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39. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Nixon1

Secretary Kissinger has asked me to transmit the following message to you:

“I am reporting to you promptly on my private meeting with Prime Minister Meir and subsequently another meeting with her and all her principal colleagues2 because the Israeli position presented to me today foreshadows, in my judgment, a possible break in the negotiations at an early stage.

“Before I came, I made clear to both sides my assessment of what would be required in order to achieve a Syrian-Israeli disengagement. I said specifically that there would have to be Israeli withdrawal to a point roughly 2–3 kilometers west of the October 6 line, including a line west of the town of Kineitra. As you know, for the past several weeks both the Israelis and the Syrians have encouraged me strongly to come to the area once again to see whether the disengagement agreement could be concluded and in the knowledge of my judgment as to what was required in order to achieve agreement. Despite the internal crises in Israel, both publicly and officially, the Israelis have been insistent that I pursue the negotiations in the area.

“Both in my private meeting with the Prime Minister and subsequently with the Cabinet, at which the Chief of Staff made a detailed presentation, the line to which Israel indicated it would be willing to withdraw was one several kilometers east of the October 6 line with the Israelis occupying the high ground throughout. The new Chief of Staff, Gur, used the specious argument that there was no other line further west to which Israel could withdraw which it would consider defensible. The line was essentially the same line which Dayan gave me four weeks ago3 with some slight change favorable to the Syrians in the south but with a more important change in the north on Mount Hermon in favor of the Israelis. In short, the line I received today can be [Page 216]considered, if anything, a retrogression from the line given to me by Dayan four weeks ago which I told him then would prove unacceptable. If I were to present this line to the Syrians, there would be a blowup in the negotiations and the likelihood of a renewal of war greatly increased. Once again, the Israelis have continued to view the disengagement line in narrow military terms—and even in these terms, it is not wholly defensible since there is a high ground on which a line could be drawn roughly 3 kilometers west of the October 6 line which in our judgment would be defensible. I am therefore playing for time and will discuss secondary issues when I go to Damascus to give Israel an opportunity to reconsider.

“I pointed out to the Israelis that disengagement could not be viewed only on the basis of these narrow military considerations. I stressed that Israel faces two choices: to stick with the present very unsatisfactory position which in my judgment would have the following consequences—it would break the negotiations with the onus on Israeli shoulders; it would reverse the trend in the Arab world towards moderation; it would weaken the Sadat leadership in the Arab world; it would offer both the Soviets as well as the West Europeans an opportunity to inject themselves into the picture in a most unfavorable way; it would throw the whole matter into international forums, i.e., the United Nations Security Council and the Geneva Conference; it would result in a loss of control by the United States in both the negotiations and the trend of developments in the area; it would probably result in the reinstituting of the embargo since the Oil Ministers are again scheduled to meet to review the situation on June 1—it is likely to result in Syria starting another war against Israel, a war of attrition in which even the moderate Arabs would be under pressure to come to Syria’s support, where the Soviets would see an opportunity to regain influence by all-out military support of Syria and in circumstances where the United States would be isolated and in the likelihood that the kind of support necessary would be dependent on a most uncertain public and Congressional opinion.

“At the same time, I openly acknowledged that there was a risk for Israel in going forward on the kind of line which has been previously discussed as one that is within reason. I agreed with Mrs. Meir that there could be no absolute guarantee that if they withdrew to this point a war would not result eventually, but I felt that time is on the side of Israel. If an agreement is achieved, this would permit Sadat to continue to take the lead toward a peaceful settlement, and there was less risk, in my judgment, in this course than the one which the Israelis seem stuck on.

“I am, therefore, meeting with Mrs. Meir this evening to consider together the consequences of the failure of my mission and how one could proceed in these circumstances.

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“It is, of course, possible that what we have heard today is tactical, for the Israelis have asked us to go to Damascus tomorrow and to take up a number of specific elements in the disengagement agreement other than the question on the line. I will do this and I will be able to get by for this one round with Asad, but in the absence of anything more from the Israelis, it cannot be strung out much beyond early next week.

“I, therefore, would like you to consider on an urgent basis the consequences which will face us should this mission be terminated in the circumstances that I have described. I believe a letter from you which lays out frankly the consequences which would ensue, particularly with respect to U.S. policy, would be most helpful at this juncture.4 If you agree, I would like it sent soonest and I could have the opportunity to review it before it is transmitted. You will wish to weigh, Mr. President, what specifically you would want to tell Mrs. Meir regarding American policy in these circumstances. What would the reaction of the American people be to a course which is likely to result in not only the maintenance of the high prices of oil but the reimposition of the embargo? Could Israel expect American support for an airlift of the kind which would be required in order to prevent an Israeli defeat? What could Israel expect by way of changes in our ongoing arms policy? These are very fundamental questions and I would hope that your letter would deal with these matters. Finally, could Israel expect the consistent and steadfast political and diplomatic support we have given in circumstances where the United States would be isolated? I do not wish to prejudge your answers—my own idea is that we may have to take some very painful decisions.

“I would appreciate your consideration of the above on a most urgent basis.”

Secretary Kissinger plans now to return to Jerusalem on Saturday evening.5 If it is your wish to send a letter to Prime Minister Meir, I will draft it, check it with Kissinger, and get it to you on your trip for approval before dispatch to Mrs. Meir.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 45, HAK Trip Files, Middle East Memos and Security, April 28–May 31, 1974. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. A notation at the top of the page reads, “The President has seen.”
  2. The conversation between Meir and Kissinger took place on May 2 from 1:20 to 3:55 p.m. (Memorandum of conversation; ibid., RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 1, Folder 10) Another meeting took place with the Israeli Cabinet from 4:10 to 6:05 p.m. (Memorandum of conversation; ibid., Box 6, Nodis Memcons, March 1974, Folder 3)
  3. See Document 32.
  4. Printed as Document 41.
  5. May 4.