid hostilities.3

—Activate first steps for possible evacuation of U.S. citizens from key Arab countries (Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia)

—Convene oil task force to prepare on a contingency basis for cutoff of Arab oil.

—Consult with Israelis and Jordanians on steps to be taken in the event of hostilities. In particular, we want to make sure that Jordan does not get drawn in.

—Ask the Shah of Iran to use his influence with President Sadat to discourage a resort to force.

—Alert U.S. forces in the Mediterranean and Europe for possible action in the Middle East.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 664, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East War, Memos & Misc., Oct. 6, 1973–Oct. 17, 1973. No classification marking.
  2. Keating’s conversation with Prime Minister Meir was reported in telegram 7766 from Tel Aviv, October 6, 1033Z, 5:33 a.m. in Washington and New York. (Ibid., Box 610, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. 12, March 73–October 1973) The Ambassador pointed out that the Embassy had taken the initiative to discuss the military situation with the IDF on several occasions and had been told that the situation was not dangerous. Meir said that this had been an accurate evaluation at the time, but that within the last 12 hours the situation had become very serious. A copy of the telegram was delivered to Dobrynin at 8:25 a.m. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 68, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 19, [July 13, 1973–Oct. 11, 1973])
  3. Meir’s message is Document 97. Kissinger recorded in his book, Crisis: The Anatomy of Two Major Foreign Policy Crises, that Sisco awakened him at 6:15 a.m. in his suite at the Waldorf Towers in New York with the news that Egypt and Syria were about to go to war with Israel. He wrote: “When Sisco awakened me there were only ninety minutes of peace left for the Middle East. So skillfully had Egypt and Syria masked their war preparations that even at this stage the Israelis expected the attack to come four hours later than the time actually set. I knew that no diplomacy would work if an Arab attack were premeditated. But my view was still colored by the consistent Israeli reports, confirmed by U.S. intelligence dispatches, that such an attack was nearly impossible. I therefore plunged into a frenetic period of intense diplomacy to head off a clash, more than half convinced that Egyptian and Syrian actions grew out of a misunderstanding of Israeli intentions.” (Crisis, p. 14)