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Prime Minister Meir Meets With President Nixon

(September 18, 1970)

This memo of a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Nixon primarily covers issues related to the War of Attrition.

Memorandum of Conversation1

Washington, September 18, 1970, 11 a.m.


  • U.S. Side
  • President Nixon
  • Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco
  • Brigadier General Alexander M. Haig, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Israeli Side
  • Prime Minister Golda Meir
  • Ambassador Rabin
  • Political Adviser Simcha Dinitz

Following photographs, President Nixon opened the meeting by stating to the Prime Minister that he was conscious of the difficulties that cease-fire violations had caused Israel. He was not naive, he said, about Soviet motives and actions with respect to the Middle East situation. He pointed out that he had been following the Egyptian–Soviet violations closely, and that when the violations first surfaced he had had General Haig call Ambassador Rabin from San Clemente to inform him that the United States would, in response, increase the military assistance package that we had provided to Israel to combat the new missile threat.

The Prime Minister responded that, in her view, the U.S. response to the Israeli reports of cease-fire cheating was slow, and our initial acquiescence encouraged additional violations. Ambassador Rabin added that while the U.S. had indicated that it would provide additional anti-SAM equipment, the U.S. side had continually reduced the size of the aid package prepared in response to Israeli requests. The package on SHRIKE missiles, for example, was cut from the 100 requested down to 40, and the package on CBUs was also reduced.

The President then asked General Haig if this was true. General Haig replied that it was correct that we arrived at a figure of 40 SHRIKE missiles, and that the new anti-SAM package which the U.S. had decided to provide subsequent to the cease-fire amounted essentially to a doubling of the first anti-SAM package.

Ambassador Rabin stated that this new package was still qualitatively and quantitatively inadequate, especially since the Soviets had now introduced a new type of SAM–2 against which the current model of the SHRIKE was ineffective. The Prime Minister added that Israel was aware of a newer production model SHRIKE which would be more effective and which they urgently required.

The President thereupon instructed General Haig to take immediate action to insure that the entire issue was carefully reviewed on a priority basis jointly between the Israelis and U.S. representatives, so that a more responsive package could be developed.2

Assistant Secretary Sisco commented that the problem involved not only quantities of weapons, but also the kinds of military assistance that should be given and the strategy which Israel should adopt to best meet the changing threat.

The President then asked about the follow-on military requirements for 1971. Both sides, he said, should work together to develop an appropriate military program for Israel. He instructed General Haig to insure that this was done on a priority basis.

After expressing Israel’s gratitude for all the assistance and support which the United States has provided, the Prime Minister described the circumstances under which Israel had accepted the U.S. initiative. The Israeli Cabinet had been split on the acceptability of the U.S. initiative, she noted. In fact, they had decided not to accept the proposal because the U.S. initiative appeared to embrace the so-called “Rogers Plan.” But after this decision to reject the U.S. initiative was made, President Nixon’s letter arrived urging Israel to accept.3 On the basis of the President’s letter, the Prime Minister was able to assemble a majority of votes; only then did Israel accept the U.S. proposal. As a result of these Cabinet deliberations, the six members of the Gahal Party resigned from the Government. While this was not a critical event, in her view, it was a reflection of the difficult internal situation she faced.

No sooner had Israel accepted the U.S. initiative, the Prime Minister continued, than the other side undertook to violate the provisions of the cease-fire by the forward movement of SAM missiles into the cease-fire zone.

The Prime Minister then asked Ambassador Rabin to explain to President Nixon the specific violations which Israel had uncovered. Ambassador Rabin spread three maps on the rug before the President. Using the first of these, he pointed out the situation as Israeli intelligence carried it on August 11. At this time, according to Ambassador Rabin, there were only six SA–2s and two SA–3s in the cease-fire zone. On the next map, which depicted the situation six days later, he pointed out eight SA–2s. Finally, turning to the third map, depicting the situation on September 13, Ambassador Rabin pointed to nine SA–2s within the 30 kilometer zone and 22 more SA–2s within the 50 kilometer zone. He added that there were no additional SA–3s within the 50 kilometer zone, three of which were within the 30 kilometer zone.

Ambassador Rabin stated there were 129 sites now constructed within the cease-fire zone, of which 27 contained units and 27 were dummy positions. The Prime Minister explained that the Soviet-Egyptian tactics involved the constant shifting of missiles between sites.

The Prime Minister then stated that there was strong opposition in Israel to the so-called “Rogers Plan” and the specific border changes which that plan visualized.

President Nixon replied that there was no “Rogers Plan” as such. Prime Minister Meir stated that the real point of contention involved Israel’s borders. Israel accepted the formulation that the President himself had stated when he referred to a return to “defensible borders.” Anyone who had seen the Golan Heights, she continued, could not expect Israel to relinquish them to the Arabs. She stated that the real difficulty developed in Israel when the preamble of the U.S. initiative was finalized. Israel’s problems were not a result of the Arabs but due entirely to the Soviet Union. Russia, she stated, was not concerned with the interests of either the Arabs or the Israelis but only her own interests in expanding Red influence in the Middle East. It was Soviet military equipment and Soviet presence which had changed the situation. Egyptians cannot operate SA–3 missiles. Soviet personnel were interspersed at all levels of decision within the Egyptian military and Soviet pilots had been active over the Canal. In fact, she stated, Israeli pilots had met the Soviets in air-to-air combat, and while she was pleased with the outcome of these engagements, Israel did not welcome confrontations with the Soviet Union.

Ambassador Rabin added that the Soviets had now provided new 8-inch type artillery with greater destruction capability, as well as longer range 152mm guns. The missile complex which had been in stalled during the cease-fire now extends beyond the East Bank, and the military situation has been drastically changed.

The Prime Minister stated that the strategic situation had changed during the period of the cease-fire. She mentioned that Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who so many think of as a Hawk, had been at the East Bank several days ago and had told her how wonderful it was to have the guns silenced. It was the Soviet action that caused the problem and not a lack of Israeli goodwill. While the Israelis favor peace in the area, they cannot accept the situation as it now stands nor can they enter into negotiations with a Russian pistol in the form of SAM missiles at their head. The Prime Minister stated that the U.S. did not seem to be as concerned as it should be about the violations, at least initially, and that, in her opinion, the U.S. should now go to the Soviets directly and demand an adjustment of the situation if the negotiations are to continue.

President Nixon pointed out that indeed we had already, quietly through diplomatic channels, made strong démarches to the Soviets.4 He wanted Mrs. Meir to understand five principal points:

1. The United States Government is under no illusions as to Soviet intent and involvement in the Middle East. He referred the Prime Minister to his statements of September 17 in Chicago in which he clearly recognized Soviet culpability.5

2. The U.S. recognized that there had to be some rectification with respect to the forward movement of the Egyptian-Soviet missiles.

3. He wished to reaffirm the U.S. intent not to permit the military balance in the Middle East to be disturbed.

4. The U.S. was prepared to work jointly with Israel in developing an appropriate military package for 1971 which would include aircraft and other military equipment, whether it might be tanks or artillery or whatever was appropriate for the strategy which Israel should adopt.

5. The U.S. recognized Israel’s economic problem and their need for additional credits.

The President asked Assistant Secretary Sisco where this particular item stood. Assistant Secretary Sisco replied that the recent passage of the Jackson Amendment6 would now enable the U.S. to come up with a specific figure and program in Israel’s support. He expected to have an overall dollar figure for the President’s approval very shortly.

In conclusion, the President stated that the Prime Minister can be assured that all of Israel’s requirements would receive “sympathetic consideration.” The President then asked Prime Minister Meir what Israel’s thinking was on the Jordan situation,7 saying that he hoped Israel would do nothing precipitously, since it was important that both the U.S. and Israel do nothing which would make King Hussein’s position untenable in the Arab world.

The Prime Minister replied that Israel would not move precipitously with respect to the Jordanian situation and preferred to have the King solve the problem himself. Israel had no intention of breaking the cease-fire, she said. The cease-fire would be adhered to by Israel unless it were broken by the other side. She stated, however, that if the Egyptians and Soviets started to move their artillery forward along the Canal under the umbrella of their new missile defense, Israel would move—emphasizing that she wanted the President to be completely apprised of Israel’s intentions in this regard. Israel cannot talk now, however, she added; the missile situation had to be corrected.

The President replied that this will take time and that Israel should be willing to discuss the situation.

The Prime Minister stated that the border settlement as formulated by the U.S. was most difficult. Defensible borders had to be the criteria. However, negotiations cannot be conducted with a pistol at Israel’s head, and negotiations can only be carried out by equals. This was not true in view of the current Soviet involvement.

The President then asked the Prime Minister to remain with him briefly while the remainder of the party proceeded through the West Portico. The President and the Prime Minister remained in private conversation for approximately 15 minutes.8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 82, Presidential Meetings. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Oval Office and lasted until 12:32 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Nixon approved the meeting with Meir on an August 18 memorandum from Kissinger. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 607, Country Files, Israel, Vol. VI) According to an August 17 memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, Meir was unwilling to begin negotiations on Middle East peace until she met personally with the President and established a “clear understanding” with him on “1) boundaries; 2) future actions with respect to the Soviets; and 3) future U.S. arms decisions.” Apparently, she told Rabin: “It is time for a moment of truth between our governments.” (Ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 82, Presidential Meetings) Haldeman wrote that Kissinger “pled” with him to keep Rogers out of the meeting with Meir “on grounds he’s most hated man in Israel and would be a disaster.” Kissinger offered to “stay out” if it meant that Rogers would also not attend the meeting, and when Haldeman raised the issue with Nixon, “he agreed.” (Haldeman Diaries, Multimedia Edition, September 10, 1970)
  2. See Document 163.
  3. See Document 136.
  4. See footnote 10, Document 157.
  5. In his memoirs, Kissinger recounted that while speaking at an off-the-record meeting with the editors of the Chicago Sun-Times on September 17, Nixon stated that he would respond to Soviet adventures along the Suez Canal. “We will intervene if the situation is such that our intervention will make a difference.” Kissinger added: “It was too much to expect that such sensational news could be kept off the record. The Sun-Times ran the exact quote in an early edition. Though it was then withdrawn when Ziegler insisted on the off-the-record rule, this only heightened its foreign policy impact.” (White House Years, pp. 614–615)
  6. See footnote 5, Document 157.
  7. See Document 161.
  8. No record of this private conversation has been found.

Source: U.S. State Department.