228. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

  • SUBJECT
    • Prospects For (A) US Relations with the Arab States Following a Cease-Fire
    • (B) Meaningful Negotiations between the Arab States and Israel

A. US Relations with the Arab States Following a Cease-Fire

An effective cease-fire of and by itself will not work a significant improvement in US-Arab relations, even though it temporarily alleviates some of the difficulties of those Arab states in which there remains a significant motivation for preserving special relations with the US.

In the Arab view, the burden of the “struggle” has now been passed from the principal “confrontation” states—Egypt and Syria—to the governments who wield the oil weapon, particularly Saudi Arabia and the major Persian Gulf producers. This shift from military action to oil has been a central element in Egypt’s overall planning for the “battle” against Israel; the rapprochement between Sadat and King Faysal in the weeks before the outbreak of war put the Saudi seal on this conception. From all reports, Faysal intends to take up his role to the best of his ability, even though he is liable to be upstaged on occasion by irresponsible elements like Shaikh Zayid of Abu Dhabi, the first ruler to embargo the shipment of oil to the US rather than simply cut back production. Faysal therefore intends to keep the pressure on the US, and even turn it up, until a result favorable to the Arabs has been achieved.

Among the further specific actions that the Saudis and other Arab governments could take are

  • —a boycott of US goods and contractors, possibly selective at the outset; the present Arab boycott of foreign firms doing business with Israel could be revived and modified to serve current war aims.
  • —to differentiate more sharply still between the US on the one hand and Western Europe and Japan on the other in applying the oil embargo.
  • —outright nationalization of US oil companies, e.g., Aramco and Gulf Oil in Kuwait.
  • —a determined effort in the international money market to weaken the US dollar.
  • —a shift in arms purchases by governments that normally have bought their major equipment in the US; there is considerable agitation in the Jordanian army on this score, and before the war there were clear signs that the Saudis were moving in this direction.
  • —fuller cooperation between Arab governments and fedayeen terrorists.
  • —to deny overflight rights to US civil and military aircraft.

There are constraints on the enthusiasm and persistence with which these measures would be undertaken by governments with a history of good relations with Americans. Fear of Soviet gains will deter moderate leaders from actions that might permanently rupture relations with the US. An anti-US boycott denies the Arab oil producers in particular skills and technology that they acknowledge are superior to what can be obtained elsewhere. Nationalizations ahead of schedule, like a boycott, are likely to bring technical difficulties in their train. Playing the money card would entail high costs for those governments—and this includes the principal oil producers—that maintain large balances in dollars. There are manifold problems for the buyer in a quick shift of arms purchases that is more than symbolic. Cooperation with the fedayeen is a high-risk policy over the longer term, especially for conservative Arab leaders, who also recognize that terrorism abroad is on balance counterproductive for the Arab cause.

Nonetheless, if the cease-fire does not result promptly in negotiations that give promise of movement toward at least the immediate Arab objective—acceptance by Israel of the principle of withdrawal from the territory occupied in 1967—these courses will be considered seriously by those governments that have a capability to effect them. Pending the opening of negotiations, the emotional mood of Arab leaders is such that none will feel able or even wish to lift the anti-US restrictions that have been instituted since October 6.

Assuming that the cease-fire does result in the opening of negotiations, the evolution of Arab relations with the US will depend mainly on two factors: the way Arab leaders perceive the objectives of the US in the negotiations together with the style in which we play our role; and the perception that Arab leaders, particularly the more conservative ones, develop regarding the role of the Soviets.

The US is already identified as Israel’s second; the question in Arab minds will be what else is the US prepared to be? Faysal, who in this context is even more a key figure than Sadat, must assume that the US wants to repair its relations and protect its interests in at least his part of the Arab world. His pressures are directed toward accentuating that kind of interest on our part. Our co-sponsorship of the cease-fire was a start. He will be looking for more signs—not merely assurances—that [Page 638]our objectives go beyond the protection of Israel. Initially, he will look for these signs in the style of our approach—whether we are perceived to be really willing to put leverage on Israel to enforce the cease-fire; whether we are seen to be working toward a “just” settlement or merely a restoration of the status quo ante October 6. To the extent that Faysal and other leaders are impressed by what they perceive, our relations will ameliorate, but not quickly. Indeed, initial evidence that the US is moving in their favor may well lead them to turn some of the screws a little harder in some cases—their strategy will seem to be working. The long term attractions of a good and useful relationship with the US will take time to make themselves felt again.

It may be argued that the US could turn this situation around by signalling to the Arab oil governments that we could play no constructive role in negotiations between the Arabs and Israel while we were under duress. This would come as a shock to those, like Faysal, who still believe that the US-Arab relationship can be beneficial. But the move would nonetheless be perceived as a bluff, and an illogical one at that. The Arab leaders simply cannot believe that the US can be driven further into the Israeli camp; in their view only an irrational disregard of true US interests has put us where we are. The only remedy, as they see it, is to keep hitting us until we wake up.

Paradoxically, our co-sponsorship with the Soviets of the cease-fire resolution—implying an acceptance of a legitimate Soviet role in the Middle East—may enhance the attractions that a resumption of good relations with the US has in the thinking of Arab leaders, again especially the conservative ones. In King Faysal’s mind, the evils of Zionism are equalled only by the dangers of Communism. To the extent that the present situation in the area appears to be bringing gains for Soviet influence, the Saudi leadership, and to some lesser but still significant degree the leadership of virtually all the Arab states, will be concerned that US influence be preserved as a balancing element. For example, the Saudis probably greeted with some relief the US refusal to join the Soviets in placing a truce force in Egypt. While the Saudis of course want the cease-fire enforced, they will not want it done in a way that brings back a Soviet presence of the sort that they had thought removed in July 1972. The Egyptians basically feel the same way; hence their request for US as well as Soviet troops. Actual US-Soviet cooperation in the Middle East would dismay conservative quarters (and alarm Qadhafi, with his ultra-Islamic perspective), and this would encourage movement to repair relations with the US camp. This would be a somewhat longer run effect, however; the immediate impact is likely to be small.

In sum, our relations with the Arabs in general are likely to stay bad for some time before they get better; the diplomatic and economic [Page 639]heat will be kept on while the Europeans and the US East Coast get colder. Relations will improve earlier—but still not very soon—if the US can demonstrate in the negotiations that it sits other places as well as in Israel’s corner, and, less directly, if Soviet gains frighten the conservative Arab leaders.

[Omitted here is Section B, Prospects for Negotiations.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 129, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East. Secret; Sensitive. In his covering memorandum transmitting the memorandum to Kissinger on October 26, Colby wrote that it “may give the Arabs a bit more credit for being able to maintain concerted pressure on the U.S. than will be the actual case, but the paper does represent the views of my best people working on the Middle East.”