4. Summary of Conclusions of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Lebanon and Middle East Hostilities


  • Chairman

    • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State

    • William Porter
    • Joseph Sisco
    • David Korn
  • Defense

    • William P. Clements, Jr.
    • James H. Noyes
  • JCS

    • Vice Adm. John P. Weinel
  • CIA

    • James Schlesinger
    • John Waller
    • Samuel Hoskinson
  • NSC Staff

    • Brig. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
    • Richard T. Kennedy
    • Harold H. Saunders
    • Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that:

1) A Working Group would prepare some plans based on various contingencies;

2) State and Defense would prepare an options paper on Libyan nationalization of American oil companies;

3) the overall strategy paper on the Middle East will be updated and submitted.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Schlesinger) Can you give us a run-down?

(Mr. Schlesinger briefed from the attached text.)

Mr. Sisco: I agree with this evaluation. It accords with State’s analysis.

Mr. Kissinger: What I want to get out of this meeting is to get a Working Group started on three contingencies: (1) a plan for an out[Page 11]break of fighting in Lebanon that might involve Syria—an approximation of what we should do if a situation similar to that in Jordan in 1970 occurs. What might the Israelis do? What would we want them to do? How would we react to a Syrian invasion of Lebanon?

Mr. Porter: Would you include an Israeli invasion to push the Syrians out?

Mr. Kissinger: That’s right.

Mr. Sisco: Eban told us that when the Israelis last got together with the Lebanese in their Military Armistice Commission contacts, the Lebanese said they assumed Israel would be there if the Syrians should intervene.

Mr. Kissinger: In 1970 Jordan wanted the Israelis to come in at the right moment. Let’s focus on our diplomatic posture, our military posture, and our attitude toward the Soviet Union and any moves they might make in such a situation.

Mr. Porter: Including the evacuation of American citizens?

Mr. Kissinger: I have assumed that was a State Department responsibility.

Mr. Porter: This could put you ashore momentarily if you wanted.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t know whether we will want to go ashore, but we had damned well better have the option and know how to do it. I would like to know with some precision the various ways in which we might become involved. For example: (1) if the Israelis go in and the Soviets threaten; (2) if the Israelis go in and we want to get them out; (3) if we want to keep the Israelis out while we evacuate American citizens. We’re certainly not looking for an excuse to go into Lebanon; we want to stay out. But in 1970 the planning we did in this room enabled us to move with great speed if we had had to.

I also want to know the contingencies in which US intervention might be contemplated. We shouldn’t focus initially on military movements, but on [illegible] diplomatic moves and what military moves we might have to make to back them up.

The second contingency relates to the kinds of things the Egyptians might do, the various ways in which the Israelis might react and the diplomatic issues that might ensue. Short of actual Soviet intervention, it’s hard to envisage any direct US action. But we should consider what to do to keep the Soviets out; the ways in which we might use the crisis to get diplomatic movement, if that is what we want, or to return to the status quo ante if it is decided that is desirable.

Mr. Schlesinger: [1 line not declassified] Egypt has moved no equipment up to the Canal. This means that their military options are limited to an air attack on Israel which would be extremely ill-advised.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s all they could do?

[Page 12]

Mr. Schlesinger: Yes; they’re extremely limited.

Mr. Kissinger: Didn’t I see a report that they were dropping a parachute brigade into Sinai?

Mr. Sisco: That was one isolated report.

Mr. Schlesinger: If Egypt should start something, it would be part of a diplomatic move to elicit sympathy when they were whipped by the Israelis.

Mr. Sisco: They’re trying to follow the Vietnamese pattern. They need a little fighting to attract attention. I think the reason Egypt played a major role in mediating the situation in Lebanon was that they are afraid the balloon might go up in Lebanon, Syria might invade, and Egypt might be shown up as a paper tiger.

Mr. Clements: (to Schlesinger) [less than 1 line not declassified]

Mr. Schlesinger: [less than 1 line not declassified]. All indicators were that things were calming down.

Mr. Porter: Do you think there’s any connection with the Security Council review?

Mr. Schlesinger: Possibly, if it is considered a prelude to a diplomatic or military move for sympathy.

Mr. Kissinger: What form of military move? If they bomb Israel, they would [illegible] sympathy if they should get a tremendous Israeli counterblow. It would be all over. There would be no war going on. They have to start something that they could continue.

Mr. Schlesinger: I agree it would be unrealistic. Even if they are talking about only getting a toehold on Sinai, the best estimate is that they could hold it only for a week. It wouldn’t give them the kind of war they need to get negotiations started.

Mr. Clements: I take a different view. The area to watch is Syria. They’re volatile as hell.

Mr. Kissinger: The thing might develop a momentum of its own. Let’s do a contingency plan for that. Dick (Kennedy), will you help them, based on our Jordan experience.

Mr. Porter: What about the draft cable that has been circulated authorizing an approach that is meant to be reassuring to the Lebanese?

Mr. Kissinger: If there is no great urgency, could we wait on that until we have a chance to develop some of these contingency plans?

Mr. Sisco: We can hold it another week. We have two problems: (1) no answer we can conceivably give will provide the kind of blank check the Lebanese want, so any reply will be disappointing; (2) on the other hand, they asked for this last September and no reply at all will have a worse effect.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m in favor of an answer. In fact, we think we can be a bit more forthcoming than your draft.

[Page 13]

Mr. Porter: It would be better to wait then.

Mr. Schlesinger: With regard to the telegram, I’d like to raise a question about pressuring them on Black September. Let’s be careful we don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire. If we force Black September headquarters out of Lebanon, they will go to Syria. [2 lines not declassified]

Mr. Kissinger: Why are they not in Damascus?

Mr. Porter: They like it in Lebanon.

Mr. Sisco: If they were operating out of Syria, the counterblow would come from Israel on Syria, not Lebanon.

Mr. Porter: And the banks that pay them are in Lebanon. No responsible bank will operate in Syria.

Mr. Clements: How much of the pressure on the fedayeen is really coming from Israel?

Mr. Sisco: There are two kinds of pressure. The Israeli pressure is operating on a worldwide scale to route them out wherever they are. But the more important pressure is coming from the Lebanese Army and Government. They’re not trying to kick the fedayeen out of Lebanon. That would buy Syrian intervention. They’re just trying to make the situation more manageable, by restricting them to light arms, concentrating them in camps, etc.

Mr. Clements: Isn’t there Israel-Lebanon government-to-government pressure?

Mr. Noyes: Dayan has been making strong statements against Lebanon, not Syria.

Mr. Sisco: We have called that to their attention. We think they should continue to do what they’re doing, but should keep quiet about it.

Mr. Noyes: Do we accept the Israeli thesis that Jordan can be equated with Lebanon?

Mr. Sisco: We have to acknowledge that Israeli military pressure has forced the hand of the Lebanese Government and Army. And they have been more forceful than we thought they would be.

Mr. Kissinger: I have reluctantly come to that conclusion.

Mr. Sisco: We would be concerned if we thought the Lebanese Government objective was to drive the fedayeen out. But they have no such intention.

Mr. Kissinger: I understand Defense wants to take up the question of Libyan nationalization.

Mr. Clements: Representatives of the international oil companies are meeting with (Deputy Secretary of State) Ken Rush tomorrow to talk about Libya. We hear the Libyan Government is going to nationalize American oil interests.

[Page 14]

Mr. Porter: They’ve already started.

Mr. Clements: There is $3 billion plus in US investment there. And we estimate there are 3000 Americans there. There’s a question of their safety. We think we should have some response ready if they take this action. It’s about to happen and we should be prepared.

Mr. Kissinger: What do they mean ‘nationalization’? Do they mean expropriation with compensation?

Mr. Clements: They are taking the assets—the production, property, pipelines, gathering and loading systems. They will take the depreciated value then sign an agreement that they must market and sell at the world price. Out of Libya’s profits, they will pay back the depreciated value.

Mr. Porter: We’ve been playing it very softly with Libya in the hope that we can hang on to the oil property until September 1 when the federation with Egypt is supposed to take place. This might bring a change of direction. In the new situation it might be possible to protect our interests better. Of course, it could be worse if the Egyptians want to push us around. The issue should be discussed. In the first place, the Libyans don’t have the people to run things. The Assistant Secretary for Africa should be here for a discussion of Libya.

Mr. Kissinger: You mean Newsom?

Mr. Sisco: Yes. We should consider what we could do. Break diplomatic relations? Take counter-measures? Sit on our haunches?

Mr. Clements: We have to make some move to protect the Americans.

Mr. Sisco: We need an options paper.

Mr. Kissinger: Okay.

Mr. Clements: There’s a nuance here. Contrary to the situation in other parts of the world, you have a combined company, Oasis, which doesn’t have extensive overseas holdings. This is their only major endeavor. It’s different for Texaco, Esso or Mobil, so the oil companies don’t all have the same position.

Mr. Sisco: The majors are in a better position to resist.

Mr. Clements: We have a long cable in on the meeting between the President of Aramco and Saudi Arabian King Faisal. Faisal is feeling the pressure. We need to think how we can reinforce our position and hold Faisal’s hand.

Mr. Sisco: I agree, and we are working with the Defense people on this. We think the answer is to deepen our relations and provide economic assistance to Faisal.

Mr. Clements: That avoids the central question which is that he wants visible US pressure on Israel.

[Page 15]

Mr. Kissinger: We can always solve the problem for half a year by giving him what he wants and avoiding the real problem. When the French were selling Mirages to Libya we were told that this was the only way to prevent the horror of the Communist countries invading this market, etc. Baloney! We need a strategy for the Middle East. If we give F–4s to Saudi Arabia they will show up in the central conflict sooner or later. This will just stimulate demands on the Israeli side. If every country comes in with a list of demands we just try to keep them happy. We need a strategy over the next three to five years. I agree that Saudi Arabia will keep the pressure on us because of the overall Middle East situation.

Mr. Porter: If we don’t give them planes for dollars, they will start selling dollars in Europe which will present us with a new problem.

Mr. Clements: I agree. But in the meantime, someone of stature needs to go over and hold Faisal’s hand.

Mr. Sisco: We have in mind (Under Secretary for Economic Affairs) Casey.

Mr. Porter: The economic thing is superficial.

Mr. Sisco: We’re talking about mutual economic relationships, not economic assistance.

Mr. Kissinger: Could we get a strategy paper?

Mr. Kennedy: We have the NSSM in work.

Mr. Sisco: We have a paper on the Saudi thing that we have been discussing with Defense which takes the Israelis into account. In the next ten days, the French may well get in and sell aircraft to the Saudis. We would lose the kudos and the balance of payments advantage as well as the possible help in the oil situation. I stand by our recommendation to sell them F–4s. It’s possible they will end in the combat zone. But we’re only talking about one squadron for the Kuwaitis and two squadrons for Saudi Arabia—36 planes—with delivery between 1975 and 1980. If we get in rather than the French, we can control their training and education and can impose a third-party caveat. We can’t guarantee that they won’t end up in a battle against Israel, but our ability to control them would certainly be better than the French.

Mr. Noyes: There’s a good case to be made that the Israeli military might be better served by F–4s in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rather than Mirages.

Mr. Kissinger: Why?

Mr. Noyes: Because US involvement means implicit control. US technicians would act as a hedge against Saudi Arabia’s doing something foolish.

Mr. Schlesinger: I agree. The only thing we have to build on there is Saudi Arabia. It’s the only country able to provide any basis of [Page 16] stability. Unless we extend some sign that we are willing to meet them part way, they will drift into the camp supporting Egypt against Israel. Deepening economic relations may be superficial, but the Saudis are deeply concerned about down-stream investment.

Adm. Weinel: In getting a handle on their military the best thing to do is to control their spare parts.

Mr. Sisco: Right. We’re also interested in the political impact the first provision of F–4s to the Arab world will have. It can be explained to the Israelis. The signal would be that the Americans are not afraid to provide aircraft to their friends. It would enhance our capability as a peace-maker.

Mr. Clements: I agree; this is not just cosmetics. The Saudis are our friends.

Mr. Kissinger: I want a strategic definition of friendship in this area. I agree that I have never met an unattractive Arab. But how do we see the situation developing in the next 3–5 years?

Mr. Porter: By our being able to restrain the Saudis as we could not do if they go the French route.

Mr. Kissinger: If I may be the devil’s advocate, if they go the French route, we must assume they are going because of some objective necessity or desire. That they want to participate in the anti-Israel effort. If they buy Mirages, they will not be under control. If they buy F–4s, they will be. But if they want to follow the Egyptian line, they will.

Mr. Clements: The Saudis don’t look at Egypt the way you think they do. What about South Yemen?

Mr. Kissinger: I’ve been trying to get State to turn loose our friends on South Yemen. We wanted to do something in Oman?

Mr. Sisco: Yes, we got them some helicopters.

Mr. Clements: And the Army is going in with some mechanized equipment to modernize their National Guard. But we can’t consider Saudi Arabia in the sole perspective of how it affects Israel.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree. But we have to consider Saudi Arabia in the overall context of American purposes.

Mr. Sisco: We will send you a copy of the overall strategy paper that was cleared at the White House. We’re trying to update it. We’re not operating on day-to-day seat-of-the-pants tactical decisions.

Mr. Kissinger: Okay. We’ll get you a decision fairly soon.

Mr. Clements: I’m sorry, but I have to leave for a talk with the Emperor (Haile Selassie).

Mr. Porter: Don’t take Kagnew back.

Mr. Clements: We should.

[Page 17]

Mr. Kissinger: Now the Departments cannot gang up and come over here with a recommendation and think the President will rubber-stamp it.

Mr. Porter: But we can argue up to the point of decision. The Emperor wants us to stay. Can’t we at least think up some other things we can do.

Mr. Clements: Oh yes, we’re thinking of other things, but we don’t have to keep on doing the same things when they are hurting us.

  1. Summary: WSAG considered new arms sales to Saudi Arabia as part of a broader bilateral relationship.

    Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box SCI 21, National Security Council, Committees and Panels, WSAG, April 1972–August 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; [handling restriction not declassified]. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. King Faisal’s meeting with the President of Aramco is reported in telegram 1891 from Jidda, May 8, 1973. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number]).