91. Editorial Note1 2

At 10:35 p.m. on September 5, 1972, the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Alexander Haig called President Nixon and informed him: “We have got some very shocking news on the Israeli thing.” The President asked: “How many killed?” and Haig said, “All killed.” “Oh, my,” Nixon responded. After some discussion the President suggested: “Under the circumstances we ought to discuss with the Russians and do something. The whole world is going to be shocked by this. Think we have got to take it up…out of interest. We are going to intervene in it.” Haig stated: “The Israelis are going to react.” Nixon asked: “Who are they going to hit though?” Haig suggested: “Lebanon, though—they will find out where based—.” The President responded: “They are capable of it. They have got to hit somebody, don’t you think?” Haig agreed. Nixon then warned: “We don’t want to set something off.” After some additional discussion, Haig suggested to the President: “Think we will probably have to say something tonight. That you were saddened—.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Haig and Nixon, December 5, 10:35 p.m.; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 998, Haig Telcons, 1972)

Ten minutes later, at 10:45 p.m., the President called Haig and said: “This isn’t of course a very big thing. You could talk to Rogers about this. The United States should indicate that they will break diplomatic relations with countries that harbor any sort of guerrilla groups. Hell, what do we care about Lebanon. Think we have to be awfully tough. I want you to run that by a couple of people. Any nation that harbors or gives sanctuary to these international outlaws we will cut off all economic support—obviously Lebanon. Jordan’s another. Don’t know who else we have relations with—.” Haig interjected: “We may have some Chinese problem on this.” The President responded: “Screw the Chinese on this one. Be very tough.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Haig and Nixon, December 5, 10:45 p.m.; ibid.)

As the President suggested, Haig called Secretary of State Rogers at 10:55 p.m. and raised Nixon’s ideas. Haig noted that the President had made a statement in San Francisco that “could look like a real slap at the Germans.” Roger commented: “He left that impression in his television appearance.” Haig responded: “He [Nixon] really ad-libbed it and I puckered at the time.” Rogers informed Haig that the Department of State was preparing a statement “expressing deep regret and I think that’s about all you can do tonight.” Haig stated that Nixon planned to call a meeting at 8:30 a.m. the next day and “he has asked you to come over and sit down and see where to go on this. He’s threatened to break relations with nations that harbor or give sanctuary to these guerrillas.” Rogers protested: “He can’t do that, especially when we don’t know which nations. What we are trying to do tonight—we are trying to get some protection against a JDL blowup. We are taking whatever security precautions there are to take.” Haig commented: “That’s what I told him.” Rogers believed that “we did everything we could. We got in touch with the Olympic Delegation, sent out telegrams, talked to the German Government… and… talked today about what kind of reprisals we might make.” Haig suggested: “Tomorrow we should call for calm.” Noted Rogers: “There are financial angels—Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Libya too. We have got to be careful.” Haig agreed: “He always wants to do something. We have to be careful not to do something he will regret.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Haig and Rogers, December 5, 10:55 p.m.; ibid.) The ad-libbed statement Nixon made in California that Rogers apparently saw on television is printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pages 857-858. Also printed ibid., page 858, is a message of condolence of September 6 from Nixon to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Nixon called Haig at 11 p.m. on September 5, noting that, “I might consider showing our position on this by flying to the Israelis’ funeral.” Haig suggested that the Germans would be criticized and “we don’t want to insult them.” The President responded: “I have to show more than the usual concern.” Haig counseled holding off with other remarks as, “it looks like a slap for the Germans.” Nixon instructed Haig: “Tell them that I am here at the White House getting reports as they come in and that I am saddened and shocked by this terrible incident and we will comment in the morning.” Nixon again asked Haig to call Rogers for advice. (Transcript of telephone conversation between Nixon and Haig, December 5, 11 p.m.; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 998, Haig Telcons, 1972)

At 11:25 p.m. Rogers and Haig talked on the telephone, and Rogers suggested that Nixon issue an executive order for a “day of mourning in Washington with flags at half mast.” Haig stated: “All I am worried about is some cynics coming back and saying, ‘You are bombing the hell out of Vietnam …’” Rogers interjected: “I suppose they will say that, but for Christ’s sake, it is like somebody you shouldn’t have gone to the funeral or something.” Haig agreed. (Transcript of telephone conversation between Haig and Rogers, December 5, 11:25 p.m.; ibid.) Haig called Attorney General Kleindienst to discuss the possibility of a day of mourning; Kleindienst indicated that he would study this possibility. (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kleindienst and Haig, September 5, 11:30 p.m.; ibid.)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 998, Haig Telcons, 1972. No classification marking. The transcripts were prepared in the White House.
  2. Excerpts of telephone conversations between President Nixon, the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Haig, Secretary of State Rogers, and Attorney General Kleindiest on September 5 discussing how to respond to the death of athletes of the Israeli Olympic team.