123. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel
  • Simcha Dinitz, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mordechai Shalev, Minister, Embassy of Israel
  • President Gerald R. Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Amb. Kenneth Keating, U.S. Ambassador to Israel

[Omitted here is discussion about Cyprus and European issues.]

[President:] Let me welcome you. I’m glad to have you here. I remember our conversation when I was Vice President [August 1, 1974].2 I am glad to talk with you now because we are faced with some tough decisions.

Secretary Kissinger has just described your conversation with him.3 He told me that your proposals were unattainable. I don’t know the details, but I agree. I will take time going over them because of their importance and because the commitment to Israel’s security is of utmost importance to me. I have spent a great deal of time on this since I came into office. We have worked hard to keep things moving, because momentum is vital. I have talked to no one who doesn’t think the prospects of war are high if something is not done—and most of these are people who are friendly to Israel.

I think it is wise to look at what happens if we don’t have results. We always used to do this on the Hill. “Think of the worst. The best will [Page 468] take care of itself.” A potential confrontation in the Middle East—I don’t know where that would go with the Soviet Union. We made headway at Vladivostok,4 but we had a potential confrontation last October. If there is a war, there will be another oil embargo. Last year we were in fairly good economic shape—today, it could have dire consequences. Israel and the U.S. would be pretty well isolated as far as Europe and the rest of the world are concerned. No one helped us in ’73. And Japan also would be the same. I’m just pointing to alternatives which could happen.

We want Israel to be strong, and we have done a good economic and military job on that. Supposing the worst happens—a war—and Israel is successful. The odds are you would be. Suppose the Soviet Union goes further and doesn’t back down as they did under President Nixon. It would be a tough decision for the President to go to the people for military action in the Middle East. Attitudes are different than, for example, in 1950. I don’t like it. I want Americans to think they have a role and a strong role. But look at the last years of Vietnam. The aftermath of that doesn’t indicate that a President would get public support. I want to say as a friend—and my record supports I am a friend—that the consequences of the worst lead me to the hope that we can change things somehow so we can say it is attainable. That is the way it is.

Kissinger: We have the problem of what is realistic and the problem of what do we tell Egypt. We haven’t discussed it yet, and we will this afternoon. I am grateful to Allon for getting me out of the House hearing meeting.

Allon: Thank you for the way you introduced your views. First I want to convey the greetings of Yitzhak Rabin.

President: Please reciprocate for me.

Allon: He is making a good Prime Minister. We are a highly political people. There is no doubt the United States and Israel have common interests in the Middle East. We may appear to disagree tactically, but basically we agree. I am glad of that. We come to you frequently for military and economic support, but in the last analysis I think we are an asset, not a liability. It would be different if we were weak. Looking at a wider prospective—at the soft underbelly of Europe—we can be useful if we coordinate together more.

The last thing we want is another war—although we would win it quickly, because we are better prepared. And we won’t get caught again. We learned bitter lessons and the morale is high.

[Page 469]

We would have preferred an overall settlement which would have brought peace to the area. Secretary Kissinger said that it is not possible and we accepted the necessity of interim agreements, over serious domestic opposition. We are determined to overcome the opposition and to sign an interim agreement. We understand that Egypt is the only chance, that Jordan is out for now, but we hope not forever. Syria wants an overall agreement, and if we do that we don’t need interim measures.

Dr. Kissinger always used to stress on principle—never negotiate while under a threat. If the Arabs realize—and the Soviet Union—that they can get what they want by threat of war or an oil embargo, there is no limit to what they will go after. If they know there is a logical limit that is different. If they know you can be backed into a corner . . .

Kissinger: The President has said, with the Arabs he has talked to, that if there is a new embargo we would not accept it. He is talking to you about . . .

Allon: But any war would be over in days, and most of the West has enough oil for months, so this threat doesn’t hold. The West can get through the winter. So we shouldn’t overestimate the immediate effect of an oil embargo.

We are prepared to take substantial territorial steps in return for an end to acts of belligerency. It can be an end to acts of belligerency, not to the state of belligerency.

The next question is, what should be the duration of an agreement? In 1949 it was unlimited.5 It didn’t work. We had another war. If there is a time limit it must be longer than what they need to get ready for another war. If only a few years, that is just what they need to prepare for war. The Arabs are good on defense, bad on offense. They are not rushing into war, but the situation could be created where they would have to—even against their wishes. If it could be a longer-term agreement, and a longer-term for UNEF, we could give more. Egypt says everything must be kept secret. But we have our problems, too.

I think Secretary Kissinger can tell Egypt we are prepared for a considerable withdrawal, to negotiate after—not before—the Brezhnev visit to Egypt.6 If we do it before, it will look like we did it because of Brezhnev’s visit.

So the matter is how deep the withdrawal, how solid the observers, and how long the agreement.

[Page 470]

I am thinking of a decade—Kissinger thinks it is too long. We could give more for that. At a minimum it should be five years, plus one year for the redeployment of our line. Then we can go to the Knesset with something.

Dinitz: We have spent a billion and a half dollars fortifying this line.

Allon: Kissinger can say to Sadat that we are well disposed.

Kissinger: I have done that too much. I have to show him some specifics—at least orders of magnitude of kilometers, and so on.

Allon: Can’t you say I am thinking of a 30-to-50 kilometer withdrawal? In certain areas 30, in others, 50.

Kissinger: There are some principal points—the passes and the oil fields. He doesn’t care about lines in the sand.

Allon: What is his alternative? To stay where he is?

President: One is the resumption of Soviet supplies to Egypt. That is not good for either.

Allon: I agree, but he will do it anyway.

Kissinger: He hasn’t yet.

Allon: It is not possible to reach a point where he will cut off relations with the Soviet Union.

Kissinger: One alternative is heating up the international situation to bring pressure on us. If he needs two or three years, he can use that to escalate an anti-American crusade.

Allon: We are offering something substantial.

President: Dr. Kissinger says it is unattainable. I haven’t looked at the details. But if that is true it means we are therefore risking disaster.

Maybe Europe is fixed for an oil embargo, but here, while we have plans for belt-tightening, the impact would be serious. Also, on the PLO resolution7 you saw the United States and four others were the only ones against it. We were glad to stand on that, but that ought to be a signal that it is not the most wholesome situation in the UN. Every head of state I talked to I told that we were pursuing a step-by-step process. I think it is therefore essential that we move and get something of substance. You and Dr. Kissinger are experts, and I give it my personal attention. But I have said frankly what we might face if there is no movement.

Allon: If we give up the passes and the oil field—which give us half of all our oil—we will take away all the Egyptian incentive to take another step and will encourage them to begin agitating. It could prove [Page 471] to be a mistake, and then it would be too late. They could agitate with the Soviet Union, get the UNEF withdrawal, and then we will be in the same war situation.

I don’t think Egypt wants subjugation by the Soviet Union. Why not give my proposal a chance? Why not? Henry can find the right words to make it sound good. Why give up beforehand? If we have to fight, we are better off on this line. Why do you want it today? Why not talk the oil field and passes after Brezhnev has departed? If we give him everything at first, they will ask for more.

The last thing we want is a misunderstanding between Israel and the United States. Let’s be patient.

Dinitz: Egypt will have to think carefully about going back to the Soviet Union, because only the United States can help them.

Allon: They know only the United States can give them territory.

Kissinger: They can get 90% of their economic needs from Europe, and from Europe with the Soviet Union on the character of peace. We are holding Europe off by saying “Give our efforts a chance.” If we visibly fail, there will be no holding them back. The Europeans can give economic help and can add political pressure to the Arabs.

We don’t have to have your final concessions today, and I am not saying we can’t turn these into something. We need to discuss how to approach the Egyptians. We need a strategy which includes a concept including the oil fields and the passes.

There are two problems—to see where this can go, and how should it be presented to the Egyptians. How to give Sadat enough to support him for the Brezhnev visit. To give him courage.

Allon: How about the length?

Kissinger: There is only one issue on duration. The disengagement has no time limit. Why not assume it is unlimited?

Allon: Is it true that Fahmy said one more disengagement would take Egypt out of the war?

Kissinger: Fahmy said it. Sadat maybe said it. We will check.8 Fahmy said the next step had to be in the context of taking Egypt out of the war.

Allon: Can U.S. troops be in the UNEF? I don’t trust these small countries. That, I guess, would permit Soviet forces.

Kissinger: Never do you want to legitimize Soviet presence.

Allon: You can’t rely on these little countries.

President: What about Canada?

[Page 472]

Allon: Canada is fine.

Kissinger: We could examine the question of Soviet forces. They would jump at the chance, but I don’t think Sadat would like it and I doubt the Congress would.

Allon: But we need to find some stability for the UNEF forces.

Kissinger: All the Egyptians now tell me of the error Nasser made in 1967. The Egyptian appetite is not as great as the Syrian appetite.

Allon: If we have no time limit for the agreement, except for the UNEF . . .

President: Let me say I appreciate the opportunity to meet again. We have the same objective. We want Israel secure and its integrity maintained. That is what we both want.

Allon: Thank you very much, Mr. President. May I raise one other thing?

President: Sure.

Allon: We raised the question last summer of a long-term authorization. We mentioned $4.5 billion for an unspecified period. You said maybe the most important complication would be with the Congress. But the Congressional people I speak to are ready to consider it if the Administration proposes it.

President: When your Prime Minister was here, we discussed the immediate and the long-range military programs.9 I went farther than my advisers wanted on the short-range program. We now are in the throes of a bitter fight in the Congress on foreign aid. We barely won in the Senate on a crucial vote, by 46–45. Even that bill is not all good. The House debate starts tomorrow. Rosenthal has been very difficult. He has collaborated with the Greeks.

Allon: I thought he had changed. He promised.

President: He hasn’t gotten the word. The House vote seems to have gone down about 20 votes—from a combination of right-wing Republicans and liberal Democrats. This is the background. I can’t go for long-term authorization for Israel if we don’t get support for our foreign policy as a whole. That is asking too much.

Allon: If you don’t get a majority for the aid in the Congress, maybe you can get a Middle East package.

President: We need a world program.

Dinitz: In the Senate, we were as helpful as possible. We got some votes changed—as Dr. Kissinger knows. We believe in the foreign aid program and we will continue. What we have in mind with long-range [Page 473] economic aid—we may need a specific bill, because the amounts are out of proportion to the rest of the aid.

President: I don’t rule that out, but I have to take one step at a time. I can’t look down the road if we don’t get the tools we need now. There are several—Rosenthal, Dupont, Fraser—who have to get the word. It doesn’t do any good to get the Middle East package if we lose our whole foreign policy.

[After warm farewells the conversation concluded. Minister Allon, Secretary Kissinger, Ambassadors Dinitz and Keating, General Scowcroft and Minister Shalev proceeded to the State Department for the luncheon hosted by the Secretary.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 7, December 9, 1974, Ford, Kissinger, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office at the White House. All brackets, with the exception of ones describing omitted material, are in the original.
  2. No memorandum of conversation has been found.
  3. The memorandum of conversation of the meeting between Allon and Kissinger, which took place on December 9 from 10:35 a.m. until 12:25 p.m. in the Secretary’s office at the Department of State, is in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 156, Geopolitical File, Israel, December 9–31, 1974. Two meetings between Allon and Kissinger followed the meeting with Ford. The first meeting took place took place from 2:45 to 3:55 p.m. Their discussion covered several issues, including the Soviet Union, long-term arms aid authorization, a Middle East aid package, P.L. 480, Soviet and Syrian Jewry, and a nuclear reactor for Egypt. (Ibid.) The second meeting took place from 4:10 until 5:25 p.m. in the Secretary’s office at the Department of State. Their discussion focused on the disengagement talks between Israel and Egypt. (Ibid.)
  4. Ford met with General Secretary Brezhnev at Vladivostok on November 23 and 24.
  5. The 1949 Armistice Agreements, brokered by the United Nations, ended the 1948 Arab-Israeli war between Israel and Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.
  6. On December 30, the Soviet government announced the postponement of Brezhnev’s visit to the Middle East due to poor health. (New York Times, December 31, 1974, p. 1)
  7. See footnote 3, Document 104.
  8. Fahmy said it to President Ford on October 5, 1974. [Footnote in the original. See Document 102.]
  9. See Documents 99 and 100.