169. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dean Rusk
  • Cyrus Vance
  • McGeorge Bundy
  • George Shultz
  • Douglas Dillon
  • Averell Harriman
  • Robert McNamara
  • David Rockefeller
  • George Ball
  • William Scranton
  • Pete Peterson
  • David Bruce
  • John McCloy
  • Larry Eagleburger
  • Joseph Sisco
  • Jerry Bremer (notetaker)

(The meeting had already been underway for an hour and a half.)

Secretary Kissinger: If there is no progress by September, then I think the probability of a war by next spring is very great.

Mr. Bundy: This underlines Shultz’s point.

Secretary Kissinger: George, what do you think?

Mr. Ball: I agree.

Secretary Kissinger: I just don’t think the Syrians or the Palestinians will hold much longer.

Mr. Ball: I would have thought that given the present state the possibility is greater for hostilities from the Israeli side.

Secretary Kissinger: Our intelligence estimates, for whatever they are worth, are that in another war the Israelis will have no fewer than 8,000 killed.

Mr. Bundy: Does that assume a war without resupply?

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t know whether I should give this group anything more with which to attack me. But I should say that we, and others looking for political office, appear to have given the Israelis too much. They now have about three weeks supply.

Mr. Bundy: That is too much.

Secretary Kissinger: The single worst mistake we made was during the Rabin visit to agree to these tranches of military supplies. We felt we had this agreement and that’s why the President is now feeling aggrieved.

[Page 607]

Mr. Rusk: Do the Israelis understand that if they bring in any nuclear weapons they lose us?

Secretary Kissinger: That is a good question. We should make that clear to them.

Mr. Rusk: Take a look at my last talk with Eban when I was Secretary.2

Secretary Kissinger: When I was trying to keep Syria out of the war, I gave them our intelligence estimate. I said you’d be badly beaten. Asad’s reply was interesting. He said, “You don’t understand that the lesson we learned in 1973—what we finally understood—was that the Israelis could not stand pain. We won’t win the war, but we will keep them fighting for many weeks until they can stand it no longer.” The CIA estimates are that the next war would last about 10 days.

Mr. Ball: Jerusalem says five days.

Mr. Sisco: You don’t know, they could start in on the Fatah land.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, there’s no personal judgment here. But the Israelis are stronger than they were in 1973, and the political consequences of a war are the same, whether it lasts five days or five weeks. Western Europe and Japan would blame us for not preventing it. The Soviet Union would support the Arabs. It is most likely we would have an embargo and the diplomatic problems are the same anyway, even if the Israelis take Damascus and Cairo.

Mr. Scranton: Do you think the Soviets would come in?

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t know—the Israelis think they can defeat the Soviets because the Soviets are so badly armed. Anyway, that is totally irrelevant.

Mr. Vance: Why do you think the Israelis took the position they did?

Secretary Kissinger: Because their government is weak and in the hole with the public statements which they had already made. I think Rabin would agree with everything I have said. Either that or he is the most treacherous leader I’ve ever met. But I don’t think he is. My impression is that Rabin wanted the agreement. Secondly, at about the time of our trip, his popularity dropped to 30% while Peres, who opposed the agreement, went up to 67%. Third, we were there at a bad time for us in Indochina and the Israelis had seen what they thought was the Iranian sellout of the Kurds. Also, they have total contempt for our domestic position. Now, Joe (Sisco), you have traveled with many Secretaries of State to the area and as far as I know, never, since Sisco [Page 608] has been in the area, has a U.S. Secretary of State been treated with such total disdain.

Mr. Sisco: That’s right. That’s what I told you about it.

Secretary Kissinger: It was a humiliating experience to be there under these circumstances.

Mr. Rusk: I avoided it by simply never going there.

Secretary Kissinger: Joe was there with Bill Rogers. If you can imagine delivering a Presidential message and there being no attempt on the other side to meet any single point in it. When I met Asad, which gets me to the impact of the domestic position on foreign policy, he said he could not understand why Sadat should make any concessions. He said you have let Taiwan go, you have let Korea go, you have let Cambodia go, you have let Vietnam go, you have let Turkey go, you will sooner or later let Israel go. There was a debate between Asad and his Foreign Minister whether or not Portugal fitted into that category. It is not exactly elevating when you are there while they are discussing the extent of your worldwide treachery. Finally, I think the Israelis felt they were stronger than we were domestically.

Mr. Sisco: I agree. And as I told you, I think that they have decided that if they face war, they would prefer to face it this year with the passes when they can manage U.S. policy rather than after the elections.

Mr. Rockefeller: Rabin has as much as said this to me.

Mr. McNamara: I think there is a fifth point to the ones Henry has mentioned, too. And that is that we must begin to get tough with Israel quickly.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, but only on a bipartisan basis. This cannot be a fight with petulance.

Mr. Bundy: You don’t need to tell them or fight it. The Israelis are already perceived as bad boys. This goes back to 1948 when we didn’t make clear our position.

Secretary Kissinger: We are now cutting back on our intelligence cooperation, except that intelligence which is relevant to surprise attack. We can’t afford to let them be blind. The F–15 will not be coming here and we are slowing down the Lance and laser bomb deliveries. We’ve also cancelled Defense Minister Peres’s visit. This will all lead to some unshirted hell and we won’t announce it, but will leave it to Israel to start the fight.

We are not doing this to punish Israel, but to try to get them into a frame of mind where they see that although we have parallel interests, they are not the same as Israel’s. We have global interests that they simply do not have. We do not want polarization with the Arabs or the Soviets, and nor do we want to have the Soviets be the lawyer for the [Page 609] Arabs and us as the lawyer for the Israelis in Geneva. Therefore, we are engaged now in some dissociation from Israel.

They should know that we will act in what we, in our own best judgment, see as our interest and in their best interest. Fahd told the Vice President that we have a year. After that they’d put all of Saudi Arabian resources behind the Arabs totally. Now Faisal never pledged all of his resources. I think he was too much of a Bedouin.

Ambassador Bruce: Do you think the Israeli leaders believe they can go over the heads of the executive branch negotiators and think that we will give them complete support, including U.S. forces, if they have another war?

Secretary Kissinger: The Israeli government is starting a massive propaganda campaign to blame Egypt. Then, if I don’t miss my bet, they will begin to say that Geneva is a terrible forum and they will try to force us back to the step-by-step approach. Therefore, they keep saying over and over that the U.S. must stay active and they’re sending these teams here to brief. They gave an account to the British of the talks, which was unbelievable. Now we can’t be dragged into an argument with the Israelis about the day-by-day description of the negotiations.

Mr. Bundy: The consequences of the last few weeks should not emerge in the talks with Israel. In my experience it always worked better to say that their military situation was better than they say it is. In other words, we should say, look you guys, you are stronger than you say you are.

Secretary Kissinger: That is a good point.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 22, Classified External Memcons, December 1974 to April 1975, Folder 7. Limited Official Use; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s office.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967–1968, Document 288.