270. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1
- Henry A. Kissinger
- Robert Ingersoll
- William Clements
- Gen. George S. Brown
- Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters
- NSC Staff
- Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
- William G. Hyland
- Michael Hornblow
Gen. Walters: Read attached situation report.2
Secretary Kissinger: We have had some feelers from the Syrians. That information must be closely held. We have also discussed this with the Israelis who would go into southern Lebanon under these conditions. There is a curious lineup here with the Syrians, the anti-PLO people, the Christians on one side. I never thought I would read in a cable that the Syrians want to reduce Communist influence in Lebanon. We asked Callaghan to discuss this indirectly with the Soviets. Gromyko said that he had not been told by the Syrians that they contemplate a move. We have also approached the Saudis, Jordanians and the Egyptians. We have not yet heard back from the Egyptians. They are playing a shortsighted but tricky game by supporting the Communists and the PLO in Lebanon as a way of getting out of the box they were put in by the Sinai Agreement. We have not yet heard back from the Syrians. If they go into Lebanon they may never leave. It might be alright though if they were to go in and put out the PLO and then could be replaced by a UN force.[Page 962]
Gen. Brown: If the Syrians go in the Israelis might move further in the Golan and might go all the way to the Latali River.
Secretary Kissinger: Once the Syrians go in they might never go out. There are already 4,000 Syrians in Lebanon. Then if the Israelis go in there would be additional complications and they might not get out and would be discussing old Syrian conquered territory and new Syrian territory.
Mr. Clements: And that area is a hell of a lot more desirable than the Sinai.
Secretary Kissinger: It could lead to a bloody fight.
Mr. Clements: What about the mixed force idea?
Secretary Kissinger: We haven’t received an answer from anyone on that except Jordan, and they say it won’t work.
Mr. Ingersoll: What about Egypt?
Secretary Kissinger: We have no answer from them. A joint force seems inconceivable.
Gen. Brown: What about the Turks?
Gen. Walters: No that would not work.
Secretary Kissinger: There is the possibility of having a UN force composed mainly of Arabs. The problem is that if Israel goes in then all the other Arab states might enter.
Mr. Clements: Yes and it could also play hell with our getting Saudi Arabian oil.
Secretary Kissinger: I was just with the President and told him the Saudis might cut off oil again.
Gen. Brown: In case of a possible evacuation from Beirut we have moved a small force just off of Greece only 40 hours away from Lebanon. The balance of the 6th fleet is off to the West.
Secretary Kissinger: How many carriers do we now have in the Mediterranean?
Gen. Brown: Two, but not close at all.
Secretary Kissinger: Both in the Mediterranean.
Gen. Brown: Yes.
Secretary Kissinger: What reinforcement capabilities do we have?
Gen. Brown: We have reasonable reinforcement capabilities in Europe. There are 1200 marines in the Mediterranean and Army divisions in Europe and a fair amount of airlift capabilities.
Secretary Kissinger: How would you fly there?
Gen. Brown: We could overfly Austria and Italy.
Secretary Kissinger: If there is a war in the Middle East it could get totally out of control. This is because of foreign perceptions of US [Page 963] policy arising out of the domestic situation. If war breaks out my recommendation to the President would be to pour things into the Mediterranean as fast as possible in case the Soviets decide to make a move. We could not face a two week war now.
Mr. Clements: I agree one hundred percent. Of course the real treasure in the area is those 300 billion barrels of oil in Saudi Arabia. There is no other prize like it in the world.
Gen. Brown: I won’t quarrel with that but we don’t have any force in the Indian Ocean anymore.
Mr. Clements: There are a lot of people with an eye on that treasure.
Secretary Kissinger: If there is a war we just can’t afford to fall on our faces. If in the wake of Angola3 there is a perception of US indeci-siveness it could be disastrous. I don’t know if we can put any forces in the Indian Ocean. George and Bill, would you go back and see what forces could be available in a crisis. If there is a war perhaps we should appear to be a little reckless. Iraq can now move in greater forces than previously.
Gen. Walters: Yes, they now have 700 tank transports and that can move two Iraqi divisions.
Secretary Kissinger: Really. I didn’t know that. I don’t want the fact of the Syrian query to get around town.
Gen. Brown: It is encouraging that they have done this without letting the USSR know about it.
Secretary Kissinger: If we had freedom of action we could perhaps act differently. We could let the Syrians move and break the back of the PLO. In a strange way this is a strategic opportunity which we shall miss. The Syrian approach to us is encouraging and I never thought I would read in a cable that the Syrian foreign minister wants to reduce Communist influence in Lebanon.
Mr. Clements: Our difficulty is that we want to have our cake and eat it too.
Secretary Kissinger: If we could get the Syrians in and out again without the Israelis coming in. . . .
Gen. Walters: It could not be done without the Israelis moving.
Secretary Kissinger: And if the Israelis move into southern Lebanon that would unite the Arabs. Do you all agree?
Mr. Clements: I agree.
Gen. Walters: I agree.[Page 964]
Secretary Kissinger: A UN meeting would not help and could lead to a condemnation of Israel.
Gen. Scowcroft: And there could be an oil embargo.
Gen. Brown: How about putting a US force in southern Lebanon in order to prevent an Israeli move? This could prevent something that could lead into a disaster.
Secretary Kissinger: Why don’t you look into that. I am not sure Israel would hold still for that unless it would prevent a guerrilla war with the PLO.
- Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 25, Meeting Minutes, WSAG-Originals, March–April 1976. Top Secret. The original is marked “Part II of II.” This meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.↩
- Situation report not attached and not found.↩
- See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXVIII, Southern Africa.↩