1. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

Following seven hours of discussions with Defense Minister Dayan,2 focused principally on the question of disengagement of forces along the Egyptian-Israeli front, I can report good progress and a substantial evolution in Israeli thinking. I want to give you the essence of these talks and describe as well the potential pitfalls ahead.

You will recall that when Prime Minister Meir was here in November,3 the word “withdrawal” was, in effect, taboo. Over the last two days, however, Dayan, backed by a Cabinet decision, outlined a pullback plan designed to reduce the likelihood of renewed war and to return a part of the Sinai to normal Egyptian peace-time activity, including the opening of the Suez Canal. Dayan is reporting to the Cabinet today, and I expect to hear from him tomorrow. They have urged me to take the plan to Cairo immediately.

The principal features of the plan, many details of which, on your instructions, I had discussed or suggested to Mrs. Meir in our December talks,4 are as follows: Israel would withdraw all of its forces [Page 2] presently west of the Suez Canal behind a main Israeli defense line which would be about 30 kilometers east of the Canal approximately at the western end of the Mitla and Gidi Passes; the Egyptian second and third armies would retain, with slight modification, the line they presently hold, which runs about 8 to 10 kilometers east of the Canal; the armies would be substantially thinned out east of the Canal to create an additional 6–10 kilometer wide forward zone containing only light Egyptian weapons; moving eastward, there would be about a 10 kilometer demilitarized buffer zone supervised by the UN force; next, there would be a comparably lightly armed 6–10 kilometer Israeli forward zone up to the main Israeli defense line. In addition, the Israelis would be willing to move their artillery and anti-aircraft weapons far enough eastward so that only their own forces are covered, provided the Egyptians are willing to move their own artillery and anti-aircraft back far enough west of the Canal to accomplish the same purpose.

The fact that the Israelis have been willing to put forward such a plan means that they have now come 85 percent of the way to the Egyptian position on disengagement, and this without any demands for reciprocity. Nevertheless, while the plan has a sensible inner logic and is a major step forward, there is hard bargaining ahead which could lead to a very serious delay. The principal points at issue are likely to be:

(a) Dayan was firm that the main defense line must be no more than 30 kilometers east of the Canal so that the Israelis retain full control of the two strategic passes, this despite the fact their representative at Geneva pulled a major blunder yesterday when he spoke of a “model” plan envisioning a line 35 kilometers east of the Canal and in the passes themselves. Sadat will be very tough on this since he wants the main Israeli defense line to be east of the passes.

(b) A second serious point relates to the number and types of arms Egypt would retain in its forward zone east of the Canal. Dayan has said no more than 2 or 3 battalions could be allowed and no tanks. In my last talk with Sadat,5 I was able to get him down from the present 5 divisions to 2 divisions and a minimum of 200 tanks.

(c) A third concern relates to the positioning of the main artillery and anti-aircraft weapons in the rear security zones. Because the disengagement, in Sadat’s eyes, is all taking place on Egyptian sovereign territory, he will find it very difficult to accept any limitations in the territory west of the Suez Canal and he will want to keep his artillery and anti-aircraft close to the Canal.

In addition, the Israelis lay considerable stress on certain bilateral assurances from us which, on the whole, should not prove insurmount[Page 3]able. In particular, they want: (a) assurance from the U.S. that free passage through the Red Sea at Bab Al Mandeb will be assured; and (b) that the U.S. would veto any unilateral withdrawal of the UN force that might be attempted in the UN Security Council. They also stressed heavily that the ceasefire must be of a permanent character and that everything possible should be done to build up peaceful activities in the Canal area as a further psychological deterrent to a renewal of war.

In addition to the above main substantive issues, we have a critical timing problem. My judgment is that unless we can avoid an impasse resulting from the substantive differences and break the back of this thing in the next ten days, matters could get out of control. Any of a number of unfortunate developments could take place. For example, if resolution of the differences is put into the Geneva forum,6 the Egyptians are likely to have to prove their manhood, regardless of the proximity of the Israeli plan to their own proposals. This could result in the prestige of both sides becoming involved, with consequent deadlock or at best substantial delay. Another possibility is that if there is no rapid movement, the Soviets may decide to run with the ball. Other Arab nations, such as Syria and Libya, could try to inject themselves into the issue, creating further delay and confusion. Conversely, if we do not move very quickly and the radical Arabs perceive that an agreement is shaping up, they could go to war to prevent its consummation. Finally, of course, a quick agreement is essential to get the oil embargo and production restrictions lifted.7

The need for speed to avert these pitfalls is apparent and I am giving urgent consideration to the best means for bringing these matters to a rapid conclusion.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 136, Country Files, Middle East, Dinitz, 1/1–7/1, 1974, (2). Secret; Nodis.
  2. On January 4, Kissinger met with Dayan and others between 12:20 and 2:40 p.m., and on January 5, Kissinger met again with Dayan and other U.S. and Israeli officials between 10:30 a.m. and 1:40 p.m. Both meetings were held at the Department of State. (Memoranda of conversation; ibid., RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 6, Nodis Memcons, August 1974)
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973, Documents 305, 306, and 312.
  4. For documentation on Kissinger’s December 1973 trip to Jerusalem, see ibid., Documents 398401.
  5. See ibid., Document 390.
  6. A reference to the Middle East Peace Conference, which began on December 21, 1973, in Geneva, Switzerland, under the auspices of the United States and Soviet Union. Foreign Ministers from Israel, Egypt, and Jordan attended the conference to negotiate a settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute, but Syria refused to send a representative. See ibid., Document 408.
  7. In October 1973, the Arab members of OPEC cut the production of oil and embargoed the sale of oil to the United States and Western Europe in response to their support of Israel in the October war. See ibid., volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 223.