158. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel
  • Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Shimon Peres, Minister of Defense
  • Simcha Dinitz, Ambassador to the United States
  • Lt. Gen. Mordechai Gur, Chief of Staff
  • Mordechai Gazit, Director General, Prime Minister’s Office
  • Avraham Kidron, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Amb. Kenneth Keating, U.S. Ambassador to Israel
  • Joseph J. Sisco, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Harold H. Saunders, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Robert B. Oakley, NSC Staff
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

Rabin: Shimon and I met with the opposition leaders in Tel Aviv this morning.

Do you have anything new from Egypt?

Kissinger: Yes. I sent two messages last night, one about military matters and one about the status of the negotiation. I asked if there were any aspects of the Egyptian position that had not yet been revealed. I referred specifically to retaining an early warning station in [Page 556] the buffer zone and giving Egypt one, in order to get the Israeli line back. Before it was inside the Israeli line; now it would be in the buffer zone. We have received the following reply from Fahmy. [He reads from Aswan 273]:2

“There is no change in our position as you knew it before your departure.

“We cannot accept a monitoring station so far as Israel alone is concerned, or even on a reciprocal basis.

“There is no necessity to leave Joe Sisco because if you do not succeed this time, there will be no chance for a future success, and therefore we cannot agree to a suspension.

“The concrete result of a failure will have a tremendous and diversified impact in the Arab world and other circles. And it could not be a mere suspension but will in fact be, as the President and I told you before, an irrevocable and fatal blow to the step-by-step process.

“The new course will then have to be, as you know, the convening of Geneva. The President will have no problem to declare the failure of the step-by-step process and that we will try the second alternative, which is Geneva.

“I am sure you will understand that once there is a failure this time, we will not be bound by any undertakings we have already given thus far during these talks and that our position remains as defined by us and by the Arab world and in particular its latest summit meeting in Rabat.3

“You are certainly welcome to come back to Aswan if you feel that you are able to gain progress. If not, in case of your decision to go back to Washington, the President still prefers that in that case you should proceed directly from Tel Aviv to Washington.”

Ambassador Eilts talked to Fahmy and expressed concern at the seemingly negative cast of the above. Fahmy said he was writing this at the personal instructions of the President.

Fahmy expects that the Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Cairo will focus on the talks. He also notes that unless there is a marked change in the next 24 hours, the President will probably have to make his long-deferred talk to the People’s Assembly in two or three days’ time to explain that Egypt has followed the step-by-step course as far as it seemed viable but that now Geneva is the only alternative.”

“There is considerable gloom, frustration, and bitterness among the Egyptians. They profess inability to understand how your mission [Page 557] could have been undertaken without a clearer idea about the correlation between the Israeli demands and offers.”

This is self-explanatory, but I will add only one additional point.

There is no question that for whatever reason, on the American side there is a conviction similar to what the Egyptians said. We would not have conducted ourselves for the last seven months in the way we did if we knew this would be the final Israeli position. Particularly after Rabat. This accounts for the reaction. But aside from this are the realities that will follow.

None of this was a matter of pressure on Israel. Some of this can be worked out in a matter of the next weeks. But there is a concern about the reality that will now descend upon us. There was a conviction that this process, while it was in the United States’ interest, was also in Israel’s interest—splitting all the Arabs, keeping the Soviets out, keeping the Europeans and Japanese quiescent—and that this in itself was a quid pro quo for Israel, and for this reason we thought an agreement would be reached.

So whatever goodwill will be lost, we will make an effort to overcome. The real danger is that with the best will in the world, we will now be forced into a series of decisions that will face the U.S. with increasingly difficult dilemmas. This is the reality. This is where the pressure came from. Mr. Prime Minister, if you assigned a team of intelligent and serious people to examine from our point of view the decisions that will now have to be made, you would see the dilemmas we face. It is not possible for a superpower to separate itself totally from the Arab world, to separate ourselves totally from the West, to separate ourselves totally from the Soviet Union.

So let us part on good terms. We will keep in close contact with you. I wanted to say this ahead of time. There will be no pressure from us. We are not forcing Israel to do anything. The pressure we see is inherent in the situation—that we attempted to protect you from, that we attempted to manage. And you will, if you review the record, admit that nothing was done that was not coordinated with you. There will now be enormous pressures to separate us, instead of enabling us to stay together and enabling the U.S. to protect Israel’s position.

The decisions to be taken now will be the real tests. This is the only pressure you will feel. All the rest will be worked out one way or another.

Rabin: We all wanted the process to proceed in such a way as to save our interests and your interests. We agreed to give up the oil and we explained the importance of the passes. We see as part of the process for the future the need for practical arrangements by Egypt. We thought the wording—and that there will not be cooperation in supervising and patrols of the demilitarized zone, and that there will be no [Page 558] easing of boycott, and what about other issues that were not discussed—To give the passes and the oil field for this, when they are our best card in the process, is unexpected. This is what caused the misunderstanding.

Our position can be changed but only slightly. The road in the Israeli zone into a UN checkpoint; a move with the line in the North. But there is an enclave for the oil, and our line in the passes. Where do the Egyptians move to, with a new line?

The refusal of the monitoring station is a sign.

Allon: We do need a talk about how the communications broke down. I have checked the minutes of the previous talks, and from what I could read, there was no reason for misunderstanding about our position. And I was disturbed by the language from my counterpart; there seems to be an ultimatum from Fahmy. It sounds like we misunderstood the intentions of the Egyptians. The Egyptian insistence on removing the monitoring installation, even from the buffer zone, serves as a warning that even if we have an agreement, we will have another war or will be subjected to such strong pressures very soon. They may think they can pressure the U.S. to get Israel out of the Sinai for nothing. We agree that the process is worth retaining, but for almost no element of nonbelligerency? We assumed that whatever area we evacuated would be controlled by the UN; we were even willing to give Egypt the buffer zone. They don’t want the oil even though their people are starving. We have all this information about their military build-up. And we get this ultimatum to the Secretary of State from Fahmy.

And we wanted an agreement. We thought it would be good for Egypt. We thought it would be good for the U.S. I am sorry to see one of my best friends fail.

Kissinger: That is irrelevant.

Allon: Would it be advisable to go to Aswan to make the announcement?

Kissinger: I cannot go.

Allon: Do they know we are willing to give them free access on the road to the enclave?

Kissinger: I don’t want to give little concessions until we get an agreement on the basic points—the passes.

Allon: Let us use only the encouraging sentence in the communiqué of the suspension4—that you are going to keep in touch with the [Page 559] parties. After the Passover you can take a new initiative—in a different way.

Kissinger: It is totally out of the question. The U.S. will not again engage—nor will it be able to engage—in bilateral diplomacy again.

Peres: I don’t see much reason to go into the past. The dilemma Israel faces is about the future, and we cannot separate from our own shadow.

There were four issues on which the talks concentrated: duration, the passes, the oil, and nonbelligerency. Israel moved on all four, and Egypt did not move at all. We agree that the pressure is inherent in the situation—and it will come again with Syria. So what sort of Israel will face this uncompromising Arab mood? We were more hopeful about the Egyptian mood at the beginning. No nation can take this pressure. We have to choose between confrontation and movement to peace, but we are not met by conciliation on the part of Egypt.

I hope that the friendship of the U.S. and Israel will overcome this test. We and the team tried to bridge the unbridgeable.

Kissinger: In fairness I believe I cannot let pass the proposition that Egypt made no concessions. It is simply not correct. The correct statement may be that both sides made the maximum concessions they were capable of making, and that it wasn’t enough. But it is not a trivial matter for an Arab state for the first time to say that there will be no recourse to the use or threat of force; that all conflicts henceforth between you will be settled by peaceful means; that the agreement is open-ended and will last until it is superseded by another agreement; together with an assurance to the United States that if Syria attacks Israel, Egypt will not join; and on duration we could have worked it out with the UNEF to give an assurance that it will be automatically extended indefinitely. So that is the wrong view. I believe the issue has been wrongly defined from the beginning. And I of course would say in Egypt that it would be incorrect to say that you did not make concessions. You made significant concessions.

Incidentally, another concession that is not insignificant is the assurance that would be given to the U.S. that no matter what happened at Geneva, it would not affect the agreement. If nothing that is done at Geneva will affect the agreement, what could break the agreement?

And it would enormously strengthen your position in public opinion in America.

Allon: Their answer on the early warning system is a new element.

Kissinger: They believe it is their territory. This is the problem, not necessarily that they are planning a surprise attack. You could put up another early warning station. It is expensive to replace; it is reasonable [Page 560] to ask—but their refusal is not necessarily evidence of an intention to attack.

Gur: What about the idea of reducing forces on both sides?

Kissinger: I made the point to them—about deployment which gave both sides assurance against a surprise attack. They agree to discuss that—they liked the idea—they agreed to this. I told Sadat that a reduction of the standing army would be reciprocated by a thinning out of Israeli forces or a reduction of the term of service. He said this could be considered. He did not accept it but he did not reject it. The early warning site has been rejected consistently. I put it to him in the context of preventing a surprise attack, that a reduction in the numbers in the standing army in Egypt and a reduction in military service in Israel would mean movement toward peace.

Sisco: I took it up independently with Gamasy, who said he was open-minded about this.

Rabin: So how do you see it?

Kissinger: There has been no change in the Israeli position in the past 24 hours?

Rabin: In the passes and the line, no change. North from the passes and in the road to Abu Rudeis, we are willing to make some change. The opposition leaders believe we are selling out the country. They said that if an agreement like this with Egypt is reached, they will attack us.

Allon: May I ask a question? Is it conceivable that if we agreed that our men in the zone would remain for 5–6 years only?

Rabin: Let’s be realistic. They don’t think of keeping the present position for 5 years—one or two years maybe.

Kissinger: If we had achieved success, in an atmosphere of cooperation there would have been a real turning toward peace, and we could have achieved a de facto situation which, with skill, would last for four years. I thought certainly it would last more than two—but he can’t publicly admit it will last 5 years.

Peres: You once said you could predict only two years.

Kissinger: I did not say two years with no pressure. He will of course make his demands at Geneva. But the American public would have treated an attack on Israel under a non-recourse to force provision as aggression, and would have been behind Israel all the way.

Peres: All our wars in the area—four of them—have been due to the Sinai.

Kissinger: In May you said all the wars were the result of Syria! At this very table I heard it.

Peres: If we could have arranged that Sinai be potential for a period of calm and not for force, could it be theoretically possible one day [Page 561] to put Sinai under Egyptian sovereignty and public administration and only police—and no armies? Can we do this?

Kissinger: It is essential that we have no illusions about the significance of this sequence of events. The Arab leader who banked on the United States is discredited; the Arab leader who attempted to separate himself from the others has failed. We will now see a united Arab front. We will see a greater emphasis on the Palestinians. There will be no propositions about the Sinai separated from propositions about the Golan. The step-by-step process has been throttled, first for Jordan and now for Egypt. The Soviets will step into the area at least as the equals of the United States. So it is senseless to talk about ideas that the United States could arrange. We are losing control over events in the Middle East for the first time since 1969. That is a fact, and we had better adjust ourselves to the reality.

The European Community will now accelerate its relationship with the Arabs.

If the 1971 interim agreement5 had succeeded, there would have been no war in October 1973. It is the same process here. We are losing control over events in the Middle East. Ideas we might have been able to work out are dead. We have no strategy for the situation ahead. Our past strategy was worked out and agreed to between the U.S. and Israel. Now I don’t know what we are going to do.

Events will impose on us a necessity—against our will—which will inevitably lead to a certain dissociation. We will be forced to maneuver with the Soviet Union, with the Arabs, with the Europeans, so as not to be totally isolated. All our strategy which we devoted ourselves to for a year and a half is smashed. Let’s not kid ourselves; we’ve failed. Sadat will say that his desire to have good relations with the U.S. will continue, but events will drive him.

The Prime Minister and I used to talk, when he was in Washington, about such ideas as sovereignty for the Sinai, in 1970. But a long, long period of turmoil will be ahead.

Sisco: It is another lost opportunity. And there is a good possibility there will be another war in the next year.

Allon: Why not start it up again in a few weeks?

Kissinger: Because Sadat has to explain why he did it to protect himself. Because I am no longer the figure who mesmerizes them in the Arab world, because in every area the United States is no longer a country that one has to take so seriously. If the U.S. acts with brutal decisiveness somewhere, in a test of strength, maybe we can again, but I would not count on it, given our domestic situation. And don’t misun[Page 562]derstand: I am analyzing a situation with friends. One reason my colleagues and I are so exasperated is that we see a friend damaging himself, for reasons which will seem trivial five years from now, like Soviet soldiers across the Canal in 1971.

We should discuss the suspension scenario. We want two hours to notify Washington, and to get messages off to foreign governments, and to notify Aswan. When should we announce it—at 10:00 tonight?

Rabin: Make it 11:00. We want to notify the Cabinet.

Peres: What do we announce?

Rabin: That Dr. Kissinger announces the suspension of the talks.

Peres: We do not want to fight.

Kissinger: We leave Jerusalem at 10:00 tomorrow, and we leave Ben-Gurion at 11:00. We will read the following statement [he reads text of draft statement]:

“We have been seeking, in response to the desires of the parties, to help them achieve an interim agreement as a further step toward a peace settlement. We believe both sides have made a serious effort to reach a successful outcome. Unfortunately, the differences on a number of key issues have proved irreconcilable. We, therefore, believe a period of reassessment is needed so that all concerned can consider how best to proceed toward a just and lasting peace. Secretary Kissinger has accordingly informed the parties that he is returning to Washington to report to the President and the Congress on the present stage of the negotiations. He will remain in close touch with the parties and the co-chairman of the Geneva Conference during the period ahead.”

Rabin: If you announce this way, I will have to follow and explain why to the Israeli people.

Kissinger: While I am in this area, I will have to disassociate myself.

Peres: President Ford’s letter6 is an occasion . . .

Rabin: The brutality of the formulation of President Ford’s letter upset the Cabinet.

Kissinger: If an argument starts about the letter, it will not be in the interest of Israel or of the Jews in America.

Rabin: It is not a compliment to the Israelis that one can talk like that to Israelis.

Kissinger: I have made it clear to you how the U.S. must react to the objective undermining of our position.

I cannot believe it is in Israel’s interest to tackle the President.

[Page 563]

Allon: Forget about the letter. The other branches of the Administration will put the blame on Israel and Egypt will get full credit.

Rabin: I ask now, what can we say? We have kept silent for two weeks. We must explain the problem. The Egyptians have explained their position all the way through.

Peres: Make it public after another meeting; then we will state our case. There will be no polemics tonight with Egypt or Israel.

Kissinger: Good. Let’s suspend for two hours and meet again at 10:00—to discuss how we conduct ourselves in the weeks ahead. We should discuss where we go next. We will not criticize Israel; we will not engage in attacks on Egypt. We will be evenhanded. So to that extent there will be a dissociation. We will say both sides made a serious effort. We will not support either position. We will say both sides made a serious effort and failed. We will inform our Congress.

Rabin: We will meet again at 10:30. I will phone the Cabinet at 10:00.

[The meeting ended, and the group rose from the table.]

It is a Greek tragedy.

Kissinger: It is. That’s what makes it worse—that each side, following the laws of its own nature, reaches an outcome that was perfectly foreseeable.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East, Box 4, March 7–March 22, 1975, Volume II (9), Kissinger’s Trip. Secret. The meeting was held in the Prime Minister’s office. Brackets are in the original. The Israeli negotiating team and Kissinger met again from 10:35 p.m. until 12:05 a.m. at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem. Their discussion focused on the suspension of the negotiations. (Memorandum of conversation, March 22; ibid.)
  2. Dated March 22. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P850014–1602)
  3. See Document 112.
  4. Late in the evening of March 22, both the United States and Israel released statements on the suspension of the negotiations. See the New York Times, March 23, 1975, p. 18.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 9.
  6. Document 156.