264. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Lebanon


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Joseph Sisco
  • Harold Saunders
  • DOD
  • William Clements
  • James Noyes
  • JCS
  • Lt. Gen. William Y. Smith
  • Note: Gen. Brown was out of town.
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • NSC
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Robert Oakley
  • Jeanne W. Davis

Secretary Kissinger: I thought we should have a review of the situation in Lebanon, then do some work if we decide we know what we want to do. Bill (Colby), what do you have?

(Mr. Colby briefed from the attached text.2 The briefing was interrupted from time to time with the following exchanges.)

Secretary Kissinger: Who exactly is fighting whom?

Mr. Colby: The Phalanges (radical Christians) are fighting the radical Fedayeen and the radical Moslem leftists.

Secretary Kissinger: If the Lebanese Army came in, on whose side would they be?

Mr. Colby: The Army is about 50–50 Christian/Moslem, but the commanders are Christian.

Secretary Kissinger: Would the Moslem soldiers obey them?

Mr. Colby: The entry of the Army might provoke the less radical Moslems and Fedayeen. They would assume the Army was pro-Christian.

Secretary Kissinger: Would Moslem soldiers fight Moslem civilians?

Mr. Colby: Some would.

Mr. Clements: I agree. There is a very tough feeling toward the refugees among the Moslems in Lebanon. They resent the refugees as a sore point, causing unrest. They are afraid the refugees might try to take the country.

Secretary Kissinger: (referring to a reported appeal by Lebanese leaders for a joint Arab military force to be sent to Lebanon) A joint military force? That’s inconceivable!

Mr. Colby: It’s a nutty idea.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t know what the Israelis would do.

Mr. Colby: That’s just an idea that has been floated in the press.

Secretary Kissinger: The Israelis would be glad to restore order.

Mr. Colby: They are giving some assistance to the Christians.

Secretary Kissinger: Of course. Some of their best friends are Christians.

[Page 934]

Mr. Colby: Karame went to see Asad yesterday to try to convince him that the situation is grave and that the Lebanese Army should be used to keep the peace. Asad essentially supported him. Then they brought Arafat in, and he agreed to try to help calm things down.

(Mr. Colby completed his briefing.)

Mr. Clements: I have one comment. This isn’t as simple as the fall-out from an escalating division between Moslem and Christian.

Mr. Colby: You’re right; that’s too simplistic. There are lots of factors.

Secretary Kissinger: What factors?

Mr. Clements: There are a lot of purely nationalist elements. I have friends over there whose families have been Christians for 4–500 years, but they are still Arabs. This pure Christian-Moslem thing just isn’t so.

Mr. Colby: It’s Christian-Moslem, but it is also have vs. have-not.

Secretary Kissinger: But you could still have a Christian-Moslem fight.

Mr. Colby: You have a fight between extremist Christians and extremist Moslems. All it takes is one man and one bullet to set it off. If the Sunni Moslems (Karame) and Chamoun and his friends can hold things together in the center . . .

Secretary Kissinger: Joe (Sisco), what do you think?

Mr. Sisco: I agree. We have to involve ourselves along the lines you have already started. The report of Syria and Karame trying to substitute an internal security force for the Lebanese army is encouraging. Arafat is meeting with the PLO today to see if they will go along. As a minimum we should talk to (Lebanese Foreign Minister) Takla and get his latest appreciation of the situation. See if he has any further suggestions. I think we should try to get the Saudis involved.

Mr. Clements: I agree.

Secretary Kissinger: What do we want them to do?

Mr. Sisco: Use the leverage of their money. Make it clear to the Arab extremist elements that they should not cause difficulties.

Secretary Kissinger: Are the Arab extremists causing difficulties?

Mr. Colby: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: All right, let’s go to Takla. And let’s go to the Israelis and find out what is happening, whether they are going to act. Don’t lecture them. Just tell them we don’t want a fait accompli. (to Hal Saunders) Make sure that is done.

Mr. Colby: [1 line not declassified]

Secretary Kissinger: [1 line not declassified] (to Sisco) Did we send out that cable I disapproved the other night? Let’s ask for Israeli views, but make sure there is no fait accompli. They are playing games.

[Page 935]

Mr. Colby: Yes, they are playing games. [1 line not declassified]

Secretary Kissinger: [1 line not declassified]

Mr. Colby: We can’t just go back to the past in Lebanon. We have to recognize that there must be a greater position for the Moslems.

Secretary Kissinger: I want to define our own interests. I have no particular interest in Lebanon’s internal affairs if they do not involve outside countries. I don’t want us involved in their internal affairs. Our concern is to prevent outside interference. Ask Takla what he thinks of our approaching the Saudis. What do we want from the Saudis?

Mr. Sisco: We should also tell the Phalanges to cool it, but we have to be careful. They are the only counter-weight in the situation.

Secretary Kissinger: Our cables didn’t hack away at the Phalanges, did they?

Mr. Sisco: No, but the Phalanges have undue expectations of direct U.S. involvement. That worries me. They tend to see the situation in terms of 1958 and that is ridiculous.

Mr. Colby: Exactly.

Mr. Sisco: American Marines will not land in Lebanon.

Mr. Clements: Some of the Saudis have a helluva influence on the Palestine refugees. They’re the root of the problem.

Secretary Kissinger: I have come to realize that King Faisal was a really great man. The current Saudi leaders may be more moderate intellectually, but I’m afraid they are going to get involved beyond their depth. I want to know what Takla thinks.

Mr. Sisco: I agree.

Mr. Clements: Absolutely.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m worried about the present Saudi leaders.

Mr. Sisco: They’re becoming too broadly involved in the Arab world.

Mr. Clements: If we don’t counsel Fahd, the Saudis will be involved.

Secretary Kissinger: We should do a cable to Fahd. But I would like to hear first from Takla and the Israelis.

(to Mr. Saunders) Let’s get a little working group together on what would happen if the worst occurs and war breaks out. What if Syria, then Israel goes in? Do you think the Sinai agreement can last?

Mr. Sisco: Yes, I think it can. The Egyptians will try to make it last. Syria would put on its usual pressure. They are concerned about the timing of the Sadat visit.

Secretary Kissinger: What about Jordan?

Mr. Sisco: They have not been involved. They are ambivalent about this situation. To the degree that the Palestinians are involved in Lebanon, they are not on Jordan’s back.

[Page 936]

Mr. Colby: Jordan still thinks the Palestinians will settle down and stay.

Mr. Sisco: The Lebanese situation could turn to a leftist-radical orientation. This would invite outside intervention and all the work we have done with Egypt, Syria and Jordan could be upset.

Mr. Clements: I agree.

Mr. Colby: The real factor is the realignment of the Moslem-Christian relationship using the moderates on both sides. Squeeze out the extremists.

Mr. Sisco: Franjiyah is a disaster. He has lost control. Everyone recognizes the need for political adjustment but it is very difficult to accomplish. Things have to quiet down first in order to prevent outside intervention and then to create a situation for peaceful adjustment.

Mr. Colby: We should try to get them to reopen their dialogue before the election.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t want us to get in. The internal arrangements in Lebanon are too dicey. Let’s have the working group look at the military contingencies and get a paper by Monday (October 13). Let’s get a cable to our Embassies in Beirut and Tel Aviv3 and ask for a reply by Monday. This group can meet again on Monday.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 25, Meeting Minutes, WSAG-Originals, October 1975. Top Secret; Codeword. The original is marked “Part I of III.” The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. The text is not attached.
  3. Telegram 243260 to Beirut and telegram 243279 to Tel Aviv, both October 11. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)