265. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Lebanon


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Robert Ingersoll
  • Roy Atherton
  • DOD
  • William Clements
  • Robert Ellsworth
  • JCS
  • Gen. George S. Brown
  • Lt. Gen. William E. Smith
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • Sam Hoskinson
  • NSC
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Robert Oakley
  • Jeanne W. Davis

Secretary Kissinger: Bill (Colby), do you have anything?

(Mr. Colby briefed from the attached text.)2

Secretary Kissinger: (commenting on the statement that Asad deserves much of the credit for the current calm) Is that true, that Asad deserves the credit?

Mr. Colby: According to our information he has urged the Palestinians to cooperate and Arafat has gone back to Beirut, at Asad’s urging, to meet with Chamoun to discuss joint Christian-Moslem security measures.

(Mr. Colby completed his briefing.)

Secretary Kissinger: (to Ingersoll) Bob, what do you think? Or Roy (Atherton)?

[Page 938]

Mr. Ingersoll: Roy can discuss the paper the working group has put together.

Mr. Atherton: The paper identifies two choices: all-out support for the Christians or encouragement of constructive political intervention looking toward a new political compromise.3

Secretary Kissinger: The bureaus always give me two choices: what the bureau wants or all-out nuclear war.

Mr. Atherton: The paper outlines four choices built around support for the Christians in a dominant position or an attempt to work with others to see some change in the basic structure.

Secretary Kissinger: But there are basically only two choices: one, to work for change and the other, all-out support for the Christians, together with the Israelis. The rest are tactics.

Mr. Atherton: That is basically correct.

Secretary Kissinger: I have yet to learn how to defeat the bureaus but at least I have come to understand their methods. I assume you don’t want to support the Christians.

Mr. Atherton: I think it is a dead-end.

Secretary Kissinger: Bill (Clements), what do you think?

Mr. Clements: I agree we should work for change, but how do you propose to do it? Would we try to bring about a moderate situation or a true balance? The only way is get the Syrians to lay off and get the refugees to settle down. Intervention by Israel would be disastrous.

Mr. Atherton: But we should not let the Syrians live under any illusion. We should let them know that any move on their part might bring the Israelis in no matter what we do. We shouldn’t give them the idea they can move with impunity.

Mr. Clements: (to Kissinger) Did you contact that Foreign Minister you were talking about (Lebanese Foreign Minister Takla)?

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, but he had next to nothing to say. He told us to approach the Soviets. I totally disagreed. We have nothing to gain from that.

Mr. Atherton: The question is whether we should approach the Syrians.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s not a bad idea.

Mr. Clements: I agree, but I think the most workable way is through the Saudis. They have the money.

Secretary Kissinger: The Saudis can help us with the PLO. But if we want to know what the Syrians are thinking we should ask the Syrians.

[Page 939]

The essential point is how active a role should the U.S. play? If we are the ones who arrange a change in Lebanon, that means we will be blamed by everyone for the outcome. If the situation is tending toward a 50–50 Christian/Moslem solution, maybe we should let nature take its course.

Mr. Atherton: I agree; we should not intervene. But the Phalanges still think we will come to their rescue. We should make it clear to them that that is unrealistic. We should get the message across.

Secretary Kissinger: But that might make them fold completely.

Mr. Atherton: We should talk to them.

Secretary Kissinger: What do you think, George (Brown)?

Gen. Brown: I think we ought to go fishing. The U.S. should not get involved. And we should lean on the Israelis to keep their cool.

Secretary Kissinger: We have done that.

Mr. Atherton: We have no indication that that conversation has taken place yet.

Secretary Kissinger: Why not? We gave our Ambassador his instructions three days ago. Ask him why.

Mr. Colby: [1 line not declassified]

Secretary Kissinger: [2 lines not declassified]

Mr. Colby: [1 line not declassified]

Secretary Kissinger: [2 lines not declassified]

Gen. Brown: We should also continue to work with the Syrians.

Secretary Kissinger: We can tell the Syrians that we are interested in the independence and security of Lebanon but not necessarily in any one specific arrangement. We’re open-minded. What is their thinking? It is our judgement that if there is foreign military intervention, Israel may come in. If there is no foreign military intervention, we could probably prevent Israeli intervention.

Mr. Colby: We have to be careful that it doesn’t sound like a threat. [1 line not declassified]

Secretary Kissinger: Let’s see what answer we get from the Syrians first. We should also ask the Saudis for their view.

Mr. Atherton: We have but we have no answer yet.

Secretary Kissinger: The best way to deal with the Saudis is to have a complete proposal for them to make to someone. They may say they want a “moderate” solution but not know how to get it. I’m seriously worried that the Saudis are going to get in over their depth all over the Arab world. They are more moderate but they do not have the wisdom of Faisal. Fahd is tending to get Saudi Arabia overextended. I believe their internal structure is weaker than we think. As their position has moderated, they have lost that exalted quality of Faisal, and may be[Page 940]come just another reactionary country. The King is weak. When I was talking to him, the princes were sitting along the wall holding their own private conversations. They treated him as though he didn’t exist. Can you imagine that happening with Faisal? When I was talking to him you could have a heard a pin drop. There was nothing unfriendly about them. Indeed, they were friendlier to us than Faisal was, but I have the eerie feeling that it is not a strong government. Faisal positioned them very carefully; he maintained this almost sacred aura and was able to deal with both the moderates and the radicals. I think these new leaders are beyond their depth.

Mr. Colby: One advantage is that the only real candidates for leadership are all cousins and brothers.

Secretary Kissinger: But they could get in trouble with the Arab world. Look at OPEC.

Mr. Colby: Of course now everyone is chasing a piece of the action.

Secretary Kissinger: Their performance at OPEC was not good for them. They are too vulnerable. Of course, it was in our interest.

Mr. Clements: They were doing what they thought you wanted them to do. For that reason we have some responsibility for them.

Secretary Kissinger: Right. That’s why I don’t want them over-extended.

Mr. Colby: They got a little scared at the OPEC meeting about the overall economic impact.

Secretary Kissinger: I agree. But Faisal wouldn’t have done it publicly. He wouldn’t have put Yamani on television. He would have worked behind the scenes.

Mr. Clements: This is a changed regime. We have some responsibility for them; they are looking to us for advice and counsel.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s right. That’s why we have to get them to be moderate. They may get in too deep. We have to advise them. Otherwise, can you imagine a Qadhafi in Saudi Arabia?

Mr. Colby: That would be a nightmare.

Mr. Clements: We have to have someone over there who can advise and counsel them.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m in total agreement.

Mr. Colby: And represent their interests.

Secretary Kissinger: We have a heavier responsibility to them than before. (to Atherton) Let’s be more specific with the Saudis.

Mr. Colby: While we try to cool the extremists, we should also strengthen the moderates. We can work through Karami and Chamoun.

[Page 941]

Secretary Kissinger: What would we do? In principle, yes. Let’s draft something on what we would say to strengthen the moderates. Maybe after we hear from the Syrians we might move in that direction.

Mr. Atherton: Karami mostly listened when we approached him.

Secretary Kissinger: We need some Saudi and Syrian input, then we can go back to Karami. Don’t tell the Lebanese whom we are talking to. They will try to concert their responses.

What do we do if the Syrians go in, followed by the Israelis? Or the other way around?

Mr. Colby: The situation may get so serious that we have to go in.

Gen. Brown: I would hope we could be involved with the Soviets so that we both stay out.

Secretary Kissinger: Then the Israelis will clean up.

Gen. Brown: Don’t we have some leverage on the Israelis? (to Kissinger) They still want that deal you made.

Secretary Kissinger: There is no deal that has not been in effect for years.

Gen. Brown: What about that military equipment they want to start flowing.

Secretary Kissinger: You have got the equipment lists.

Gen. Brown: But there might not be a continuous flow of U.S. arms to Israel if they go in to Lebanon.

Secretary Kissinger: If that is the decision. Do we want the Israelis out of Lebanon under all circumstances? If the Israelis go in first, without consultation with us, that is one situation. But if they go in second, what do we do? Do we crack down on the Israelis or maintain a neutral attitude?

Mr. Atherton: We would have to assess the Syrian motives in moving first. Do they intend to take over Lebanon?

Secretary Kissinger: If the Syrians go in, there would be a radical change in the balance, whatever reasons the Syrians give. The Israelis would go in, even if the Syrians say they are going in to help the Christians. It’s not inconceivable that the Syrians would go in to come up with a moderate solution. Suppose they went in to achieve a 50–50 split? That’s not impossible; it would be a basically moderate course. But the Israelis would go in no matter what the Syrians stated as their reasons.

Gen. Brown: I agree. But wouldn’t Asad understand that?

Mr. Atherton: The Israelis might not go in right away, but at some point they would.

[Page 942]

Mr. Colby: I agree.

Secretary Kissinger: Let’s get a specific answer on what the Israeli judgement is of a tolerable level of Syrian activity.

Mr. Clements: We can’t just “go fishing.” If everything goes to hell in a handbasket, the U.S. will be blamed.

Secretary Kissinger: If we get superactive, we may trigger Arab coalescence.

Gen. Brown: We certainly shouldn’t step up our ammunition supplies.

Mr. Clements: Okay.

Mr. Colby: The Russians would love to see us painted as friends of the Israelis and the Christians.

Mr. Atherton: The Kuwaitis have asked us about another statement by a high U.S. official. I think not before the Arab Foreign Ministers meeting on Wednesday.4

Secretary Kissinger: Let’s get our basic thinking to the Syrians and Saudis in a low key way this afternoon. Ask them if they want another statement.

Mr. Colby: They ought to know we are not supporting the Christians.

Secretary Kissinger: They ought to know that we are holding the Israelis back but not in every contingency. Let’s get to the Saudis, the Syrians and (Egyptian Foreign Minister) Fahmi. Ask what they think. Get the cables off this afternoon.5

Let’s have the working group look at what we should actually do if there is a war. Look at the various ways it could start: a unilateral Israeli or Syrian move, or a confused situation. Let’s examine it on a diplo-matic, military and intelligence level. Would we move some carriers? Reinforce? Let’s get something worked out by close of business tomorrow.

  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. The paper is not further identified.
  4. October 17.
  5. Telegrams 243488 to Cairo, 243489 to Jidda, and 243490 to Damascus, all Ocober 14. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)