11. Paper Prepared by William B. Quandt of the National Security Council Staff1


Contingency Plan for Saudi Arabia

[1 line not declassified], the contingency plan assumes that a “radical” takeover is unlikely. In addition to internal forces working against rapid change, there is little evidence of outside interference or subversion. In addition, the geography of Saudi Arabia makes it difficult for conspirators to seize control of the country or its key power centers. A coup from within the armed forces cannot be ruled out, but would be difficult to mount unless the air force and airfields were controlled, since movement of troops over land would be difficult.

Possibly destabilizing factors might be the King’s death and a struggle within the royal family for succession. A second source of pressure on the regime stems from the unresolved status of the Arab-Israeli dispute. The most likely contingency for the US, according to the plan, is not a takeover by radical elements in Saudi Arabia, but [Page 72]rather the danger that the King himself, or his successors, will move against the US as a matter of survival in a deteriorating Arab-Israeli situation.

Interests and Roles of Outsiders

Iran has an interest that nothing threaten shipping of oil in the Persian Gulf and that hostile forces not dominate the Arab side of the Gulf. If either of these developments occurred, the Shah would consider the use of military force. The Saudis would be reluctant to turn to Iran for direct military help except in extremis.

Jordan is more likely to take direct steps to help an embattled Saudi regime, both because of Saudi preference for help from an Arab state and King Hussein’s own motivation. If Hussein were to act, he could come under military pressures from Iraq and Syria, which could best be offset by Iranian and Israeli forces.

The Soviet Union is unlikely to intervene directly in Saudi Arabia, both because of lack of capability and the political risks involved. Egypt would probably stand aside in any future Saudi crisis, and Iraq, despite probable support for a radical regime, could be constrained from active intervention by Iranian force. Neither Israel nor the Europeans could be expected to act decisively.


If current US efforts to bolster the regime and enhance its capabilities fail, we might face the following situations:

Contingency 1. Security within Saudi Arabia deteriorates, perhaps as a result of anti-regime feeling stimulated by a renewal of Arab-Israeli hostilities. The US would consider the following courses of action:

—Activate evacuation plan for 8000 US citizens. Airborne brigade in Europe is prepared for movement to the Gulf. Carrier task force from Southeast Asia is ordered to proceed to Gulf.

—If Arab-Israeli conflict is related to disorders in Saudi Arabia, press for rapid ceasefire.

—Consult with King Faisal on internal security situation and respond with pre-arranged package of military equipment if requested.

—Talk to Jordanians and Iranians about joint actions in event situation continues to deteriorate.

Contingency 2. A succession crisis following the King’s death might lead to prolonged conflict, raising the likelihood of an army takeover. Obvious successors such as Princes Fahd and Sultan might prove to be ineffective. In these circumstances we would consider the following:

—A joint Jordanian-Iranian-US effort to restore order under a new regime headed by a group of the younger princes and with a broader role for the army.

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—Some non-provocative but visible military measures could be taken by Jordan, Iran and the US to pressure Saudis to restore order on terms we favor.

Contingency 3. A partially successful coup might lead to civil war and outside intervention. Rebels might be successful only in holding one sector of the country and could appeal to Iraq for help in the form of aircraft. The United States might take the following actions:

—Dispatch US forces to staging areas in preparation for a possible landing of forces in the eastern province to seize control of oil facilities and to evacuate US nationals.

—Consult with Shah on measures to deter Iraq.

—Warn the Soviets of the dangers of Iraqi intervention.

—Activate pre-arranged plan for Jordanian military intervention. The US would provide logistical backup for Jordan’s effort.

Contingency 4. In a successful coup, radical elements from the army seize control of the country. The US would face the following actions:

—Even in the absence of information about the new regime, pressures would build on us to move rapidly, before the regime could establish its credentials, to overthrow it. We would try to reach a judgment with Jordan and Iran on whether such a move was justified.

—If so, Jordan would play the main role by trying to seize airfields within Saudi Arabia and then carrying out air strikes against key areas.

—Iran could deter Iraq from intervening and Israel could play a role in restraining Syria from moving against Jordan.

General Observations and Issues for Discussion

—A change of regime in Saudi Arabia will raise the question of whether to intervene, and in what form, to reverse the situation. Pressures will be intense to act rapidly, without much knowledge of the existing situation. Are the risks of delay greater than the risks of intervention? Does intervention stand a chance of success or is it likely to fail?

—Recognizing the dangers for US interests elsewhere in the Arab world if we were to intervene, the paper nonetheless suggests that the gains from a successful military intervention that resulted in a stable pro-Western regime staying in power would offset any losses elsewhere. But do we or the Jordanians have the capabilities to intervene successfully unless a substantial body of Saudi opinion favors such an intervention?

—Are there dangers of intervening against a military coup that might bring to power moderate nationalist elements that we would be able to work with just as well as the present regime? Is a coup group bound to be radical and anti-American?

—While Jordanian intervention is probably the most politically viable in any future crisis, if Jordan alone is unable to reverse the [Page 74]situation, would it be preferable for the US or Iran to act then? Granted that there would be drawbacks to either US or Iranian action in terms of branding the elements we help as traitors or puppets, would Iran’s intervention cause fewer problems than our own? Could Iran both deter Iraq and intervene directly? Would the Soviets exert pressure on Iran in these circumstances?

US Military Assets

The following forces could be used in Saudi Arabia:

—One Airborne Brigade from Europe could reach Riyadh or Dhahran [timeframe not declassified]

—One tactical fighter squadron could reach Saudi Arabia [timeframe not declassified]

—US naval forces in the area (MIDEASTFOR) consist of two destroyers and one flagship. There is also one C–130 in the area.

—A carrier task force could reach the Persian Gulf from Southeast Asia [timeframe not declassified]

Further Refinements of the Plan

—If Jordan and Iran will be required to play the key roles in any successful intervention against a radical regime in Saudi Arabia, we must clearly do some planning with them for such a contingency if joint action is to be possible. Can we engage in such talks without paying a price, both with Saudi Arabia if the news leaks, and with Jordan in terms of more aid to sustain Jordanian operations in a future Saudi contingency?

—What kind of pre-arranged equipment package could be put together from Jordanian and Iranian sources to deliver to Saudi Arabia for maximum impact?

—Can a US evacuation plan be devised that would also allow for a show of force and a securing of oil loading facilities at Ras Tanura to prevent sabotage?

—Could we count on British help in any of these contingencies?

—One contingency not dealt with is the possibility that King Faisal becomes increasingly hostile to US interests, that Princes Fahd and Sultan try to restrain him, failing which they might seek to oust him, much as Faisal deposed Saud. Would we be likely to become involved in such a struggle and, if so, how?

  1. Summary: At Kissinger’s July 12 request, Quandt provided an analytical summary of contingency plans in the event of instability in Saudi Arabia.

    Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 71, National Security Council, Committees and Panels, Senior Review Group, March 1972–July 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive. This paper was attached as Tab C to the July 19 memorandum from Saunders to Kissinger, published as Document 8. That memorandum indicates that Kissinger requested the plan on July 12 based on the suggestion from U.S. Ambassador to Iran Richard Helms. Kissinger’s request is in the Washington National Records Center, OASD Files: FRC 330–78–0002, Saudi Arabia 381, 1973 X3101. The plan, drafted by the NSC Contingency Planning Working Group, was forwarded by the group’s acting chair, Joseph W. Neubert, Acting Deputy Director for Planning (S/PC), to Kissinger under a July 20 covering memorandum. The contingency plan is not published. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Box TS 32, Geopolitical File, Middle East Chronological File, October 1973)