36. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Mr. Max Fisher
  • Rabbi Israel Miller, President, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
  • Mr. Jacob Stein, Former President, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
  • Mr. Yehudah Hellman, Executive Director, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
  • Mr. Stanley Lowell, President, Conference of Soviet Jewry
  • Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, President, American Jewish Congress
  • Mr. I. L. Kenen, Chairman, American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee
  • Mr. David Blumberg, President, B’nai-B’rith
  • Mrs. Rose Matzkin, President, Hadassah
  • Mr. David Sheinkman, President, Jewish Labor Council
  • Mr. Louis Cole, President, National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council
  • Mrs. Charlotte Jacobson, President, World Zionist Organization
  • Mr. Herman Rosenberg, Young Israel
  • Mr. Paul Zuckerman, United Jewish Appeal
  • Mr. Edward Ginsburg, United Jewish Appeal
  • Mr. Raymond Epstein, Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President
  • Mr. Leonard Garment, Counsel to the President
  • Mr. Joseph J. Sisco, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Mr. Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

[The Secretary conferred with Max Fisher privately in his office from 5:00–5:06 and with Garment and Fisher from 5:06–5:08.]

Kissinger: I appreciate this opportunity to see you. Going off to the Middle East, I wanted to talk to you about what we are trying to do there, and what might come out, so you have a feel when you read the newspapers of what our basic strategy is.

Nothing that I tell you is behind the back of the Israeli Government. Everything I tell you I have told them. In fact, I have told them more than I am telling you. [Laughter]

No, there is a 100 percent agreement on the basic strategy. On tactics, there will be 100 percent agreement by the time I leave Jerusalem. There may be tactical differences sometimes.

Now, why do we want a Syrian disengagement?

It is important there be confidence in the Jewish community in what we are doing. There are a lot of dangerous people spreading around dangerous things. For example, that we are in cahoots with the Soviet Union, that we are doing all this for détente, and that Israel is the victim of détente. Any serious person knows what we are doing is of profound damage to the Soviet Union. On my last trip to Moscow, there was a four-hour brawl with Brezhnev on the Middle East.2 Our whole strategy for four years was to create a situation where the Arabs become frustrated with the Soviet Union and turn away from the Soviet Union. So it is crucial that the Jewish community understand what is going on.

The second crucial point is that if the Arabs turn from the Soviet Union, that they have the option of turning closer to the United States. This is vital to the security of Israel. Let us say, in a horrendous case—which will never happen—if the United States replaced all Soviet mili[Page 202]tary equipment in Egypt with American equipment, one-for-one, Israel’s security would increase by 500 percent. Because you know that in a war, we would never resupply Egypt by airlift in the middle of a war the way we did with Israel. But it is an absurd case, and it will never happen. There will be economic aid. If we supply any weapons, it will be a symbolic trickle.

So I hope the Jewish community does not fall for this Jackson amendment on the economic aid bill that no Soviet military ships can go through the Suez Canal. Reconstruction of the Canal was one of the conditions that Israel put on the disengagement agreement. Because every dollar spent there is a hostage to Israel because they are only 15 kilometers away. So don’t fall for easy answers in a complicated situation.

Some Jewish leaders get upset when I am seen with Arab leaders. [Some laughter] But this is essential to the success of our strategy.

What were the issues last year? Jerusalem, the 1967 borders, the rights of the Palestinians. What are the issues now? Disengagement. Because every Arab leader has learned, painfully, that they have to deal with us, and if they deal with us they have to deal with us on one issue at a time, and this is Israel’s interest.

The alternative to the present course is not to do nothing; the alternative is that the United States will not be the mediator, but it will be in international forums in which the Soviets, Europeans and Japanese will be influential, and all the issues will be lumped together, and the Arabs will turn back to the Soviets.

It is easy to make heroic speeches.

In October, I prohibited for two weeks any discussion on energy in our government. So all our decisions were taken in absence of consideration of energy. The embargo was put on on the last day of the war.3

I tell you frankly: I consider it highly improbable that the largest airfield in the Azores will be available to us for an airlift again. It took massive blackmail and agreement on support for Portuguese policy in Africa. [Murmuring in the group.]

Third, you don’t have to take my judgment on the domestic situation, but I think it will be harder to get $2.2 billion from the Congress next time.4

So I agree, Israel is in danger, in fact in greater danger than is generally recognized. This is why we have moved slowly, with painstaking agreement on the very last detail with the Israeli Government. This is the only course with the possibility of success.

[Page 203]

We have to have the capacity to maneuver. We have to maintain the confidence of the Arabs; we have to keep the Soviets from disrupting everything. This is complicated.

This is the strategy: To go from Syrian disengagement to either another negotiation with Egypt or a negotiation with Jordan. It depends on the preference of Jerusalem. I think probably it will be with Egypt. There is a chance for very major progress on the Egyptian side.

That is why everything depends on Syrian disengagement. We are in a very uncertain situation. There is uncertainty about the [Israeli] domestic situation.

I am counting on your excellent discretion here.

We are in a situation where Dayan, and Golda, who put over the Egyptian disengagement, are on the way out. Even Eban is reported on his way out. On the other hand, Rabin I know well, and he was a close friend of mine among Ambassadors. He is one of the few in Israel with a geopolitical sense. I often called him in to chat about areas unrelated to Israel. This is not generally known. We used to sit in the Map Room of the White House and just chat. Because I respected his judgment.

It is a complicated situation in Syria now, too. There is an Iraqi faction, a Syrian nationalist faction. Compared to other Syrians—when I compare the messages I get from him [Asad] today with the first talk Joe and I had with him in January, there is an enormous change.

And the Soviet situation. Here is a situation in which they put in $15 billion, or, depending on how you measure it, maybe $20 billion in aid, and their Foreign Minister cannot even get into the country. It is something pathetic for me to see him in Geneva on the way in and to pretend we are consulting.5 I saw him barely two weeks ago. Nothing could have happened in these last two weeks. And to see him on the way in—I couldn’t have talked to anybody yet. They are being put through a humiliating show of impotence.

On one hand this is good, but on the other hand it is dangerous. If they become obnoxious, they can make it impossible for the Syrian Government to settle. If they do what they haven’t done, they could insist on the 1967 lines or on a positive linkage to them. In our first talk with Asad, he insisted on the 1967 borders, which was a concession for them because never before had Syria agreed that Israel had a right to any borders. Now they don’t even discuss the 1967 borders because my answer is that we should deal with one issue at a time.

So we have to consider how to conduct the negotiations, and then how to give the Soviets a pretense of participation. It is even more hu[Page 204]miliating, because no one is fooled. Again, I am counting on your discretion here. The hardest problem in fact is the Syrians, who insist that I do the negotiation. It is in our interest to maintain that position, because the maximum price we would pay to the Arabs would still make them more dependent on us than on a move with Russian backing.

You know the map. Israel is willing to return about three quarters of the bulge, and to divide what they return between a UN zone and a Syrian zone. The Syrian position is that they first asked for the 1967 line, then they asked for about half of the Golan. The Israelis cannot accept that because of the settlements, but you have to remember it is an enormous concession for the Syrians to agree to any line on the Golan.

What we have to prevent is a breakdown of the negotiations in which other Arabs have to support Syria. We have to get a situation where other Arabs like Boumedienne support it, and where if the war starts they fight alone. A breakdown of the negotiations I guarantee will lead to an outbreak of the war with Syria. The only question is whether Egypt will join.

Our maximum objective now is a disengagement agreement, which will be a situation in which the resumption of hostilities will be physically difficult. Our minimum position should be to create a situation where if Syria fights it will be fighting alone. The worst situation is with the others joining in, and the Europeans too. The Europeans, especially the French, are just waiting for it to break down. The only way we keep them under control is to keep our negotiations going.

What is the issue? The Syrians asked for one half of the Golan. Maybe 15 kilometers. Both Sadat and Boumedienne have told us that if Syria can get Quneitra and a line south, they will feel that Israel has made a reasonable proposition.

Boumedienne took me aside before he left and said to me: “Please see that Sadat doesn’t get totally demonized.”6

If we can’t produce Quneitra, which is three kilometers from the old line, how can we promise to get a full settlement? And if we can’t do that, how can we conduct our diplomacy? Then they have to shop around again.

We are talking about four to five miles, at the most. With this, we are practically certain of achieving our minimum objective, and we have four out of five chances of achieving the maximum objective of a disengagement agreement.

[Page 205]

There are other subsidiary issues. You don’t have to get into this. Of course, you can ask me anything you want. But one issue is whether we have a UN emergency force or only UN observers. My feeling of the way we will solve this is to triple the number of observers, or put a UN emergency force in and call them observers. [Laughter]

Another issue is that they will want to give the territory back to the UN and not to Syria.

But, if we can agree on a line with them, we can settle the other issues. Not that they are a joy to negotiate with where territory is involved. [Laughter] They are tough negotiators. Sometimes their domestic situation creates incredibly petty situations. But if they were easy to deal with, the Arabs wouldn’t be coming to us, and the pressures would start again. But though they are a pain in the neck, we understand their situation.

This group is always concerned about: Do we do enough for Israel? It is important that you understand that we understand that our strategy depends on Israel being so strong that it can defend itself and that they have to come to us. If Israel was so weak the Arabs could impose their will on them, our strategy couldn’t work.

The Israeli Ambassador knows that they have gotten seven times more equipment than in any comparable period in the history of Israel-Arab relations. It was more than the Berlin airlift in terms of tonnages. But we did this with no peep out of the Arabs—precisely because of our diplomacy. When Joe was Assistant Secretary, whenever we shipped two Phantoms, we got cables from everywhere in the Arab world that riots would start and American lives were at stake.

Every problem you solve gets you to a harder one. Though the Egyptian one I think may be easier. It is not as explosive. I don’t think Egypt will go to war.

I don’t know whether the present Israeli Government can make this move beyond Quneitra. They haven’t refused it. The Prime Minister knows exactly what we think is necessary. She is not a fool: If she is going to turn it down, she knows it is better for her to do it now than when I have already begun to go through Algiers, Cairo. So I am reasonably optimistic. You know them. So if problems develop, you will know the area of debate. They are right not to decide now before it is absolutely necessary. Because if the Arabs knew, they would just add on more demands.

But on the Soviet issue and the Arab issue, it is important that you understand, so you don’t fall for the easy litanies from different people.

Rabbi Miller: First, we want to thank you for your candor. This is a significant date to be discussing Israel—it is Independence Day—but I want you to know that if we raise issues, it is not because of pettiness but because of concern.

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Kissinger: Oh no, I know.

Rabbi Miller: But many of us last night expressed concern about the UN vote. Maybe the UN isn’t the most important organization, but we just didn’t understand the second vote of the U.S. in voting for the resolution.7

Kissinger: On the United Nations, we faced this problem. Last week, all of those Arabs whose interests at least on this step are parallel to Israel, that is, who are advising Syria to be moderate, advised us that a U.S. veto would be a disaster. I know you aren’t talking about a U.S. veto, but I just want to show the evolution. There was the non-aligned resolution that we would have vetoed. We then called the Lebanese Foreign Minister down here. We were told it was in his hands what resolution would pass. We worked with the Lebanese Foreign Minister, who was adamant. We worked out a resolution which he was willing to support, which included at least a condemnation of any act of violence. We didn’t say we would support it but left him with that impression to get him off the non-aligned resolution. Then we introduced the amendment. We decided if we could get any other government to go along with us, we would abstain. But we couldn’t leave any of those governments who would have been left in a painful position—so we took the lesser of two evils and voted for the resolution.

But today we made a statement [reading the text:] “It condemns equally . . . all acts of violence, especially those resulting in the loss of innocent civilian lives, which covers the wanton and criminal massacre at the village of Qiryat Shmona.” [Tab A]8

Moreover, we made it clear that in our view paragraph three means what the amendment meant. We have distributed this to the press. So we have made it clear that as far as the U.S. is concerned, we condemn the massacre. This was not perfect, but given the conflicting pressures we felt this was the lesser evil.

Rabbi Miller: We understand what you have said about rapprochement with the Arabs. But where does the line go?

Kissinger: Remember that this is the best resolution the Security Council has ever voted. It always used to condemn Israel unilaterally. This condemns all acts of violence, and in addition, it calls for all governments not to do anything to interfere with the peace efforts. We got this far through the rapprochement.

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Questioner: In the past, whenever I was feeling gloomy, we used to have to go to Israel to find reassurance. Now I can come here.

Secretary Kissinger: You are nice.

Questioner: I understand this strategy, to draw them from the UN and the Soviets. It seems to be working. But there is still apprehension. As Heinrich Heine said, “I have a toothache in my heart.” I can understand where the economic aid fits in, but on military aid to them . . .

Kissinger: That was an absurd scenario I gave you.

Questioner: Yes, but you told us before about the resistance to the airlift at the lower levels of the Pentagon. And today we see in the New York Times what we had feared—all this Arab wealth coming into the United States.9 Where does it end?

Kissinger: We won’t rearm the Arabs. It could never happen with Syria under any conditions. If anything happened with Egypt, it would only be in the context of further progress toward Israel and drawing away from the Soviets.

We have to maneuver this very carefully. I must say that Israel’s position is enormously difficult. I must say as a friend, we are mitigating the dangers, not removing them. I have never denied it. On military aid to the Arabs, this is not a realistic danger at this moment.

If Arab influence in this country becomes so great that there is an airlift to the Arabs in an Arab-Israel war, Israel would be finished. Because then they could also block an airlift to Israel, and this could then happen without a U.S. airlift to them.

We will never become an arms supplier to the Arabs, because one lesson we have learned is that you can never buy enough. The Arab view—unlike ours—is that the Soviets didn’t give enough and withheld it.

Questioner: If the Soviets don’t do it, where will he get the arms?

Kissinger: The Yugoslavs, the Indians, the French—there are many suppliers. It is better for Israel that the Arabs not be on the end of a Soviet supply line.

The Soviets stripped their armored divisions; the French don’t have any armored divisions. I find French policy totally malicious. The Soviets at least gain something for themselves; the French gain nothing except to cut up the United States.

Questioner: Just six months ago Egypt was close to the Soviets. Now, at a bewildering pace, all this has changed—on the political level, on the military level, and on the economic level, with the President’s [Page 208]bill for $250 million for Egypt.10 The test of the intentions of Egypt becomes terribly important. We still read statements by the Egyptians that they’ll go back to 1956 and then to 1947. There was a statement by a high-level Egyptian in Beirut.

Kissinger: [to Sisco] Did you see that?

Mr. Sisco: No.

Questioner: This money for rebuilding cities and the Canal. And trade too. Commodities.

Kissinger: I think the greater the stake in economic progress, greater is his stake in a peaceful evolution. For a while, Egypt approached us but we fended him off because Israel wasn’t ready for negotiations, because frankly we felt he was a clown and we underestimated him. The Israelis thought they never had it so good. I was impressed with him first during the war. When we started the airlift, we sent him a message. We said: “We are doing this but you should remember that your hopes for progress depend on us. So try to restrain your reaction.” And he did.

When I first came to Egypt on November 7, I had never been in an Arab country. I had never dealt with a high-level Arab leader. The European Community had submitted a resolution to the United Nations to return to the October 22 lines. Japan was for it. Israel was totally isolated—and was in the wrong on that issue, technically.

I said to Sadat, “You can have a brawl on this, or you can let me work out something both sides can live with.” He agreed. And I didn’t offer him economic aid as an inducement at any stage. If you can imagine where we would be if the embargo were still on now and blamed on Israel . . . For him to turn, which is not inconceivable—well, it is inconceivable: The only way he could turn is if the negotiations failed totally or if we kicked him in the teeth. We have to gamble on him. We have to use this period. If we played with him the way we play with the Soviets, keeping adding on concessions . . . If you saw how he gives us information on the situation in the Arab countries, you would see that $250 million is cheap.

Jacobson: The last time we raised the matter of the $2.2 billion and we expressed our concern. At that time you indicated you knew of no problem. Israel was counting on it. Now there is a tremendous disap[Page 209]pointment when we read that there would be only $1 billion in grant. Maybe more will come later, but you know their economic condition.

Kissinger: First, this decision was worked out with the Israeli Government. Second, one decision was whether it would be declared necessary, which was not an automatic decision. And third, the terms of the credit were an issue. We had the problem of not starting a Congressional brawl and not doing something disruptive of the diplomatic situation. Sapir is not spending sleepless nights on this. [Laughter] He may be spending sleepless nights but not on whether the other $500 million will ultimately be granted. The credit will be on concessional terms, and will be grant.

Mr. Kenen: Sadat is moving cautiously. We are giving him $250 million. Is there any possibility that he can renounce belligerency at this stage?

Kissinger: He doesn’t need the $250 million all that badly. The Soviets would gladly give him $500 million if he would only shut up about them. He wants $250 to show he has a western option. The best way to deal with him, the best strategy is to tie no strings and to count on what the evolution will be, as it must.

Zuckerman: From my circles, labor circles, the issue has never been Congressional support for Israel. The blame has never been put on Israel for the embargo but in another direction.

Kissinger: Right.

Zuckerman: You have raised this concern in the future, if the embargo were imposed again. But in the meantime why do the Soviets sit back and take this? And not try to create a belligerent state.

Kissinger: First, their leadership now is not the most able, so they may not know how to do it. Second, if they create a belligerent state, it could end up like 1967 and 1973 and a stalemate. We would let them know they would sacrifice détente. Except that this time, there would be great temptation to escalate and try to face us down. In October, we had to spend three weeks explaining our alert.

So the incentives are pretty evenly divided. One reason we are concerned about MFN is not, as some of your labor friends think, that we are soft in the head about the Soviets, but we are using détente to regulate Soviet behavior.

Sadat is not going at our pace. In fact we would probably prefer him to go slower.

Hertzberg: The criticism of you in the Jewish Community isn’t the details on strategy, which you argue so brilliantly, but that you misunderstand American interests versus the Soviet Union. Letting them into the Suez Canal, letting them turn the flank of the Middle East, and insufficient pressure on the totality of Soviet policy, that is, generally [Page 210]giving them their head. My colleagues here know I don’t have this view, but these issues must be posed.

Kissinger: Yes.

Hertzberg: The Soviets must be getting something, to be good boys; what is it? QED, it is not in the American interest. That is the argument.

Kissinger: When you play chess, it doesn’t follow that the loser gets something out of it. Talk to Rabin; we had a deliberate strategy to create such frustration in the Arab world that they would turn against the Soviets. For five years we worked on this. In 1970 I said publicly that our objective was to expel the Soviets from Egypt. Every liberal newspaper jumped on me for that, for “returning to the Cold War.”

In the [October] war, in spite of what you read, on the airlift, our strategy required that Israel not lose—because we would not let the Arabs win with Soviet arms. So we are reaping the benefits of five years of the strategy. To think this is being done in collusion with the Soviet Union is absolute insanity.

Geneva for Gromyko is a damage-limitation situation. At least for the yokels it looks good, but it fools no one.

Are we so committed to détente that we will pay any price? You know the argument. It is interesting that this debate started during the Vietnam war, when we were attacked as war criminals by the very people who now say we are soft on Communism. Mondale11—who is a friend of mine—every year submitted a resolution demanding that we trade with the Communists. I have told this group that if I were an opponent of Brezhnev in the Politburo I could make an overwhelming case against him: The Vietnam war was ended on our terms. You may not like the terms, but they were our terms. We got a settlement in Berlin. We got rid of a naval base in Cuba.

What about the Suez Canal? First, if we succeed there will be no flank to turn, because we will squeeze them out from Iran to Saudi Arabia. And if we succeed with Syria, we will work on Iraq. Second, there is no law that says when a Soviet ship goes through, it can’t be followed by an American ship. Every Soviet ship that goes through the Canal can be followed by an American ship, and we have more ships there.

What have they got? The wheat deal.12 The wheat deal was done by bureaucrats. It was done for politics. It was done on the assumption that we couldn’t sell enough wheat. That had nothing to do with foreign policy.

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I am seeing Meany13 when I get back.

Fisher: We really appreciate this. Our talks here are based on frankness. We would be remiss if you didn’t know our concerns.

Kissinger: We really appreciate this. Our talks here are based on frankness. We would be remiss if you didn’t know our concerns.

Fisher: They should be based on confidence. We are wishing you well on this visit and praying for you.

On foreign aid, we are concerned about Israel. No one I have talked to is concerned about aid to Egypt; we think it is a master stroke. But when Israel is in such dire straits, to ask for only $300 million in grant aid looks bad.

Kissinger: I am counting on Dinitz’ troops to work on that. [Laughter] We won’t veto an increase, I can tell you that. [Laughter]

Fisher: It is important that you know what we are thinking about. But we wish you success. It has been tremendously useful. I only hope when you get back from Syria there is a smile on your face, because you look unhappy today.

Kissinger: I am not certain how it is going to go. If it fails, everything I have said is in severe jeopardy. But I am going to act on the trip as if it is certain to succeed. I hope the Jewish Community can support it as much as its conscience permits.

You shouldn’t be pessimistic. I think we have a good chance to get our minimum objective, and a better than even chance to get our maximum objective, that is, a disengagement agreement. Syria would be the first radical state to sign on a line. We wouldn’t have these incidents over Mt. Hermon because there will be demilitarized zones all around.

Fisher: Well, we understand you have a time problem.

Kissinger: Yes.

All: Thank you.

[The meeting then broke up with thanks and handshakes—and some wedding congratulations—to the Secretary.

[Secretary Kissinger then conferred in his office privately with Mr. Fisher, Len Garment, and Rabbi Miller, who introduced him to Stanley Lowell, the President of the Conference on Soviet Jewry.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 155, Geopolitical File, Israel, April 1974. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Conference Room on the Seventh Floor of the Department of State. Brackets are in the original.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 32.
  3. The oil embargo was imposed on October 19, 1973.
  4. See footnote 12, Document 23.
  5. Kissinger and Gromyko met in Geneva on April 28 and 29. They discussed the Middle East on April 29; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974, Documents 175 and 176.
  6. Boumedienne met with President Nixon and Kissinger on April 11 in Washington. A memorandum of conversation of their meeting is in the Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 3, April 11, 1974, Nixon, Algerian President Boumedienne. There is no record of a private conversation between Kissinger and Boumedienne.
  7. UN Security Council Resolution 347 was adopted on April 25 after a Lebanese complaint to the UN that Israel had raided Palestinian refugee camps on Lebanese territory. The resolution condemned Israeli violation of Lebanese sovereignty. For the debate in the Security Council and the text of the resolution, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1974, pp. 207–211.
  8. Tab A, entitled “Transcript of Press, Radio and Television News Briefing Thursday April 25, 1974, 12:57 p.m.,” attached but not printed.
  9. A New York Times article entitled, “Arabs Starting to Invest New Oil Money in West.” (New York Times, April 25, 1974, p. 1)
  10. In a foreign aid request sent to Congress on April 24, President Nixon requested $350 million for Israel, $50 million in security support and $300 million in military credits; $250 million in supporting assistance for Egypt; $207.5 million for Jordan, $77.5 million in security support and $130 million in military grants and credits; and a $100 million Special Requirements Fund for any new needs that might arise. For text of President Nixon’s message to Congress, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1974, pp. 373–379.
  11. Senator Walter Mondale.
  12. See footnote 6, Document 23.
  13. George Meany, President of the AFL–CIO.