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

I thought you should have the following analysis which Secretary Kissinger has sent me regarding the current situation and a cutoff of aid to Israel. He now plans to spend all day today in Israel and to go back to Damascus tomorrow.

“With respect to your recent message on cutting off Israel’s aid,2 I must tell you as strongly as I can that such a course would be disastrous in terms of the immediate negotiation, the long-term evolution and the U.S. position in the Middle East.

“On an immediate tactical level an ultimatum such as you describe would lead to an explosion here. With 85 Israeli children held by terrorists and three Katyusha rockets found at the outskirts of Jerusalem this morning a cutoff of U.S. aid would produce hysteria and maybe a military outburst.

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“Moreover, the situation has improved in the last ten hours. After meeting with the Israeli negotiation team until the early hours3 they agreed to review their position and are meeting now. The change they contemplate will not meet all Syrian demands but it is a significant step forward. I shall take it to Damascus as soon as we have the details worked out. It should prevent a break-up today.

“The Israeli position, while tough and shortsighted, falls short of the intransigence that would warrant the contemplated step. There are many issues of which the line is only one: disengagement zone, thinning out, UN status, etc. On all of them there are disagreements of various sorts. The Syrians while being more moderate than four months ago are far from being helpful. It would be a grotesque error to put all the blame on Israel. It would be unjust and contrary to facts.

“A public disassociation from Israel would have the following consequences:

“(A) Despair might provoke a suicidal Israeli move.

“(B) Syrian demands would immediately escalate so that we would be back in another stalemate.

“(C) Sadat would suffer because he would appear as having settled too easily. A radical Arab Government would have achieved more U.S. support than Egypt.

“(D) The Soviet Union—as in 1956—would enter the arena full-face with heavy-handed pressure both diplomatic and military.

“I do not exclude pressure on Israel—indeed you will recall that I have proposed certain steps even prior to the President’s messages. However, it must be carefully prepared, discussed in the Government and based on Congressional support. Above all it must be related to actions which can be taken and decisions which can be made by the Israeli Government.

“For all these reasons I must request that the actions contemplated not be undertaken. It is essential also that Washington maintain an attitude of public and private calm. A crisis atmosphere of meetings, leaks and innuendoes will ruin the last chance we have to bring this off.”

  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. Secret; Sensitive, Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information.
  2. According to Kissinger’s memoirs, Nixon phoned Scowcroft twice on May 15, before hearing of the Maalot hostage crisis, and ordered Scowcroft to cease U.S. aid to Israel unless it altered its negotiating position, without specifying what he expected Israel to change in its stance. (Years of Upheaval, p. 1078)
  3. No record of a meeting between the Israeli negotiating team and Kissinger on May 15 has been found. According to Kissinger’s memoirs, he only spoke with Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz and Golda Meir in private conversations that day. (Years of Upheaval, pp. 1076–1079)