166. Minutes of National Security Council Meeting1


  • Middle East and Southeast Asia


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger
  • Secretary of the Treasury William Simon
  • Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger
  • Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff General George S. Brown
  • Director of Central Intelligence William Colby
  • State
  • Deputy Secretary of State Robert Ingersoll (only for Vietnam portion)
  • Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Joseph Sisco
  • Defense
  • Deputy Secretary William Clements
  • WH
  • Donald Rumsfeld
  • NSC
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Robert B. Oakley

President: This is the first of the steps, and a very important step, which we must take following the extremely disappointing results of Henry Kissinger’s long and arduous trip to the Middle East. I told Rabin that unless there was a settlement, we would have to reassess our policies toward the Middle East, including Israel.2 I don’t know if they understood what I was saying but I think they do now. Since I have been in office, we have worked with Israel to try and get a settlement. We acted in good faith and I assume they did, also, but when the chips were down they showed a lack of flexibility which was needed for an agreement. What I said to the Hearst papers about more Israeli flexibility being in the best interests of peace is true.3 But there was no flexibility. I will catch flak for my position and Henry is already catching it. The time has come for a good hard look.

I will tell you briefly about my record in Congress where Israel is concerned. It was so close that I had a black reputation with the Arabs. I have always liked and respected the Israeli people. They are intelligent and dedicated to the causes in which they believe. They are dedicated to their religion, their country, their family and their high moral standards. I admire them and respect them. And I have never been so disappointed as to see people I respect unable to see that we are trying to do something for their interest as well as for our own. But in the final analysis our commitment is to the United States.

Vice President: Hear, hear.

President: We could have been together but now I do not know. The reassessment will take place and we will see.4 We cannot afford to have our position in this country undercut but I must tell you what I think. We will be following a firm policy of reassessment. It will not be [Page 582] decided today. Everyone will take a close look first. But in the meantime, keep everyone at arm’s length.

Henry, do you want to tell us about your mission and where we are now?

Kissinger: Let me describe some of the issues which we will face in the reassessment of a Middle East policy. First, what have we been trying to achieve?

In November 1973 all the Western Europeans, the Japanese and the USSR were solidly united on an immediate Israeli return to the 1967 lines. If the situation had been allowed to continue, given the economic problem in the West, all the pressures would have been on us. And at Geneva everyone would have been united against Israel with the US acting as Israel’s lawyer. Our policy helped abort this sort of Geneva Conference, even though we went along with the idea in order to keep the Russians calmed down. We had the willingness of Sadat to play a constructive, cooperative role and the active encouragement of Feisal for the step-by-step approach. This held off the radicals and enabled us to create a situation in which all the Arabs were turning to us, while Israel had a situation which it could handle politically since it had to deal with only a small piece at a time. We also neutralized the Western Europeans and Japanese who are anxious to replace us in the Middle East. Objectively, there is little to distinguish the effect of their policies from those of the Soviets. This process which we instituted proceeded well and met Israel’s interests as well as our own. The two were compatible in the step-by-step approach.

So the big issue with Israel during my last trip was not lines on maps. By the way, the leaked maps in the New York Times and elsewhere are inaccurate.5 They only showed us a map after the negotiations were over. But lines are trivial compared to whether or not the moderate Arab leaders are able to say the US has delivered something. And this is fully in line with the survival of Israel, really the best way to ensure Israel’s survival. The USSR was completely out of the game and on this last trip Feisal came to the point where he told me he trusted me to proceed as I judged best even though he would have preferred another approach. And Asad told me he wanted separate negotiations with Israel rather than Geneva.

So our disappointment is that Israel did not understand. They could have been shielded and their only friend, literally their only friend in the world, was in control of the process, dealing with the Arabs singly and keeping the USSR out. Even Iraq was beginning to move out of the Kurdish orbit. I do not approve of the brutal way in [Page 583] which Iran and Iraq disposed of the fate of the Kurds, but it created a situation whereby the Iraqis no longer had such need for the Soviets. I was hoping that in such a situation with all the Arabs turning to us and away from the USSR, someone in the Kremlin would have gotten discouraged and said, “Let’s stop pouring so much money and effort down a rat hole.” That was the situation we had one week ago.

On the whole, in the negotiations, I think Egypt went further and Israel not as far as I had expected. But our role and the whole strategy we had followed for eighteen months, putting us in the key position, has been disrupted. Now that the parties are face to face with it, they are not so eager for Geneva.

A unilateral US effort now would be a mistake, would make it look as if we were more anxious than the parties. If they came to us, we could think about doing something but there can not be any more shuttles. The pressure on the Arabs is likely to be against cooperating with us. Sadat will have to move toward the other Arabs in order to protect himself and also a bit toward the Soviets and Western Europeans and Geneva. Moreover, tensions in the area will build up. UNEF is due for renewal on April 26 and UNDOF a month later. Sadat told me he would renew UNEF for three months, not six. I would expect UNDOF to be renewed for two months. Both would thus expire simultaneously by the end of July and by August we could have a flash point on both fronts.

Schlesinger: Will the Soviets veto a renewal?

Kissinger: Not if the parties are for it. I expect we will have some violations of the agreement soon. The Egyptians already have some SAM sites across the Canal and there will probably be more. Syria and the PLO will get back in the game, perhaps with guerilla raids from Lebanon. The Secretary General is already in the game, trying to arrange Geneva. I am trying to slow him down a little. If Geneva meets, things will happen. Israel will have to deal with all of its neighbors and all of the final issues at the same time. Up to the present, thanks to our strategy, we and Israel were able to avoid this.

President: When would Geneva meet?

Kissinger: Let’s not rush into it. We must act as if we were ready to go all-out to head for Geneva but not actually set a date. That will have a good effect on the parties. I think we can wait until June but we can not appear to stall or hang back. Even though the Soviets are now in a good tactical position, we still have the chips because everyone is still counting on us to move Israel. We can get the benefit of this basic situation if we can deliver. This is true bilaterally or at Geneva. If we do not deliver, the Arabs will conclude that only force can get anything from [Page 584] Israel. For the moment Egypt and Saudi Arabia still have some confidence in the US, judging from what was said to the Vice President.6

Vice President: And also affection for the US and for Henry.

Kissinger: There will now be a more active Soviet role and if the Arabs do not think they can get enough progress they will ask that the UK and France participate at Geneva. We have an interest in the survival of Israel but we also have broader interests with the Western Europeans and Japan and the Arabs. If there is another war we run the risk of antagonizing the Arabs definitively and of pushing them into the arms of the Soviets. We will also risk a direct confrontation with the Soviets. At Geneva we will confront the basic issues of final frontiers and Palestine and guarantees and demilitarization. We may have to draw up a comprehensive US plan for the Middle East so as not to be empty-handed.

A big question is to what degree we will want to coordinate with or dissociate ourselves from Israel. What kind of economic and military aid should we provide and what should the timing be? What kind of military supply policy should we have for the Arabs? As I see it, the only remaining Soviet influence in Egypt is the latter’s need for spare parts and other military items from the USSR. What about our energy policy and the Joint Committees? What about the PLO?

Even if we decide to do nothing we must have a policy. We need a diplomatic strategy for Geneva and a strategy for bilateral relations, with the Arab states and Israel, economically and militarily. There are also some tactical questions concerning Geneva: Should we go for a stalemate with a subsequent resumption of our bilateral efforts, or go to Geneva with a US plan and force a settlement? We need a carefully worked-out strategy for another war. The last time we came out very well without an advance strategy but the next time we can not improvise. Another war will produce very heavy casualties—I think Bill Colby’s estimate is for 7000 Israeli dead—with more Arab countries joining in and a greater risk of Soviet involvement!

The Soviets will be a much bigger threat than in the past. In 1967 and again in 1973 they stood aside while their Arab allies were humiliated. The cumulative resentment is building up and is likely to push them to be less cautious this time in showing their power. This is all the more true since they see the US as weak and unwilling to stand up for its commitments anywhere in the world.

[Page 585]

That is why we need a total reassessment. Joe Sisco will be in charge of a special working group to consider all of these questions. It should take about three weeks.

We need to keep the immediate situation under control and then recapture control of the long-term situation. We can do this since the Arabs know they still need to come to us to get progress. But we must be absolutely certain that we can deliver progress the next time.

President: Thank you, Henry, what do the others have to say?

Schlesinger: I think Henry’s presentation was very accurate. Our position could be one of dignified aloofness. We are in the cat-bird seat. We can go to Geneva, point out we have already done our best but did not succeed, so we will just sit and wait to see what develops.

Vice President: Do you mean aloofness from Israel?

Schlesinger: Yes, I do. There should not be full policy coordination with Israel as in the past. We should look forward, not to the past. United States policy has been frustrated to the extent we hope to be successful in the years ahead. We can not allow Israel to continue its relationship with us as if there were no problems. We can not let them conclude that they can upset the US applecart but the Administration can do nothing about it. The military balance from the Israeli standpoint is much better than the last time we met (in the NSC) to discuss this problem.7 We overestimated badly the amount of Soviet arms which Egypt had received. So the balance for Israel is reasonably favorable and we need not be concerned over our aloofness.

Simon: What about the Joint Economic Commissions?

President: This is a crucial question. Joe Sisco is coordinating our reassessment. It is not aimed at tilting toward or against Israel or toward or against Arabs. It is aimed at the best interests of the US. Jim (Schlesinger) used a good word, “aloof,” and I think this is the posture we should adopt at least during the period of our policy reassessment. As an example of this, it would be better if Peres did not come on his visit as originally planned. And as for the F–15, I think we should hold up the visit by the Israeli team which was coming to make an assessment. Bill (Simon), you should be aloof with the Joint Committee.

Simon: We have Joint Commissions with several countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. How shall we handle this?

President: The Iranians and Saudis are in a different category. They were not involved in the negotiations.

Simon: What about Egypt?

President: What are we doing there?

[Page 586]

Simon: We have several projects, particularly helping them rebuild the area along the Suez Canal.

President: As I recall, we were slow in getting started with Egypt so we can afford to be more forthcoming than with the Israelis. [2 lines not declassified] There is no pique on our part but we are reassessing so we will be restrained.

Colby: [1 line not declassified]

President: As I recall my own experiences as a Congressman, the Israeli representatives float very freely on Capitol Hill. Now we can’t do anything about that with Congress. But I have the impression the Israeli representatives are almost as free in many Departments as they are with Congress. You must try to control that.

Schlesinger: We have both overt and covert Israeli representatives. It is very difficult to handle.

President: Try to do both but concentrate on the overt ones. Channelize the relationships with Israeli representatives. The proper relationship should be business-like but arms-length and aloof. Jim, what did we do about that Israeli shopping list last fall?

Kissinger: The NSC recommended that we give them two out of eight slices but we ended up by giving them four out of eight.8

President: I decided to include the Lance and the LGB because I thought they needed it. In retrospect, bearing in mind what I believed we were going to do together and what has actually happened, we were probably too generous. Jim, hold off on delivering those high priority items if there is a way to do it.

Schlesinger: We have a commitment to deliver the Lance.

Vice President: I thought they had a commitment, too, on negotiations.

Clements: We can prolong the Lance training in order to delay delivery.

President: Stay within the guidelines. How you implement it is your business. When we have reassessed, then we can proceed. For the moment, I would like to look at the four slices of arms we gave them and what we have delivered already.

Schlesinger: Haig was here last week complaining about the drawdowns on NATO stocks in Europe. I told him he knew all about it.

President: I would like to see those four slices. Did we go so far as to increase their offensive capability, not only improve their defensive capability? I want to see everything that has been delivered to Israel. I want to be able to show Congress just how much we have done mili[Page 587]tarily for Israel. Also, I would like to see what we have delivered to the Arabs in the way of military hardware.

General Brown: There is the question of when the stocks we have drawn down for Israel will be replaced for our own forces. You can use this with Congress.

President: That would be useful. Get me a list of what we have done since I have been President. If challenged, I want the record.

Kissinger: It would also be valuable to know what we have delivered since November 1973 when our major re-equipment program began.

President: That will be useful for background but the stress should be on what has happened since I came to office, so show where the cut-off is. We have drawn down our own capability.

Clements: We have even drawn out of our own stocks.

President: I want to look at the facts. Bill (Colby), do you want to talk?

Colby: A major factor is the increased chance of war. We put out a Special National Intelligence Estimate yesterday.9 The armies of Egypt, Syria and Israel are all in a state of alert and there is a substantial chance of hostilities breaking out either deliberately or by accident at any time in the next few weeks. If it does not happen quickly, then there will be negotiations at Geneva and if there is no progress there by early summer there are high odds that Egypt and Syria will launch a coordinated attack and even higher odds that Israel will attack first. Israel probably sees war as inevitable and may decide to hit now. Comparatively, they are well off. They can probably beat Egypt and Syria both in 7–10 days.

Kissinger: We told Asad this was our estimate of how the war would develop, not Israel’s estimate but our own. Asad told me we did not understand: “We learned in 1973 that Israel can not stand pain. We will lose a lot but we will not give up and we will use the strategy of inflicting casualties and fighting an extended war. We will lose territory and men but bleed Israel and draw the Soviets in.”

Schlesinger: If Israel strikes first, they will not behave rationally. They are likely to strike through Lebanon.

Kissinger: They may be able to hit quickly but the Syrians are determined to hold out.

Colby: We project 7,000 Israeli killed, three times as many as in October 1973. But we believe they can punch through.

[Page 588]

Sisco: The Arabs will not stick their necks out. This is a very critical judgment. It can determine the outcome of the war. The Arabs will fight on the defensive and drag it out as long as possible.

Kissinger: The Arabs think of prolonged war and an early oil embargo.

Schlesinger: Before the US resupplies? That would be crazy. We won’t stand for it.

Kissinger: We must think of it. Also, our contingency planning needs to assume higher risk-taking by the Soviets.

President: Did the Soviets go further in 1973 than before?

Schlesinger: They threatened the British and French in 1956 with nuclear attack.10

Kissinger: Only after we had dissociated ourselves from our allies and told them to pull back.

Schlesinger: The Soviets were all bluster.

Clements: The priority problem is that Israel may decide their position will worsen so they will preempt. They already had before April 1st enough to preempt and as their situation worsens, they could decide to go now. Also, as we become more aloof, this could aggravate the situation. It could push them to this kind of decision.

Kissinger: We must weigh many factors. I agree with Bill that if there is no progress by summer, there will be war within one year or maybe this year. We have six months to produce something. For Israel to go to war at the known displeasure of the US would be a monumental decision. We must keep the Arabs from becoming too upset but show Israel they can not ignore us. The next time we must be in a position to get results from Israel.

Schlesinger: Maybe the word aloof is not a good one. We can say to the Israelis that we have made an honest effort and our well is temporarily dry. Whether it will be temporary or permanent depends on you. We are here.

President: Rocky, what about your talks with Sadat and the Saudis?

Vice President: Mr. President, your thought of sending someone to the funeral of King Feisal and your letters11 made a deep impression and I believe really helped the Saudis get through a very difficult period. Saudi Arabia wants to follow the policy of cooperation of King [Page 589] Faisal, judging from my talks with Khalid and Fahd. I told Fahd we want his advice. He said that Feisal had stood up to Nasser on radicalism in the Arab world when it appeared that Saudi Arabia was all alone but by the time of his death Egypt had come around to seeing that Feisal was right. Fahd said, however, that unless there is a “just, equitable and lasting peace within one year”—and those are his exact words—the Soviets will move back in, the radicals will be reinvigorated and rearmed by the Soviets while the moderates will move away from the US and establish a close relationship with Western Europe. The Europeans have arms they want to sell, we have the money to buy and we can learn to fly the planes and drive the tanks. The Arabs will keep building their military strength as long as it takes from the USSR and Western Europe and in time we will crush Israel. That is what Fahd said to me. He is right about the Western Europeans. The French sent their Defense Minister to the funeral with a list of items for sale and models of aircraft and tanks. This offended the Saudis.

Simon: Israel might strike first. Is Egypt fully resupplied? I gather they are not and Israel is militarily superior. They won’t allow the Arabs to fight a war of attrition. Also, if there is too much uncertainty about our support, it could lead Israel to conclude it must hit first.

Kissinger: Our problem would be the same if Israel hits soon or later on. Even if Israel destroys the Arab armies, we will face the same problems in our relations with the Arabs, Western Europeans and Soviets. We would be obliged to step in, tell Israel that is enough and impose or try to impose a settlement along the 1967 line. There is a physical limit to what three million people can occupy and sooner or later we will have to stop this process.

President: Exactly. How many miles of territory and how many cities can Israel occupy?

Kissinger: And would the Soviets stand by while that happened?

Colby: We think the Soviets are freer to support the Arabs than they have been before. It would take them only a very few days to fly in defensive support such as SAMs and aircraft. Their airborne troops could probably be beaten by the Israelis because they would only be lightly armed, but they could reinforce the air defense around Cairo and Damascus and other cities.

Kissinger: I am not sure Israel would directly attack Soviet troops.

Brown: When I was reading the Special National Intelligence Estimate, I had the impression of hearing an old record over again. We made a mistake about the Arabs in October 1973. What Sisco had to say is very important. We must keep our minds open.

Schlesinger: Israel will certainly win another round.

Brown: Israel’s army is very good. We know that. But don’t count out the Arabs.

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Vice President: Think what another war would mean for us. The OPEC countries would stick together in an oil embargo, particularly since the Latin Americans are already unhappy with us. This could cause paralysis of the East Coast of the United States.

President: I told Morton to put together a contingency plan on what would be likely to happen if there were another oil embargo, what measures we can take, and what the probable result would be. We need to follow up on this.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Arab-Israeli dispute.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Box 1, NSC Meetings File, NSC Meeting, March 28, 1975. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room at the White House.
  2. See Document 156.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 164.
  4. On March 29, Kissinger informed the Ambassadors to Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Israel, that the U.S. Government would be making a reassessment of U.S. policy in the Middle East (see Document 163) and instructed them to return to Washington early the following week. (Telegram 71670 to Tel Aviv; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 157, March 1975; telegram 71673 to Amman; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840178–1656; telegram 71674 to Damascus; Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Middle East, Box 31, Syria, State Department Telegrams from S/S, Nodis, Folder 4; telegram 71675 to Cairo; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840178–1651). Kissinger also asked the Ambassadors to pose a set of questions to the leaders of each country: what was that country’s view on the next step toward peace, what role did that country see for the United States, and what was that country’s view on the Geneva Conference and if it resumed, what did they expect to happen there.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 164.
  6. Rockefeller and Sadat met on March 27 in Riyadh where they both attended King Faisal’s funeral. Rockefeller described the meeting in the press conference he held when he left Saudi Arabia. (Telegram 8 from Riyadh, March 27; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files) No memorandum of conversation of the meeting has been found.
  7. See Document 111.
  8. See Document 101.
  9. SNIE 30–1–75, March 27, entitled “Next Steps in the Middle East,” analyzed various aspects of the long-term trends potentially affecting the Middle East peace process. (Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A)
  10. A reference to the 1956 Suez Crisis when the United Kingdom, France, and Israel coordinated an invasion of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal.
  11. President Ford and Secretary Kissinger both sent messages of condolence to Crown Prince Khalid. (Telegrams 66828 and 66911, March 25; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)