YEARS OF UPHEAVAL
Monday, Mar. 01, 1982
In January 1973, after four turbulent but productive years as Richard Nixon's National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger was thinking of leaving the post. Kissinger recounted in the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years (1979), his role in the impressive diplomatic achievements of Nixon's first term: the opening to China; the restoration of relations between Washington and Moscow to a more or less even keel; the beginning of the end of America's agony in Viet Nam. Now the "Grand Design " that he and Nixon had conceived to reshape international relations was beginning to materialize, and Kissinger contemplated retiring, perhaps to a fellowship at Oxford's All Souls College.
It was not to be. Eight months into Nixon's second term, Kissinger was not only still in harness as National Security Adviser but was appointed to an additional and even more august job: Secretary of State. In the course of the next year, amid what Kissinger describes as "the disintegration of the Nixon presidency," he found himself dealing with "an explosion in the Middle East, disputes with our allies, an energy crisis, the unraveling of the Viet Nam settlement and a bitter domestic controversy over U.S.-Soviet relations."
On the following pages TIME begins its excerpts of the second volume of Kissinger's memoirs, Years of Upheaval, to be published March 25 by Little, Brown (1,283 pages; '$24.95). The book covers Nixon's foreshortened second term, the period from January 1973 to his resignation in August 1974. This week's excerpt describes the Middle East war of 1973; a nerve-racking confrontation with the Soviet Union that led to a worldwide alert of U.S. military forces; the plight of an Egyptian army trapped in the desert and facing starvation; and Kissinger's now renowned "shuttle diplomacy, "which sometimes involved such intense haggling over the most minute details that he was reminded of nothing so much as "retail rug-merchanting."
Next week's installment describes the growing cancer of Watergate; presents an insight into a tormented President who, always fearing catastrophe, ultimately brought it on himself; profiles Nixon's closest aides, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, as well as the current Secretary of State, Alexander Haig; and tells of the dramatic death throes of Nixon's Administration. The third and last excerpt covers the dual dilemmas of competition and coexistence with the Soviet Union; memorable Kissinger encounters with the leaders of America's principal adversaries, Leonid Brezhnev and Mao Tse-tung; and some maxims culled from a career in statecraft.
ADMINISTRATION UNDER SIEGE
August of 1973 in California was glorious. Each morning, seduced from official papers, I sat on the veranda behind my office at the Western White House in San Clemente and watched as the sun burned the fog off the ocean. Occasionally I saw a slight, stoop-shouldered figure amble along the edge of the cliff beyond which lay only the beach and the Pacific. In that tranquil setting Richard Nixon was enduring the long final torment of his political career. Outside of the seclusion of San Clemente, the country buzzed with speculation about whether he would survive as President. He himself seemed calm. He rarely talked about Watergate—never illuminatingly. One had to know Nixon well to recognize his inner turmoil in the faraway look and the frozen melancholy of his features.
On Aug. 21 my children and I were invited to swim in the pool of the Nixon residence, La Casa Pacifica. Soon the President appeared and joined us in the pool. After a minute he suggested we go to the shallow end of the pool and chat about his news conference scheduled for the next morning. I sat on the steps of the pool; the President floated on his back in the water. Suddenly, without warmth or enthusiasm, he said: "I shall open the press conference by announcing your appointment as Secretary of State." It was the first time he had mentioned the subject to me.
It was not, of course, the first I had heard of it. Watergate had made the hitherto pre-eminent position of White House assistants untenable. My influence in the rest of the Government depended on presidential authority, and this was palpably draining away in endless revelations of tawdry acts, some puerile, some illegal. Alexander Haig, recalled as presidential chief of staff in May, had told me earlier in the summer that he saw no other solution than to appoint me Secretary of State. The then Secretary, William P. Rogers, was expected to leave by the end of the summer in any event. Nixon had never wanted a strong Secretary of State. If he was ready to bend this principle it showed how desperate he had become.
The next morning I settled back to watch the press conference on television. Just as Nixon began to speak, my good friend Liv Ullmann, the Norwegian actress, telephoned from Oslo. I took the call to explain why I could not talk just then. By the time that was over, so was Nixon's brief reference to me. After announcing Rogers' resignation, Nixon named me as his replacement and said, "Dr. Kissinger's qualifications for this post, I think, are well known." He did not elaborate what they were. So it happened that I missed hearing myself named Secretary of State.
What might have been a simple moment of gratification was beset with deep anxiety, for the Administration was under siege. We were straining all our efforts to prevent the unraveling of the nation's foreign policy as Nixon's presidency slowly disintegrated. I had achieved an office I had never imagined within my reach; yet I did not feel like celebrating. I could not erase from my mind the poignant thought of Richard Nixon so alone and beleaguered and, beneath the frozen surface, fearful, just a few yards away while I was reaching the zenith of acclaim.
It was all so utterly different from what we had hoped for earlier in 1973. Rarely had a presidential term started with such bright foreign policy prospects. In January, a decade of bitter domestic divisions seemed to be ending with the Viet Nam War. An overwhelming electoral mandate the previous November had given Nixon an extraordinary opportunity to heal the nation's wounds. Perhaps we were too euphoric, but we were convinced that many factors were now amenable to creative diplomacy in several areas.
As for me, at the beginning of 1973 I felt especially detached from the battles of the first term. For I had decided to resign by the end of the year. I felt at liberty to do so because the vision of a new period of foreign policy, no longer overshadowed by a divisive war, was coupled with the conviction that an end had to be put to the byzantine administrative procedures of Nixon's first term. No longer should power be centralized in the hands of presidential assistants acting in secret from the rest of the Government. My friend David Bruce argued that if I was serious about making our achievements permanent, if I wanted to leave a legacy rather than a tour de force, we would have to entrust greater responsibility to the permanent officials of the State Department and the Foreign Service. This, Bruce suggested, could not happen while I dominated all decisions from my White House office.
I had intended to stay long enough in 1973 to see the peace in Indochina established; to launch the new initiative toward the industrial democracies that came to be known as the Year of Europe; and to consolidate the new Moscow-Washington-Peking triangle. I shall never know whether I would in fact have carried out my intention. All our calculations were soon to be overwhelmed by the elemental catastrophe of Watergate.
So, instead of resigning, I found myself testifying during hearings on my nomination as Secretary of State. On Sept. 22, Chief Justice Warren Burger—who in a moving gesture had interrupted a European trip—administered the oath of office in the East Room of the White House in the presence of my parents and children. My parents were as in a dream; they could hardly believe that 35 years after being driven out of their native country, their son should have reached our nation's highest appointive executive office.
Nixon's remarks at the swearing-in ranged from the perfunctory to the bizarre. He noted that my appointment represented a historic first for three reasons: I was the first naturalized citizen to become Secretary of State; the first Secretary who had visited Peking and Moscow before his appointment; and the first Secretary since World War II who did not part his hair. He pursued the last topic relentlessly, speculating as to what category Dean Rusk, who had no hair, belonged: "My barber, who is a very wise man, said, 'Well, Mr. President, he didn't have much hair, but what he had, he parted.' " In my reply, I evaded this fascinating subject. Nixon disappeared immediately afterward, not mingling even for a few moments at the traditional reception in the State Dining Room.
My biggest immediate challenge in taking over the State Department was to conduct a strong foreign policy despite the growing weakness of our executive authority. If history was any guide, crises were now unavoidable. It was imperative, at a moment when the squalid spectacle of the destruction of a presidency was unfolding daily in headlines and newscasts, to remind Americans and our friends around the world that our Government was functioning and purposeful and the master of events.
Exactly two weeks after my swearing-in, war broke out in the Middle East.
WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST
At 6:15 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6, 1973,1 was asleep in my suite at the Waldorf Towers in New York City, my headquarters for the annual session of the U.N. General Assembly. Suddenly Joseph J. Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, barged into my bedroom, all but shouting that Israel and two Arab countries, Egypt and Syria, were about to go to war. He was confident that it was all a mistake; each side was really misreading the intentions of the other. If I set them right immediately, I could get matters under control before the shooting began. It was a flattering estimate of my capacities. Unfortunately, it turned out to be exaggerated.
Two hours earlier, Prime Minister Golda Meir had summoned our Ambassador, former Senator Kenneth Keating, to her office in Jerusalem. It was extraordinary for an Israeli leader to be at work that day—Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year for Jews. It is a day that climaxes a holy season in which, according to tradition, God decides the destiny of all mortals for the coming year. Golda's startling message was that Israel's encounter with destiny had already begun.
"We may be in trouble," Golda told Keating. Egyptian and Syrian troop movements, assumed to be simply military exercises, had suddenly taken a threatening turn. The Israelis were now persuaded that a coordinated Egyptian and Syrian attack would be launched late that afternoon. Since the Arabs were certain to be defeated, she suggested, the crisis must result from their misunderstanding of Israeli intentions. Would the U.S. urgently convey to the Soviet Union and to Israel's Arab neighbors that Israel had no intention of attacking?
When Sisco awakened me there were only 90 minutes of peace left for the Middle East. So skillfully had Egypt and Syria masked their war preparations that even at this stage the Israelis expected the attack to come four hours later than it actually did.
At 6:40 a.m. I called Soviet Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin at his embassy in Washington. Roused from bed, Dobrynin claimed the whole episode must be an Israeli maneuver to justify a pre-emptive attack. I told him that my point in calling him was to guarantee precisely the opposite. Pedantically diplomatic, he raised more questions. I cut him off impatiently: "If this keeps up there is going to be a war before you understand my message."
After a frantic hour-and-a-half flurry of phone calls, at 8:15 a.m. Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Hassan El Zayyat, in New York for the U.N. meeting, called and claimed Israeli units had attacked Egyptian positions in the Gulf of Suez. Fourteen minutes later the Israeli embassy in Washington called to report that Egyptian and Syrian planes had been attacking along all fronts for the past half hour. The attack began at approximately 2 p.m. Middle East time, or 8 a.m. Washington time.
It was some time before our bureaucracy agreed that war had actually begun, or that the Arabs had started it. That was all too evident at a meeting convened in the capital at my request of the Washington Special Actions Group (or WSAG, which consisted then of the National Security Adviser, senior representatives of the State and Defense Departments, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of Central Intelligence). CIA Director William Colby reported without disagreement that according to Damascus radio, Israel had launched the attack. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger commented that while Syria's reputation for veracity was not high, it would be the first time in 20 years that Israel had not started a Mideast war. Only Alfred L. (Roy) Atherton, Sisco's deputy, challenged the consensus: "This is the last day in the year when they would have started something. And there were no signs of advance Israeli preparations."
At 9:20 a.m., I told Dobrynin that Egypt and Syria had launched a surprise attack. When Dobrynin protested that he had been told the opposite, I replied sharply: "You and I know that is baloney. How is it that the Syrians and Egyptians are starting at the same minute all along the front if it started with an Israeli naval attack?" I warned Dobrynin that everything that had been achieved in East-West relations might be at risk.
The Egyptian-Syrian attack was a classic of surprise, which resulted from the misinterpretation of facts available for all to see. Egypt's President Sadat boldly all but told what he was going to do—he had been threatening to go to war every year since 1971—and we did not believe him. He overwhelmed us with information and let us draw the wrong conclusion.
Every Israeli (and American) analysis before October 1973 agreed that Egypt and Syria lacked the capability to regain their territory by force of arms; hence it was assumed they would not attack. The premises were correct. The conclusions were not. What literally no one understood beforehand was the mind of Anwar Sadat. In his view, serious diplomacy was impossible while Israel considered itself militarily supreme and Egypt was paralyzed by humiliation. In 1972 he expelled Soviet troops from his country because of the disrespect shown by Soviet leaders toward Egyptians but above all because they would surely seek to impede his planned military move or else exploit it for Soviet ends. The following year he fought a war not to acquire a specific sliver of territory but to restore Egypt's self-respect and thereby increase its diplomatic flexibility. Clearly, there had been an intelligence failure. What no one believed—the consumers no more than the producers of intelligence—was the notion of starting an unwinnable war to restore self-respect.
When the war did break out, I was convinced that we were in a good position to dominate events. Our de facto ally Israel stood to win. Our moderate Arab friends, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, though they could not admit it, were nearly as afraid of a victory achieved by Soviet arms as of a defeat of their Arab brethren. From the outset, I was determined to use the war to start a peace process.
A big piece of the puzzle was Soviet intentions. My view is that the Soviets stopped short of encouraging the war but made no effort to halt it once they realized Sadat was determined to go to war. If the Arabs did well, the credit would go to Soviet arms and support. If they did poorly, Moscow thought it could emerge, as in 1967, as the champion of the radical Arab cause and perhaps even get rid of Egypt's troublesome Sadat. There was no doubt in my mind about the geopolitical stakes. About 90 minutes after we learned of the fighting, I told Haig: "If the Soviets are all out on the other side, we have a mischievous case of collusion, and we had better then be tough as nails."
We both knew, of course, that Nixon's authority was deteriorating daily. The issue of whether Nixon should surrender tape recordings from his office was reaching a climax at the very moment war broke out. New indictments spawned by Watergate had been handed down. Nixon was about to lose his Vice President, Spiro Agnew, in a scandal concerning alleged payoffs.
The first issue after the war opened concerned tactics at the United Nations. I recommended to Nixon that we should seek to draw the Soviets into a joint approach in the Security Council. According to my scheme, the two superpowers would call for a prompt return to the lines at which the conflict had started. If the Soviets rose to the bait of joint action, the war would end quickly. If they refused, Jerusalem would have time to mount a counterattack. Then, as I told Haig, we would let the Israelis "beat them up for a day or two and that will quiet them down." The only thing wrong with that smug assertion was that it took the Israelis much more than a day or two to restore their military situation, and before that they were on the edge of catastrophe.
On Sunday, Oct. 7, we had our first direct word from Cairo. Sadat's Security Adviser Hafez Ismail informed us of Egypt's terms: Israel had to withdraw from all occupied territories; only then could a peace conference discuss other matters. Sadat was well aware that we considered such conditions unattainable. What was significant was the fact of the message, not its content. Sadat was inviting us to participate in a dialogue on the peace process in spite of our well-known differences.
Until this message, I had not taken Sadat seriously. Because of the many threats to go to war that had not been implemented, I had dismissed him as more actor than statesman. Now I was beginning to understand that the grandiloquent gestures were part of a conscious strategy that had guaranteed surprise. The surprise, however, was not an end in itself but the servant of a farsighted design. I was convinced that we were dealing with a statesman of the first order.
Sunday evening Ambassador Simcha Dinitz arrived from Israel with optimistic news. Israel would need 48 hours from Monday noon (when mobilization would be completed) to finish military operations. He was hoping we would be able to delay any U.N.-sponsored cease-fire through Tuesday.
By Monday evening intelligence reports predicted a decisive Israeli victory within the next 48 hours. Thus the focus was on how we could pick up the pieces and prevent an explosion in the Arab world and a possible oil embargo. Yet I wondered: If all this was true, why were the Arabs not grasping at a ceasefire? What did they know that we didn't?
We found out in the middle of that night.
Dinitz phoned at 1:45 a.m., waking me with a puzzling question: What could we do about resupply? Only a few hours earlier, he had told me the battle should be turning at about this time toward victory. What was the problem? The unworthy thought crossed my mind that perhaps the Israelis wanted to commit us to a schedule of arms deliveries before their victory removed the urgency. I told Dinitz that we would talk in the morning.
At 3 a.m., Dinitz called again with essentially the same urgent message. Unless he wanted to prove to the Israeli Cabinet that he could get me out of bed at will, something was wrong.
Thus on Tuesday, Oct. 9, we met at 8:20 a.m. in the White House. Dinitz had brought along his armed forces attache, General Mordechai ("Motta") Gur. Grimly, they explained that Israel's losses had been staggering, totally unexpected. Forty-nine airplanes, including 14 Phantoms, had been destroyed. This figure was high but not completely surprising since both Syria and Egypt possessed large quantities of Soviet surface-to-air missiles. The real shocker was the loss of 500 tanks, 400 on the Egyptian front alone. Dinitz implored me to keep the numbers secret from everyone except the President. If they were known, the Arab countries now standing aloof might join for a knockout blow.
"So that's why the Egyptians are so cocky!" I exclaimed.
"How did it happen?" Gur explained that a significant number of Israeli tanks were lost on the way to the battle by being run too fast in the desert after having been inadequately maintained. "Obviously," Dinitz admitted, "something went wrong."
What Dinitz was reporting would require a fundamental reassessment of strategy. Our entire diplomacy and our resupply policy had been geared to a rapid Israeli victory. These assumptions were now overtaken. I urged a quick victory on one front before U.N. diplomacy ratified Arab territorial gains everywhere. "We are concentrating now on a fast Syrian victory," replied Dinitz. "With the Egyptians, it will take longer."
At the end Dinitz asked to see me alone. Prime Minister Meir, he told me, was prepared to come to the U.S. personally to plead with President Nixon for urgent arms aid. It could be a secret visit. I rejected the idea out of hand and without checking with Nixon. Golda's leaving while a major battle was going on would be a sign of such panic that it might bring in all the Arab states still on the sidelines. It would leave Israel leaderless when Golda's dauntless courage was most needed. (I learned after the war that at this very moment some senior Israeli ministers were recommending a withdrawal deep into the Sinai.)
At 9:40 a.m. that Tuesday I urgently convened a special meeting of the WSAG. Staff was barred to enhance security. I reported the conversation with Dinitz and Gur, omitting the figures for tank losses. My colleagues were skeptical. Colby reported that Israel was doing well and was simply trying to obtain the maximum military aid from us before victory. Schlesinger's concern was that meeting Israel's requests and turning around a battle that the Arabs were winning might blight our relations with the Arabs. Other participants concurred. My view was that matters had progressed too far. "Israel has suffered a strategic defeat no matter what happens," I argued.
Meanwhile, I was becoming convinced that the Soviets were seeking to fish in troubled waters. I learned from our Ambassador in Amman, Dean Brown, that the Soviets had urged Jordan's King Hussein to enter the battle. Later in the day an appeal by Brezhnev on similar lines to President Houari Boumedienne of Algeria was made public. "We can't let the Soviet Union get away with this," I told the WSAG. I warned Dobrynin against encouraging other nations to enter the conflict.
At 4:45 p.m. I told Nixon: "If the Arabs sense that the Israelis have lost more than they have admitted, they might rush in." Nixon was preoccupied; he had spent much of the day tidying up Agnew's resignation, to be announced within 24 hours. This might have deflected him from details, but it had not dimmed his eye for essentials. "The Israelis must not be allowed to lose," he agreed. His decision was to speed equipment and to guarantee to replace all of Israel's losses. Thus Israel would not have to hoard supplies during the crucial battle.
On Wednesday morning, Oct. 10, we awoke to the ominous news that some 20 Soviet transport aircraft were on the way to Syria via Hungary and Yugoslavia. An airlift of such magnitude must have been organized for several days.
Shortly after 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Dobrynin called me with a message that the Soviet Union would now acquiesce in a ceasefire in place, provided someone else introduced it in the Security Council. The timing was the worst possible for our strategy because the status quo ante had not been achieved; a victory of Soviet arms would be assured on all fronts. I stalled, telling Dobrynin we needed time to consider the proposal. Agnew's resignation as Vice President was due to be announced at 2 p.m.; this would prevent the President from turning to the Soviet proposal for hours.
During a lunch I gave at State for Belgian Foreign Minister Renaat van Elslande, I was called by prearrangement to the White House to receive Agnew's resignation. For some obscure legal reason, the resignation of the President or the Vice President must be made to the Secretary of State. The rule had never before been implemented. I trust that no other Secretary of State will find himself accepting the resignations of both our highest elected officials in the space often months.
While I was engaged with the Agnew resignation, Dinitz informed Major General Brent Scowcroft, who had replaced Haig as my deputy, that Israel's promised replacement equipment exceeded the capacity of the seven jets of the El Al air fleet. It was decided that Israel should be permitted to employ private air charter companies. That turned out to be a fiasco. No charter company was eager to court an Arab boycott or to risk its planes. The Defense Department could have brought pressure on the charter companies, but felt no urgency because it estimated that Israel still had stocks for two weeks. The Department of Transportation wanted to stay out of a war zone. The two departments pushed the ball back and forth. After 48 hours, as a result, an American airlift was organized. Subsequently, it was alleged that the airlift was deliberately delayed to pressure Israel to accept a ceasefire. This was not the case. Bureaucratic foot dragging and logistical problems were the only causes of the delay.
By Thursday, Oct. 11, the Soviet airlift included flights not only to Syria but also to Egypt and even Iraq. Later in the day we learned that three Soviet airborne divisions had been put on alert (still later, the figure grew to seven divisions). That morning Israel was carrying the air war deep into Syria, and by the end of the day, forward Israeli units were only 20 miles from Damascus.
At 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, the Soviet embassy requested an immediate appointment for Dobrynin, who was said to have an "urgent" message. Since Nixon was going to announce his choice for Vice President at 9 p.m., I said I could see Dobrynin for 15 minutes at the State Department at 8 p.m.
Things were clearly getting tense. When Dobrynin arrived, he had two messages. The first assailed the "barbaric bombing [by Israel] of peaceful population centers in Egypt and Syria." It warned that Israeli population centers would not remain immune indefinitely. That message also protested an Israeli attack on a Soviet merchant ship in a Syrian harbor, culminating in a threat that Moscow would "take measures." The second message was pure insolence. The Soviets had been running an airlift into Syria and Egypt amounting to 84 planes over three days. Now they accused us of resupplying Israel—a reference to the seven El Al planes that had been shuttling back and forth.
I curtly dismissed this protest. I warned that any Soviet military intervention—regardless of pretext—would be met by American force. It would have been a more convincing threat had not Congress on that very day passed the so-called War Powers Act, reducing presidential discretion in committing American military forces.
Just before the White House ceremony where the new Vice President would be announced, I briefed Dinitz. I told him that it was my personal view—not yet checked with the President—that we would intervene if "any Soviet personnel, planes or ground personnel appear in the area."
The ceremony in the East Room of the White House was an eerie interlude in the Watergate bitterness. There was an air of uneasiness that the worst was yet to come. The selection of the popular Gerald Ford evoked a wave of enthusiasm that for a moment stilled that worry. For 15 minutes everyone submerged his fears in warm feelings toward this quintessential American.
A few hours after the ceremony, Dinitz showed up at my White House office and launched us into one of the decisive encounters of the week. It led the U.S. to undertake an all-out military airlift. Dinitz somberly began with a military briefing. "Our decision whether to start a new offensive or not depends on our power," Dinitz said. "We thought we would have by now in Israel the implements to do it—the bombs, the missiles, etc." I replied: "So did I. What exactly is the obstacle?"
Dinitz complained that replacements of heavy equipment would come too late and that materiel needed for the current counteroffensive had been delayed three days. In particular, he stressed that Israel would exhaust its supplies of ammunition in two or three days. I immediately called Schlesinger, who expressed astonishment; he simply did not believe that an army could run out of ammunition without warning. After checking with Haig, we decided on some interim steps, including the use of U.S. planes to haul supplies to the Azores, where they would be picked up by the Israelis, shortening the distance their planes had to fly and more than doubling their load capacity.
Saturday morning, Nixon was still exuberant over achieving surprise in naming Ford. His selection (Nixon reasoned) would dampen impeachment threats because Congress would not want to risk placing a supposedly inexperienced man in charge of foreign affairs—a symptom of how profoundly Nixon was still misjudging the determination of the forces arrayed against him. And Ford, he thought, would not stand in the way of Nixon's ultimate aim: designating John Connally his successor.
Nixon failed to recognize that the applause for his speech the night before was a tribute above all to the affection for Ford's warm personality and integrity. Nor did he yet understand that even if, as he thought, Ford was inconsequential—which he emphatically was not—his appointment would accelerate Nixon's collapse rather than delay it. It was more tempting for Democrats to remove Nixon if his successor seemed to be someone they thought they could beat in 1976.
When we turned to the airlift, Nixon showed his old courage.
The Pentagon had located three giant C-5A jet transports that were available to fly 60 to 80 tons of supplies each directly to Israel. "Do it now!" he urged. By Sunday morning he agreed that the airlift should be a straightforward American military operation. "We are going to get blamed just as much for three planes as for 300," he told me. He was right.
On Friday the Israelis had informed us that they were ready to proceed with the cease-fire suggested by the Soviets two days earlier. It was our plan to begin implementing the Soviet proposal by asking Britain to introduce in the Security Council late Saturday afternoon, Oct. 13, a resolution calling for a cease-fire in place. That morning Sir Alec Douglas Home, the British Foreign Secretary, telephoned to say that Sadat would not accept anything less than an Israeli commitment to return to the 1967 frontiers. Our proposal would not fly unless Moscow was willing to pressure Sadat by cutting off his supplies; he doubted the Soviets were prepared to go this far. Home asked whether détente remained our motivating consideration. "Détente is not an end in itself," I told him, as I began to suspect that the Soviets might be pulling back from their own proposal. "I think developments now are going to drive us toward a confrontation."
All our information seemed to point in that direction. Egypt's 21st armored division—carefully husbanded until now—had crossed the Suez Canal. At least one other armored division was preparing to follow. The die was now cast. The parties could not yet be brought to end the war—or the Soviets to support a cease-fire—by a calculation of their interests. All that was left was to force a change in the perception of their interests. We would pour in supplies. We would risk a confrontation.
I warned Dobrynin: "We are now going to wash our hands of it and let nature take its course." I informed the British Ambassador, Lord Cromer, that we were starting an airlift to Israel. Cromer asked: "What will be your posture when the Arabs start screaming oil at you?" "Defiance," I replied, playing Churchill. "Just defiance?" queried Cromer. "It is going to be rough, won't it?" "We have no choice," I said.
As so often before when confronted with decisive American action, the Soviets began to pull back. Late in the day Dobrynin reiterated his leaders' hope that we would not undo all that had been accomplished. "We will not under any circumstances let détente be used for unilateral advantage," I said. "Don't think we will accept a military setback in the Middle East."
Monday morning, Oct. 15, some 2,000 tanks were joined in the Sinai in one of the biggest armor battles in history. Once outside their antiaircraft missile screen, the Egyptian tanks were vulnerable to Israeli air power; at least 250 were destroyed. It was a reversal of the Israeli setback of the week before. Now the Israelis, already advancing in Syria, would begin to move forcefully on the southern front as well. Our airlift, meanwhile, was proceeding in stunning fashion.
Once over its second thoughts, our Defense Department put on the sort of performance no other country can match, carrying an average of about 50 tons of equipment each hour over a distance of 6,000 miles. In the first full day of the airlift, we had more than matched what the Soviet Union had put into Egypt, Syria and Iraq combined in all of the four previous days.
Late on Oct. 15, Hafez Ismail sent a message in which—amazingly—he invited me to visit Egypt for talks "within the framework of two principles—that Egypt cannot make any concessions of land or sovereignty." There could be no doubt that Ismail was speaking in Sadat's name. Sadat could have used the airlift as a pretext to unleash the mobs in the Arab world against us, as Nasser had done with far less provocation in 1967. But Sadat was willing to forgo posturing for attainable progress. He had taken the measure of Soviet support: always enough to keep tensions high, never enough to bring about a settlement.
On Tuesday morning, Oct. 16, we were informed that 25 Israeli tanks had crossed to the west side of the Suez Canal at Great Bitter Lake and were beginning to tear up the surface-to-air missile field. If it continued, this guaranteed an Israeli victory because it exposed the Egyptian forces across the Canal to the full fury of Israeli air power.
Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 17, a news ticker spelled out new complications. The Arab oil producers had just announced an immediate production cutback of 5%, to be followed by monthly cutbacks of 5% until Israel withdrew to the 1967 frontiers. We were so focused on the danger of an embargo that we thought the production cutback largely symbolic. It was—but it had revolutionary implications. As it became progressively evident that the producer cartel could set prices nearly arbitrarily by manipulating production, a new phase of postwar history began.
In the meantime, as we pressed on with the airlift and urged a cease-fire linked to U.N. Resolution 242, which in the wake of the 1967 war called in vague terms for a withdrawal from occupied territories and for "secure and recognized boundaries," Watergate again approached one of its climaxes. Much of Nixon's attention during the week of the airlift was absorbed with the court of appeals decision on the Watergate tapes. On Oct. 17 Attorney General Elliot Richardson transmitted a White House proposal to Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, that Nixon would allow John Stennis, a prestigious Senator, to verify the accuracy of proposed White House summaries of the disputed tapes. By coincidence I had a lunch scheduled that day with Richardson. He told me he had the uneasy feeling that the White House was trying to jockey Cox into a position where it could fire him. That Richardson would not accept.
By Friday morning, Oct. 19, the Israelis had 300 tanks on the west bank of the Canal. Minutes after 11 a.m., Dobrynin called with an urgent message from Brezhnev to Nixon. It spoke of the increasing danger in the Middle East:
"Since now not only every day but every hour counts, my colleagues and I suggest that your closest associate, Dr. Kissinger, come in an urgent manner to Moscow to conduct appropriate negotiations. It would be good if he could come tomorrow,
When I read the invitation, I felt it solved most of our problems. It would keep the issue out of the U.N. until we had shaped an acceptable outcome. It would gain at least another 72 hours for military pressures to build. The Soviets could engage in no blackmail while the trip was being prepared or while I was in transit. I told Dobrynin I would leave early Saturday. I would not be prepared to start negotiations before Sunday morning; there could be no discussion of any subject except the ceasefire.
SHOWDOWN WITH THE SOVIETS
My associates and I left for the Soviet Union at 2 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, almost exactly two weeks after the outbreak of the war. Later that day we had a glimpse of other dangers: Arab oil producers began embargoing all sales of oil to the U.S. In spite of the embargo, I felt we were in a very strong negotiating position. Israel seemed poised to achieve a decisive victory, but my confidence was suddenly shaken by a message from Nixon. We, on our way to Moscow, were not to know what a fateful day Oct. 20 was for the presidency: Special Prosecutor Cox refused to accept summaries of the Nixon tapes reviewed by Senator Stennis; he wanted the tapes themselves; he rejected Nixon's order that he renounce the right to subpoena further documents. Nixon forced a showdown by sacking Cox, which led to the resignation of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and the firing of Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.
None of this was communicated to our plane. I did, however, receive an urgent cable from Scowcroft transmitting the draft of a letter that Nixon intended to send to Brezhnev. Its essence was that Nixon was granting me "full authority." I was horrified. I would be deprived of any capacity to stall. Full authority made it impossible for me to refer any tentative agreement to the President for his approval—if only to buy time. I flashed a message to Scowcroft uncharacteristically objecting to the grant: "I must be in a position to insist to the Russians that I must pass proposals back to the President for his consideration. Any reference to full authority would undercut this ability."
My message arrived too late. Nixon had the letter prepared for his signature without waiting for my comments. What made the final typed letter irreversible was that Nixon added to it a handwritten postscript: "Mrs. Nixon joins me in sending our best personal regards to Mrs. Brezhnev and to you." In its absence the letter might have been retyped with my suggested changes. The Soviets recognize a windfall when they see it; within hours an acknowledgement from Brezhnev arrived in Washington. History will not record that I resisted many grants of authority. This one I resented bitterly; "full powers" can inhibit rather than enhance negotiating flexibility.
In Moscow, we had just finished a substantial meal at the state guest house when Brezhnev invited us to a "private" dinner late Saturday night in his Politburo office in the Kremlin. Never mind that we had just eaten—a social invitation by the General Secretary could not be refused. Our minds addled by a 15-hour plane trip and our bellies distended by a Russian dinner, we sped to the Kremlin. Brezhnev received us in what looked like a Churchill jumpsuit in sky blue. He did not neglect to remind me that I had "full powers" and therefore would have no need to refer matters to Washington. Even so, we were almost relieved that he suggested an "informal" discussion before feeding us yet again.
The conversation's bizarre quality was not lost on us. Brezhnev waxed eloquent about the special relationship of the two superpowers at the very moment when both sides were introducing thousands of tons of war matériel daily to opposite sides in a desperate war. He claimed that the Soviets, in the air-and sealifts to the Middle East, were simply fulfilling four-year-old agreements. "To us," I replied sarcastically, "it looks like you are fulfilling the four-year agreement in two weeks. It is an impressive performance."
When I returned to the guest villa in the Lenin Hills, there was another unnerving surprise—a message from Nixon expressing his conviction that the Soviet Union and the U.S. should jointly impose a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Nixon wrote that "U.S. political considerations," a euphemism for the Jewish vote, "will have absolutely no, repeat no, influence on our decisions in this regard. I am prepared to pressure the Israelis to the extent required, regardless of the domestic political consequences."
To Brezhnev, Nixon wrote: "The Israelis and Arabs will never be able to approach this subject by themselves in a rational manner. That is why Nixon and Brezhnev, looking at the problem more dispassionately, must step in, determine the proper course of action to a just settlement, and then bring the necessary pressure on our respective friends for a settlement."
American strategy so far had been to separate the cease-fire from a postwar political settlement and to reduce the Soviet role in the negotiations following the ceasefire. What Nixon seemed to envisage now would involve us in an extensive negotiation with the Soviets whose results we would then have to impose on Israel. Moscow would receive credit with the Arabs, and our leverage on the Arab states would disappear.
The strain of the last two weeks translated itself into a strident cable to Scowcroft and a phone call to Al Haig in which I expressed, on an open line to Washington, my extreme displeasure. "Will you get off my back? I have troubles of my own," said Haig, uncharacteristically testy.
I persisted: "What troubles can you possibly have in Washington on a Saturday night?"
Haig replied wearily: "The President has just fired Cox.
Richardson and Ruckelshaus have resigned, and all hell has broken loose."
That is how I learned what troubles one can have in Washington on a Saturday night.
It was now even more imperative to end the war before the Soviets were tempted to take advantage of our domestic debacle. When we met at Sunday noon in Brezhnev's Politburo office, I submitted a proposal that Joe Sisco and I had worked out during the night. Our first point called for a cease-fire in place. Our second called for full implementation of Security Council Resolution 242, a mandate sufficiently vague to have occupied diplomats for years without their arriving at agreement. Our third point required immediate negotiations "between the parties concerned," the direct negotiations with Israel that the Arab states had consistently refused and that a succession of Israeli Cabinets had claimed would unlock the door to concessions.
To our amazement, Brezhnev and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko accepted our text, with only the most minor editorial changes and a minimum of haggling, after only four hours of negotiation. The Security Council speedily passed the joint U.S.Soviet cease-fire proposal, Resolution 338, at 12:50 a.m. in New York on Oct. 22. At breakfast with Gromyko at the state guest house that morning, there was some heavy joshing—Gromyko's contribution consisted of calling his ally Sadat a "paper earner—and much maudlin talk about the importance of close U.S.Soviet relations. But the passions of the Middle East combatants and the inherent competitiveness of U.S. and Soviet interests would again dominate our relations soon enough.
In the meantime Washington had exploded after the "Saturday Night Massacre." Flying west, I had a report from Scowcroft: "The all consuming preoccupation of the moment is with the Richardson-Cox-Ruckelshaus affair. Comments about impeachment are rife in all media. The cease-fire news made big front-page headlines, but this latest Watergate crisis has the effect of overwhelming everything else."
Haig cabled in greater detail: "Unfortunately, you will be returning to an environment of major national crisis. Because the situation is at a state of white heat, the ramifications of the accomplishments in Moscow have been somewhat eclipsed and their true significance underplayed. For this reason, it is essential that a major effort be made to refocus national attention on the President's role in the Middle East settlement. An impeachment stampede could well develop in the Congress tomorrow, although we are confident that cooler heads will prevail if the President's assets are properly applied. The President believes that it is essential that we have a bipartisan leadership meeting tomorrow at the White House during which you can report in detail on the Middle East situation, lacing this report with heavy emphasis on the President's accomplishments and the need for national unity and a steady hand in the critical days ahead."
The cease-fire was short-lived. Kissinger had hardly returned to Washington when Egypt and Israel accused each other of major violations. Brezhnev weighed in with a protest so urgent and angry that Kissinger began to wonder whether Israel was moving to trap the Egyptian Third Army, cease-fire or no. He soon learned that well after the cease-fire had gone into effect, the Israelis had in fact severed the last supply line to Suez city, leaving the 35,000-man force totally cut off and facing starvation on the east bank of the Canal. "A crisis was upon us," writes Kissinger. "Israel seemed determined to end the war with a humiliation for Egypt." Sadat, growing desperate over his army's threatened destruction, proposed that both the U.S. and the Soviets send forces to intervene. But the U.S. was not about to send American troops to a joint operation with Soviet troops against Israel. Nor would it accept the dispatch of Soviet forces unilaterally; that, as Kissinger notes, "would legitimize their role in the area and strengthen radical elements." A superpower confrontation was at hand.
At 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24, the Soviet leaders decided on a showdown. Dobrynin announced to me that Soviet U.N. Representative Yakov Malik had just been instructed to support a resolution calling for the dispatch of American and Soviet troops to the Middle East if someone else introduced it. This, I knew, would be easy to arrange. I just had time to tell Dobrynin that we would never agree when I had to interrupt for a call from the President.
Nixon was as agitated and emotional as I had ever heard him. Talk of his possible impeachment increased daily. He expressed the hope that at a briefing scheduled for the next morning I would tell the congressional leadership about his central, indispensable role in managing the Mideast crisis. He spoke of his political end, even his physical demise: "They are doing it because of their desire to kill the President. And they may succeed. I may physically die." I tried to soothe him. He was at his best in adversity, I said.
But for once he was not to be reassured: "What they care about is destruction. It brings me sometimes to feel like saying the hell with it. I would like to see them run this country and see what they do. The real tragedy is if I move out, everything we have done will crumble. The Russians will look for other customers, the Chinese will lose confidence, the Europeans will—They just don't realize they are throwing everything out the window. I don't know what in the name of God ..."
Here was the Watergate tragedy encapsuled in a brief telephone conversation. We were heading into what could have become the gravest foreign policy crisis of the Nixon presidency—because it involved a direct confrontation of the superpowers—with a President overwhelmed by his difficulties and with a Congress that had just, in the War Powers Act, restricted authority to use military force.
It was in a somber mood that at 7:15 p.m. I turned from the conversation with the President to resume talking to Dobrynin. I urged him not to push us to an extreme. We would not accept Soviet troops in any guise. Dobrynin replied that in Moscow "they have become so angry they want troops."
At 9:35 p.m. there was another call from Dobrynin. It was 4:35 a.m. in Moscow, but he had a letter from Brezhnev so urgent that he had to read it to me on the phone. I could see why. It was in effect an ultimatum: it proposed joint Soviet and American military forces to ensure not only the cease-fire but also the imposition of a comprehensive peace. And, Brezhnev went on, "I will say it straight that if you find it impossible to act jointly with us in this matter, we should be faced with the necessity urgently to consider the question of taking appropriate steps unilaterally. We cannot allow arbitrariness on the part of Israel."
It was one of the most serious challenges to an American President by a Soviet leader, from its peremptory salutation, "Mr. President," to its equally peremptory conclusion demanding an "immediate and clear reply."
There was no question in my mind that we would have to reject the Soviet proposal. And we would have to do so in a manner that shocked the Soviets into abandoning the move they were threatening—and apparently planning. The CIA reported that the Soviet airlift to the Middle East had stopped early on the 24th, though ours was continuing; the ominous implication was that the aircraft would be used to carry the airborne divisions that had been put on increased alert status. The number of Soviet ships in the Mediterranean had grown to 85—an all-time high. (It later exceeded 100.) A Soviet flotilla of twelve ships, including two amphibious vessels, was heading for Alexandria.
At 9:50 p.m. I informed Haig. I asked him whether I should wake up the President. He replied curtly: "No." I knew what that meant. Haig thought the President too distraught to participate in the preliminary discussion. From my own conversation with Nixon earlier, I was convinced Haig was right. Nixon has written in his memoirs: "When Haig informed me about this message, I said that he and Kissinger should have a meeting at the White House to formulate plans for a firm reaction to what amounted to a scarcely veiled threat of unilateral Soviet intervention."
At 10:15 p.m. I called Dobrynin to discourage precipitate action. I told him: "This is a matter of great concern. Don't you pressure us. I want to repeat again, don't pressure us!" He replied simply: "All right."
This conversation subtly added to the impact of Brezhnev's threatening letter. It would have been easy for Dobrynin to indicate in the hundred ways available to a seasoned professional that we were overreacting, that the threat of unilateral action was a figure of speech. Instead, he permitted the impression to stand that a crisis was indeed impending and that an immediate American reply was expected in Moscow. That awareness dominated the deliberations that our Government was about to start.
The Washington Special Actions Group met in the White House Situation Room, in the basement of the West Wing, at 10:40 p.m. on Wednesday. It went on with various interruptions until 2 a.m. Thursday. In one of the more thoughtful discussions that I attended in my Government service, we weighed Soviet actions, motivations and intentions. The consensus emerged that the Kremlin was on the verge of a major decision. We expected then-airlift to start at dawn in Eastern Europe, about two hours away. Agreement was quickly reached to take some action that conveyed our determination. Ideally our response should be noted in Moscow before our written reply reached there. We therefore launched a discussion of various readiness measures.
Our forces are normally in five states of alert called DefCons (for Defense Condition). DefCon I is war. DefCon II is a condition in which attack is imminent. DefCon III increases readiness without the determination that war is likely; it is in practice the highest stage of readiness for essentially peacetime conditions. Most of our forces were normally at DefCon IV (including the Strategic Air Command) or V. We all agreed that any increase in readiness would have to go at least to DefCon III before the Soviets would notice it. Even then, they might not recognize the significance of the change rapidly enough to affect their diplomacy. At 11:41 p.m. Admiral Thomas Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued orders to all military commands to increase readiness to DefCon III.
We learned during the evening that eight Soviet An-22 transport planes—each capable of carrying 200 or more troops—were slated to fly from Budapest to Egypt in the next few hours. And we discovered too that elements of the East German armed forces had been put on alert effective at 5 a.m. Washington time, or five hours away. We estimated that the Soviets could lift 5,000 troops a day into Egypt. Going to DefCon III would not be noted quickly enough by Soviet decisionmakers. Something more was necessary. At 12:20 a.m. we alerted the 82nd Airborne Division for possible movement. At 12:25 a.m. we ordered the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt off Italy to move rapidly to join the carrier Independence south of Crete. The carrier John F. Kennedy and its accompanying task force were ordered to move at full speed from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
There was desultory talk about whether the Soviets would have taken on a "functioning" President. I said: "We are at a point of maximum weakness, but if we knuckle under now we are in real trouble."
At 3:30 a.m. the Joint Chiefs ordered the return of Guam-based B-52s to the U.S. Congressional action in the summer of 1973 had made their use in Indochina impossible, but, hoping that Hanoi might feel some uncertainty about our constitutional procedures, we had not moved the planes. Now we used the opportunity to end this empty game and in the process give the Soviets another signal.
At 5:40 a.m. the reply to Brezhnev was delivered to Dobrynin in Nixon's name. It rejected all Soviet demands. We sent it by messenger, avoiding any softening via an explanation.
At 6:30 a.m. Thursday morning, after three hours of sleep, I discovered that the worldwide alert of American forces was all over the morning news. I was shocked. Three years earlier, in the Jordan crisis of September 1970, which had brought a crackdown on Palestinian terrorists, we had gone through similar alert measures; their extent had not become known until the crisis was already over, three days later. This unexpected publicity would turn the event into an issue of prestige with Moscow, complicating prospects of a Soviet retreat. Minutes before 8 a.m., I was given a message from Hafez Ismail. He maintained that a combined U.S.-Soviet force was the best guarantee. However, "since the U.S. refuses to take such a measure, Egypt is asking the Security Council to provide an international force." In other words, Egypt was withdrawing the request that had produced the crisis. We were halfway home.
When I met the press at noon, contradictory crosscurrents were buffeting me. There was a growing debate over détente, a mounting clamor that in some undefinable way we were being gulled by the Soviets. The opposite was true; our policy was to reduce and where possible to eliminate Soviet influence in the Middle East, and it was in fact making progress under the cover of détente. What stronger course would the rhetoricians of toughness have proposed? Besides, as I noted to the press, "As of now the Soviet Union has not yet taken any irrevocable action." And if crisis management requires cold and even brutal measures to show determination, it also imposes the need to show the opponent a way out.
At the same time, the alert was immediately engulfed in the cynicism spawned by Watergate. Two opposite kinds of questions were hurled at me: Had Soviet actions been caused by our domestic disputes? Had we generated the crisis for domestic rather than foreign policy reasons? The query about Soviet motives gave me an opportunity to hint at my recurrent nightmare: "One cannot have a crisis of authority in a society for a period of months without paying a price somewhere along the line."
The queries as to our motives were even more wounding to us who had agonized though a night of desperate uncertainty. Yet it showed how narrow was our margin for policy. If we courted confrontation, following the advice of the anti-détente zealots, we would almost surely be undermined by the Watergate bloodhounds, who would treat every challenge to the Soviet Union as a maneuver by which their hated quarry, Nixon, was trying to escape them. I replied rather heatedly: "It is a symptom of what is happening to our country that it could even be suggested that the U.S. would alert its forces for domestic reasons."
At 2:40 p.m. Thursday, Dobrynin phoned to say he had another letter from Brezhnev. It was written as if the crisis of the night before had never occurred. Without any reference to his threat of unilateral intervention, Brezhnev informed Nixon that he had dispatched 70 Soviet "representatives"—apparently not military personnel—to observe implementation of the ceasefire. The Soviets had backed off. The immediate danger was over. I recommended that Schlesinger stand down the alert starting at midnight.
SAVING AN ENCIRCLED ARMY
Having dealt with the threat of a confrontation with the Soviets, the U.S. had yet to deal with the problem that gave rise to the threat. The encircled Egyptian Third Army still faced starvation or surrender; either outcome would have humiliated or even destroyed Sadat and foreclosed hopes of peace. The Israelis, spoiling for revenge, showed no inclination to spare the army. Convinced that Israel had created the crisis by launching an attack well after the cease-fire so as to destroy the Third Army, Kissinger told Dinitz: "You will not be permitted to destroy this army. You are destroying the possibility for negotiations." To Cairo he proposed direct negotiations between Israel and Egypt. To Israel he delivered what amounted to an ultimatum: Unless the Cabinet agreed within nine hours to permit a convoy to deliver food and water to the army, the U.S. would dissociate itself from Israel over the issue. But before the deadline arrived, Egypt broke the impasse by taking a historic step: it agreed to direct talks on implementing a cease-fire between Egyptian and Israeli officers at Kilometer 101, a route marker on the Cairo-Suez road. A path to peace was opening up. To explore it, Kissinger had been invited to visit Cairo. Golda Meir made a special trip to Washington to present her country's views.
The Golda Meir who arrived in Washington on Oct. 31 was a different person from the leader who had so confidently, even cockily, told Nixon a few months earlier: "We've never had it so good." The war had devastated her; Israel's 2,000 dead were the equivalent of 150,000 dead in the U.S., and she suffered with every bereaved family. In that psychological condition she had to guide her people into a new environment.
Israel's aura of invincibility had disappeared, as well as the self-confidence that went with it. Direct negotiations, the stated goal of Israeli diplomacy since 1947, were already taking place on the military level with Egypt at Kilometer 101, yet their fruits turned to ashes as the implications became evident. All the tangible concessions—above all, territory—had to be made by Israel; once made, they were irrevocable. The Arab quid pro quo was something intangible that could always be withdrawn, such as diplomatic recognition or a legal state of peace.
America's involvement in the diplomacy only partially eased the difficulty. As we became the mediator, Israeli-American relations were bound to change. I once told Yitzhak Rabin that so long as U.S. policy was simply to frustrate Arab reliance on Soviet support, American and Israeli policies would be identical. But once Arab states began to turn to us, differences in perspective or tactics might emerge. That moment was approaching, at least as far as Egypt was concerned. This produced an almost elemental fear in Israel that it would lose its only friend.
As we saw it, keeping the Third Army from being destroyed was the minimum prerequisite for any peace process. But Golda had no confidence that we or anybody else had a road map for the process. "Suppose we start peace negotiations," she said. "What happens to us then? The Soviets won't change, the Europeans, Japanese won't change. Oil is still in Arab hands. How do you know it won't just be more pressure to do more?"
The problem boiled down to a challenge as old as international relations. In an interdependent world, each nation must adjust to some extent to others. Arab intransigence and Soviet pressure had long created the illusion that Israel did not have to conduct a foreign policy, only a defense policy. But the October War and Egypt's turn toward moderation had ended that simple state of affairs. Golda was railing not against America's strategy but against a new, more complicated, reality.
Golda recognized this in theory but was not yet ready to face the implications. So she fought a tenacious rearguard action on the issue of supplies for the Third Army. She had no category of thought that included supplying a trapped enemy army (never mind that it had been trapped in violation of a cease-fire). Some of my colleagues were urging that the Third Army be resupplied by an American airlift; the Defense Department even identified transport planes for such a mission. I opposed this strongly. Turning on Israel would have been a self-defeating act of desperation, strengthening the radicals without benefiting the U.S.
Less than a week after Golda's visit, on Nov. 6, I flew to Cairo. The airport was blacked out when I arrived; the cease-fire was only two weeks old. My first view of Cairo was from the balcony of the Nile Hilton the next morning. The multitudes in the streets made vivid as no words could why Israel had premonitions about its security. Every three years Egypt's population grows by the size of all of Israel's. It was a nearly insoluble dilemma: Israel had the power but not the faith for peace. The Arabs had the numbers and the time; they could wait for the Israeli mistake that would prove fatal. And the consciousness of this danger made Israeli diplomacy tense and rigid.
I was also aware that I had little room to maneuver. Failure would bring a coalition of Europeans, radical Arabs and the Soviets into the field, isolating us. Thus Sadat and I both had our backs to the wall.
I first met with Sadat on Nov. 7 at Tahra Palace in Heliopolis, a once fashionable Cairo suburb now fighting to maintain appearances. At the top of a broad stairway, Sadat appeared in a khaki military tunic. He was taller, swarthier and more imposing than I had expected. That son of peasants radiated a natural dignity and aristocratic bearing as out of keeping with his revolutionary history as it was commanding and strangely calming.
He told of his lonely decision making that led to the war, of his conclusion that there would never be a serious negotiation so long as Israel was able to equate security with military predominance. Now that he had vindicated Egyptian honor, Sadat told me, he had two objectives: to "regain my territory" (the 1967 boundary in the Sinai) and to make peace.
Sadat seemed free of the obsession with detail by which mediocre leaders think they are mastering events, only to be engulfed by them. I sensed that Sadat represented the best chance to transcend frozen attitudes. The test would be if he was prepared to move by stages that reversed the momentum of conflict without offering a guarantee of final success—which required above all an act of faith.
History had shown, I said, that progress toward peace depended on two factors: an Arab leader willing to relate rhetoric to reality, and an America willing to join in the process. An Egypt pursuing its own national policy would find us ready to cooperate. I could see no inevitable clash of interests between us.
"And Israel?" asked Sadat. We would never hold still for Israel's destruction, I said, but we were willing to help allay reasonable Arab grievances. All we had ever heard from Arabs were sweeping programs put forward on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. This guaranteed deadlock. Israel was indeed stubborn, occasionally infuriating. But as one who had spoken so movingly of national dignity, he had to understand the psychology of a country that had never enjoyed the minimum attribute of sovereignty, acceptance by its neighbors.
I urged Sadat to think of peace with Israel as a psychological, not a diplomatic, problem. If Israel could not base its security on physical predominance, it also could not be secure if it lacked confidence. If the most influential Arab nation, Egypt, supplied that component, we would do our best to obtain territorial changes.
Sadat listened intently to these heresies of Arab thought, impassively puffing on his pipe. "And what about my Third Army? What about the Oct. 22 line?"
He had two choices, I replied. He could insist on the Oct. 22 cease-fire line, which would leave some Israeli forces on the west bank of the Suez Canal. Eventually, we might get Israel to go back a few kilometers. The better course was to live with the status quo while the U.S. did its utmost to arrange a genuine disengagement of forces, moving the Israelis back across the canal. It would be the first Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory occupied for any length of time; it would create the confidence for further steps.
Sadat sat brooding, saying nothing for many minutes. I was saying in effect that the key to peace was his acquiescence in keeping an Egyptian army cut off in the desert for weeks on end in reliance about future possibilities on the assessment of an American who had no experience in Middle East diplomacy. And then he astonished me. He did not haggle or argue. He would accept my strategy, he said. The Third Army would have to wait.
It was an act of extraordinary courage. Against what we later learned was the near unanimous sentiment of his advisers, Sadat decided to take his chances on the word of an American he did not know. If anything went wrong, Sadat would be ruined and Egypt humiliated.
The Third Army, Sadat added, was in any case not the heart of the matter between America and Egypt. He was determined to end Nasser's legacy. He would re-establish relations with the U.S. as quickly as possible, and, once that was accomplished, he would move to friendship.
Like a surgeon coldly considering the best course of action, he now invited me to suggest a specific American proposal designed to ease pressure on the Third Army while setting the stage for further negotiations. Building on what Golda had accepted when she was in Washington, I suggested the concept for what was refined later into a six-point plan. Like all good agreements, the six-point U.S. plan had something for everybody: Egypt was guaranteed supplies for the Third Army, while Israel secured the release of its prisoners and relief from pressure over the ceasefire line. Sadat accepted it, and in doing so followed the method I grew to know very well: to cut through trivia to the essential, to make major, even breathtaking, tactical concessions in return for an irreversible psychological momentum.
Sadat, of course, was not everybody's genial uncle. He was as tough as he was patient. He turned a deaf ear to my pleas to help undo the oil embargo; he replied that he could be persuasive with his brethren only after substantial progress in the negotiations. Still, I had come to Cairo hoping for a step forward in a strategy that had been niching ahead for four years. In a single encounter with Egypt's President, one month after the beginning of the war, we had achieved a breakthrough. Golda Meir maneuvered the agreement through her Cabinet with record speed. It was signed on Nov. 11 at Kilometer 101.
SHUTTLE DIPLOMACY IS BORN
The strategy we had imposed on the October War was to thwart a victory of Soviet arms and hence a defeat of Israel; to prevent humiliation of moderate Arabs, especially on the Egyptian front; to convene a peace conference in which subgroups would negotiate away from the rhetoric of plenary sessions; to seek results step by step rather than in one comprehensive negotiation; and to restore ties first with Egypt and then with other Arab nations ready for peace.
A rapid separation of forces along the Suez Canal was the key. I was sure it would bring Syria in its wake and almost certainly result in an end to the oil embargo. But not until early January 1974 did Defense Minister Moshe Dayan bring to Washington the first feasible disengagement plan approved by Israel's Cabinet. The plan envisaged giving Egypt a line roughly 6 km to 10 km east of the Suez Canal, and withdrawing Israeli forces to about 20 km east of the Canal. It also proposed a "thinning-out" on both sides of the Canal. Dayan was especially adamant that no Egyptian tanks remain on the east bank. This would bring relief to the trapped Third Army, but it would also require a withdrawal back into Egypt proper of the bulk of the Egyptian forces that had crossed the Canal.
Despite the tough terms, I was confident that we were within negotiating range. Dayan and I decided that I should present the Israeli proposal to Sadat personally.
And so, offset Kissinger in a 707 jet that had been used occasionally by Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy as Air Force One. Though Nixon "was chafing at my growing prominence," writes Kissinger, he approved the trip. Perhaps he hoped that "some spectacular success could demonstrate his indispensability and thereby end his torment." Or perhaps he was simply heeding one of the notes he was making at the time on how to wage a campaign against impeachment; a Jan. 5 entry said, "Act like a President. " First stop, on Jan. 11, was Aswan, some 400 miles south of Cairo.
Sadat, wearing his military uniform, greeted me with a booming "Welcome" and drew me into the study of his villa, an unprepossessing stone government rest house. He went straight to the heart of the problem. The laborious diplomacy since the October War had to be brought to some conclusion. Sadat therefore asked that I stay in the Middle East until the negotiations had either succeeded or failed. A disengagement agreement, in his view, was essential to turn a new page in Arab-American relations and give momentum to the peace process with Israel. To demonstrate his sincerity, Sadat gave himself a deadline. He had scheduled a trip around the Arab world starting the following Friday, Jan. 18. He hoped to complete the agreement before then. In that case he would urge an end to the oil embargo.
Sadat said Israel should vacate the strategic Mitla and Giddi passes deep in the Sinai. He wanted to retain a "minimum'' of 1½ divisions on the east bank of the Canal. He rejected the stringent restrictions on weapons that Israel had proposed. In Israel, when I presented this plan and argued that I could not go back to Sadat with the Dayan plan but needed a fallback position, the Cabinet showed considerable ingenuity. It simply turned the Dayan plan into the fallback position, giving me an even tougher new position with which to open the bidding. Yet there was, despite the harsh terms, a sense that this was not Israel's last word but a show of bravado for domestic Israeli consumption.
Sunday evening, Jan. 13, we were airborne again for Aswan.
Joe Sisco announced to our press group: "Welcome aboard the Egyptian-Israeli shuttle." Thus was shuttle diplomacy named.
In Aswan on Monday, Jan. 14, we met in the conference room. I began with a joke. I said the next few hours would tell whether what I brought was going to be known as the "Kissinger plan" (that is, succeed) or the "Sisco plan" (that is, fail). But when I went through the Israeli disengagement scheme in great detail, the mood grew frosty. The plan, said General Mohammed Abdel Ghany Gamassy, Egypt's Chief of Staff, was designed to improve Israel's security and weaken Egypt's. Sadat listened sphinxlike. Then he asked me to leave the others and go with him into the study.
Sadat sat pensively. "Do they mean it?" he asked. I said that I thought the Israeli forward line had to include the strategic passes. Some other terms could no doubt be improved, but it would take a prolonged negotiation. And the differences between what might ultimately be attained and what might yet be negotiated this week might not prove all that significant.
Sadat knew, of course, that he could not let the Third Army sit in the desert for months more. He reflected silently for several more minutes that seemed endless. "Fools," he mused almost to himself. "Why do they seek to humiliate Gamassy so? If I want to attack, it makes no difference how many tanks there are to begin with. I can put 2,000 tanks across in one night." I replied that the Israelis meant these conditions not as a humiliation but to prove that something was gained for what, however dressed up, would amount to a unilateral retreat on their part. Then, stunningly, Sadat made the decision that ensured the success of the negotiation: the Israelis could remain at a line giving them control of the Sinai passes. As for arms limitations, Sadat asked, why did I not step in with an American plan?
Just as in November, Sadat had accomplished the spectacular by winnowing the essential from the tactical. The key points were Sadat's agreement that the Israelis could retain the strategic passes for now and his ingenious idea for a U.S. proposal on arms limitations. He and Golda both understood that the significant event would be the first major voluntary Israeli withdrawal in nearly 20 years. The details were essentially secondary.
Sadat called in Gamassy and said, "Dr. Kissinger and I have agreed on how to proceed to an agreement. You, Gamassy, will sign it"—quelling any thought of resistance before Gamassy had even heard the proposal. He thus performed the one function a leader cannot delegate: he assumed the full responsibility.
We returned to Israel on Monday, Jan. 14, at 11 p.m., a little more than 24 hours after having left. In my suite on the sixth floor of the King David Hotel, Dinitz and Foreign Minister Abba Eban confessed astonishment that so much progress had been made. They had no framework for grasping the sweeping gestures characteristic of Sadat; to them, Sadat was still like a being from another planet. When I mentioned that Sadat said he would accept 30 Egyptian tanks on the east bank of the Canal, Dinitz asked revealingly: "You mean he did not start by asking for 300?" Sadat generally did not haggle; like Chou Enlai, with whom he otherwise had little in common, he started with his real position and rarely moved from it.
With a number of modifications, virtually everything fell into place the next day. At 4 p.m. I called on Golda at her residence and went over the agreement and its implications. She was worried; it was, after all, the first Israeli withdrawal since 1956.
With Sadat again in Aswan, I put my main emphasis on the last major Israeli concern, the distance that Egypt would have to pull back its surface-to-air missiles from the forward line. This was the point on which Gamassy was likely to prove most recalcitrant. He wanted only a 25-km limit; Israel would go no lower than 30 (down from 40) I told Sadat that in my view this was Israel's real—not merely a bargaining—position. Sadat finally confided that he would eventually accept the figure; but since Gamassy was as overwrought as he had ever seen him, I should make one more try at the shorter distance. "My army!" he mused to me in private. "First I had trouble persuading them to go to war. Now I have trouble persuading them to make peace."
He was determined to go ahead; the difference between the various deployment schemes was now down to a quibble. As a sign of his good will, he said, I could inform Golda Meir that he would not exercise his right to keep 30 tanks across the Canal. The principle that Egypt had the right to maintain its major weapons on its own soil had been established; he would not use it. Then, dramatically, he asked me to take a personal message to Golda. He dictated it on the spot; it was the first direct message in 26 years from an Egyptian head of government to his counterpart in Israel. It stated: "You must take my word seriously. When I made my initiative in 1971,1 meant it. When I threatened war, I meant it. When I talk of peace now, I mean it." With this we parted. We were now on the home stretch.
After four hours of sleep back in Israel, we awoke to the first blizzard in Jerusalem in decades. All movement stopped. I could gaze out of my suite and see the stone buildings and wall of the gaze out of my suite and see the stone buildings and wall of the Old City of Jerusalem with the Mount of Olives behind in an eerie white blanket against a gray horizon. It was a spectacular scene, one of utter peace. But I hated to think how Aswan, which had never seen a blizzard, would react to a delay allegedly caused by inability to move about in Israel's seat of government.
Dayan came to the rescue. He produced jeeps and personnel carriers to bring the Israeli negotiating team to my hotel, where we met at 9:30 a.m. By noon we had in effect agreed that I would ask Sadat by telegram to accept the 30-km limit for surface-to-air missiles (which I knew he would do). The Israeli negotiating team meanwhile would put before the Cabinet for final approval the Egyptian requirement that 30 tanks and six batteries of howitzers remain on the east bank of the Canal. At noon we were finished. "It is a good agreement," I said. "It is not a bad agreement," said Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon. " 'Not bad' is Hebrew for 'good,' " explained Eban, ever the diplomat.
I left for the Prime Minister's residence in an Israeli army vehicle, slithering through the 12-in. snowfall. Despite her illness (she was suffering from shingles, a nerve disorder) she would personally chair the Cabinet meeting called to approve the agreement. I read her Sadat's personal message. "It is a good thing," she said laconically. "Why is he doing this?" After a generation of conflict it was not easy to believe in the sincerity of the adversary—especially one who had initiated the process in which we were engaged with a surprise attack.
There was now nothing to do but wait. My colleagues and I feared some unforeseeable snag. Then at 3:55 p.m. Eban arrived with the news: "The Cabinet has approved the agreement."
Getting to the airport for a final shuttle to Aswan proved far from simple. With snow blocking the road, our hosts suggested going by train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The railway cars dated back to Turkish times, or so Eban claimed. But as we bounded through the snow-covered Judean hills, it seemed an appropriately surrealistic ending to three months of frantic diplomacy. On the way, Eban and I talked. Would the Arab nations ever genuinely accept peace with Israel? That was Arab nations ever genuinely accept peace with Israel? That was a key question for the Foreign Minister of a country in which Jews mingled with Arabs, and which yet needed a visitor from 6,000 miles away to explain the psychology of Arab nations. Was Israel gaining acceptance by its retreat, or starting a process of weakening itself? Israel had no choice; it could not risk not making the experiment, for the Jewish state would consume its moral substance if it sought to rest its existence on naked force.
In Aswan I sped to Sadat's rest house. "Welcome, Henry," he greeted me; his use of my first name was new. In his study he signed the U.S. proposal defining the limitations of armaments behind both lines. I then handed him a letter from Golda, which said in part: "Peace is the goal toward which we must direct all our energies. Let me reiterate what you said in your message: When I talk of permanent peace, between us, I mean it."
Sadat had finished reading the letter, folded it and taken off his glasses when an assistant came into the room and whispered something in his ear. Sadat rose and walked over to me and kissed me on both cheeks. "They have just signed the disengagement agreement at Kilometer 101," he said, referring to the pact that spelled out specific boundaries for both sides. And then he added: "I am today taking off my military uniform—I never expect to wear it again except for ceremonial occasions. Tell [Golda] that is the answer to her letter."
ON TO DAMASCUS
With the Israeli-Egyptian agreement in hand, the next hurdle was a settlement on the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel. Syria's President Assad took an important step forward in February 1974 by responding to Kissinger's insistence that the U.S. would not negotiate without a list of Israeli prisoners of war. The oil embargo ended a month later, in March 1974. Even so, Sadat remained vulnerable as the only Arab leader to have dealt with Israel, and the embargo could have been reinstated at any time. So it was up to Syria and Israel, whose mutual suspicion and hatred seemed indelible. Not that Syria was overflowing with good feeling for the U.S. either. Kissinger tells how, as his plane was coming in for a landing during the Syrian shuttle, a U.S. diplomat on hand to greet him turned to Syria's waspish Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Abdel Halim Khaddam and said: "I think the airplane is God's punishment to mankind." "No," replied Khaddam without changing expression, "America is."
When I embarked at the end of April 1974 on the negotiation that led to the disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian armies on the Golan Heights, little did I realize that I was to shuttle back and forth between Damascus and Jerusalem for 34 weary days.
What we were about to explore was how far Israel would go in giving up not only the territory freshly gained in the October 1973 war—started by Syria—but also some symbolic piece of territory, even if only a sliver of what Israel had taken in the 1967 war. Every Arab leader had told me that Syria could not merely settle on restoration of the 1973 line; to keep pace with Egypt, which had recovered a slice of the Sinai, some Syrian gain of lands taken by Israel in 1967 was imperative. This was particularly true of Quneitra, provincial capital of the region, a dusty little town nestling beneath the Golan hills. For the next few weeks, Quneitra was to haunt every waking hour and probably my dreams (or nightmares) as well.
For me, the shuttle began in a warm glow. It was the first diplomatic trip abroad on which Nancy Maginnes, whom I had married on March 30, came with me. What she absorbed of my strain is exemplified by her acquisition of two ulcers, which put her in the hospital for weeks at the end of the trip.
Setting out on April 28 and visiting Geneva, Algiers and Alexandria, I arrived on Thursday, May 2, in an Israel in turmoil. In January I had been hailed as a messenger of peace. Now I was welcomed with angry street demonstrations and signs spelling my name in Arabic—as if I were an Arab representative. Most of Israel yearned for both peace and the physical security of territory, and it could not decide between its longing and its fears. This schizophrenia was well exemplified by the masseur in the King David Hotel who gave me a rubdown with a violence that belied his good will. All of Israel was counting on me, he allowed, pounding me. How many kilometers on the Golan was it safe to give up? I inquired, if only to gain a temporary surcease. "Give up? Kilometers? On the Golan? You must be crazy!" shouted my tormentor, returning to his task with redoubled vigor.
On my first day in Jerusalem, I could sense that Israel had crossed the psychological Rubicon; it was at least thinking about moving to the west of Quneitra, beyond the pre-1973 defense line. The grudging Israeli procedures, the interminable sessions, the innuendoes about duress, the Talmudic precision, the obvious anguish of our interlocutors created an atmosphere compounded of petty irritation and a strange kind of exaltation at witnessing a people baring its soul so nakedly. It obscured the fact that crabwise, in a manner least calculated to get it credit, the Israeli Cabinet was extending itself to overcome its nightmares and grasp its future. Things were moving in the right direction.
On May 8 I visited Damascus. My equanimity might have been shaken had I known I was, in all, to make no fewer than 13 such journeys on this shuttle alone.
Strangely enough—and both Syrians and Israelis will resent this—they were more similar in attitude and behavior than either was to Egypt. The Egyptian leadership group is suave, jaded, cosmopolitan. Their Syrian counterparts are prickly, proud, quick to take offense. Egypt is accustomed to leadership in the Middle East; there is a majesty in its self-assurance. Syria fights for recognition of its merit; it consumes energy in warding off condescension. Israel shares many of these qualities.
In my meetings with Hafez Assad, we invariably sat side by side on two easy chairs in an upstairs room of the presidential residence. We both looked left at a painting depicting the conquest of the last Crusader strongholds by Arab armies. The symbolism was plain enough; Assad frequently pointed out that Israel, sooner or later, would suffer the same fate. On this visit, when I presented the Israeli proposal to him, he said: "They are not giving back Quneitra. They have just split Quneitra."
In a complicated negotiation, nuances are decisive. Assad was not hospitable to what I brought from Israel. But he did not flatly reject it. Weirdly, across a militant oratory, indeed by means of it, the two sides were almost imperceptibly moving toward each other.
As the shuttle proceeded, a strange phenomenon became evident. Syrian negotiators, their armies pushed back into the environs of their capital, exuded the sense that history was on their side; militarily predominant Israel acted as if one wrong step would spell its destruction. There was a reversal between victor and defeated, with the stronger asking for guarantees and the weaker demanding territorial advance. Syria commanded respect in its selfdiscipline; Israel, compassion in its foreboding.
On May 15, we awoke to news of a staggering event: Palestinian guerrillas had murdered three members of one family in the northern Israeli town of Ma'alot, seized the school and taken four teachers and more than 90 schoolchildren hostage while demanding the release of 20 fedayeen in Israeli prisons.
An unearthly silence settled over Jerusalem. Israel's premonition of living in a friendless world determined on the nation's destruction was fulfilling itself. Israeli children were in mortal danger even while peace negotiations were going on. And yet in its crisis Israel behaved with stoic endurance. Golda, who had bitterly fought every concession, sent Dinitz to my suite to reaffirm her deep commitment to the success of the negotiations. She knew I was frustrated by the endless Talmudic quibbling by which the Syrian recovery of Quneitra was being established in increments of 100 meters. Her gesture toward peace while she was anguishing about the children was more meaningful to me than all the rhetoric of the previous weeks.
Now Dinitz told me that Israel had clung to the hills behind Quneitra not out of a sense of strength but out of insecurity. The demarcation line on the Golan had been established where it was in 1967 precisely because it was the most easily defensible position—in some spots the sole defensible one. I told Dinitz that if and when the negotiations resumed, Israel had to show more understanding of Syrian pride. It had to widen the Syrian territory around Quneitra; it must, within the limits of its security, attempt an act of grace. I in turn would try to head off Assad's demand that Israel give up its defense line on the western hills Thus the agony of Ma'alot was the chrysalis of the eventual breakthrough.
At the end of that day, Israeli commandos stormed the schoolhouse at Ma'alot and killed the three terrorists. But 16 schoolchildren died and 68 were wounded—all by Palestinian hand grenades.
Israel was stunned by the losses but astonishingly disciplined. Being victim seemed to be the destiny of Jews, Golda said when Nancy and I called on her, but the killing of children was too much. It was said without pathos, analytically, as a scientist deals with a fact. In the same almost resigned manner, Golda said that we all had better get back to making peace.
Kissinger decided the time had come for him to make an "American proposal" to both sides, as he had done in the Egyptian negotiation in January. He suggested further Israeli withdrawals west of Quneitra and continued Israeli control of the hills, but with limited arms. When the Israelis agreed to a ban on weapons that could fire from the hills directly into Quneitra, Assad accepted. Now Kissinger pressed both sides to wrap it up, for "it was becoming clearly incompatible with my position to remain absent any longer; as it was, no Secretary of State had ever been abroad for such an uninterrupted period. My next visit on May 26 would really have to be my last." Besides, he writes, Gromyko was due in Damascus on May 27, his birthday. "I could have wished myself a better present."
On Sunday, May 26, both parties were once again at a point they dreaded but did not know how to transcend. Relatively minor concessions now would clinch the final agreement. Yet every move had been wrung from reluctant souls; neither side had been able to rise to a genuine vision of peace. And now, after two sessions with Assad, characterized by endless haggling, my associates and I concluded that the shuttle had failed. I would turn the meeting scheduled with Assad the next day into a courtesy farewell call. Despite a surprise party for my 51st birthday and a cake of epic proportions on the morning of May 27, I contemplated my impending departure with some sense of letdown. It was therefore a melancholy occasion when, shortly before 10 a.m., I met Assad to say farewell.
Through a month of negotiation I had grown to like Assad.
He was proud, tough, shrewd, cordial. He had given us many a difficult moment. But I had witnessed how he had gone through the searing process of coming to grips with the problem of Arab-Israeli coexistence. He rebelled against the idea and yet had come close to accepting it. Like Golda from the other end of the telescope, he had caught a glimpse of the reality of peace.
I rose with some sadness to say goodbye.
As we began to move toward the door Assad suddenly said: "After having established this nice human, personal contact, then out of loyalty, out of fondness, when we look at the imperative of Syrian-American relations, I'm particularly looking at the need not to harm you ... How far could the Syrian forward line be moved? Let's speak openly."
It was a stunning performance. Assad had played out the string to absolutely the last possible millimeter and now opened the way to another, conclusive, effort to get an agreement. He reminded me of someone who negotiated at the edge of a precipice and who, in order to increase his bargaining position, jumped into the abyss hoping that on the way down something would break his fall. That "something" was I. Clearly, no Syrian leader would fall. conclude an agreement with Israel out of fondness for an American Secretary of State; but it was best to fall in with the pretense.
The truth must have been that the Syrian leadership had decided to settle the night before but wanted to be sure it had squeezed the last drop of blood out of the stone. I presented—as my idea—another 1-km move of the Syrian forward line, which the Israeli negotiating team had allowed me to offer but which I had held back the night before because it would simply have been swallowed up in the general controversy.
A solution seemed once more in sight. But we had been burned too often. I told Assad that I would make one more effort, provided he assured me that he would stop haggling. But to tell a Syrian not to haggle is like ordering a fish not to swim. By 10 p.m. we were roughly where we had been 7% hours earlier. Still, we were close enough to an agreement to leave it that Sisco would bring back the Israeli answer by noon the next day.
I had received the best birthday present of my life; if not peace in the Middle East, then at least the absence of war for long enough to give diplomacy a chance.
After Ma 'alot, Israel felt an agreement had to mention terrorism. But the Syrians could not dissociate themselves publicly from the Palestinians. So it was not Sisco but Kissinger on the shuttle to Damascus the next day. There Assad made the crucial point. As Kissinger writes, "The absence of guerrilla activity in the past had been no accident. The Golan would not be guerrilla country because of Syria's chosen policy, not because of Israeli threats or non-binding Syrian promises." Kissinger decided to omit mention of terrorism from the agreements but to offer Israel a U.S. assurance that it would be free to respond if any terrorist attacks did occur on the Golan. That clinched it for the Syrians; at 10:45 p.m. on May 28, they approved the agreement. Assad, who was supposed to have had dinner with Gromyko but had spent the time negotiating instead, now insisted that Kissinger share a late meal with him. When Kissinger protested that he was supposed to be paying a call on Gromyko at that moment, Assad said coolly: "It is all right, you are eating his dinner." Back in Israel, Golda and her negotiating team went right to work as soon as Kissinger returned. Shortly after 4 a.m. on May 29, the Cabinet approved the agreement.
That evening Golda gave a reception in her office. Golda, who was to step down as Prime Minister on May 31, was almost too tired to speak. But what she said was imbued with the dream of a people who had only known war: a dream that "Syrian mothers, Israeli mothers, Syrian young wives, Israeli young wives, children on both sides of the border can go to sleep at night without terror. We pray that this is a beginning for a real and lasting peace with all our neighbors and all our borders." I kissed Golda on the cheek. But she would not tolerate sentimentality for long. Mindful—and slightly resentful—of my embraces of Arab leaders, she said: "I have been afraid you only kissed men."
The next day there was a brief stop in Cairo to call on the father of disengagement, Anwar Sadat. He was already thinking of the future. The road was now open to larger steps toward peace and to accelerating the shift of his diplomacy toward Washington. He called me a "magician"; I said he had made me one, which was true.
He had changed reality; I had only helped the two sides begin walking down the path he had opened. How much an America racked by constitutional crisis could attempt and achieve was unclear; but we did not feel we were at the end of the road. On the contrary. We planned to proceed—and we did.
Copyright © 1982 by Henry A. Kissinger
January/February 1997, pg. 74
Middle East History—It Happened in January
January 1974: Unprecedented U.S. Aid to Israel Began Under the Sinai Agreements
It was 23 years ago, on Jan. 18, 1974, that Egypt and Israel signed an armistice agreement officially ending their 1973 war. The agreement became known as Sinai I because it was signed in the Sinai peninsula and involved Israel’s occupation of that strategic desert.1 Sinai I had been achieved after a heavily publicized week of shuttling between the two countries by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who for his efforts was hailed in the U.S. media as the Superman of diplomacy. It was only later that American taxpayers would learn that Sinai I laid the groundwork for the start of unprecedented massive aid to Israel by the United States, which continues to this day.
The aid program to Israel has amounted to the largest voluntary transfer of wealth and technology in history, far more than all American aid given to rehabilitate Western Europe under the Marshall Plan after World War II.2
Sinai I was widely hailed in the West as a major diplomatic accomplishment. The Arab world more realistically considered it merely a modest first step in ending Israel’s occupation of Arab lands, held since 1967 and some of which remain under Israeli occupation today. Under the pact, Israel agreed to withdraw its forces west of the Suez Canal, thus liberating the Egyptian Third Army, which had remained surrounded by Israeli troops since the October war, and withdraw all its forces back 15 miles from the eastern side of the canal to positions west of the Gidi and Mitla passes. Between the two armies would be stationed a U.N. peace force.3
While Kissinger’s diplomatic prowess was loudly credited in the United States for Sinai I, it was actually a secret agreement that he signed with Israel that had achieved the breakthrough. This secret commitment foreshadowed what was to become America’s huge aid program to Israel. The covert Memorandum of Understanding contained 10 detailed points, the most important being a far-reaching pledge that Washington would be responsive to Israel’s defense needs on a “continuing and long-term basis.”4
The potential massive dimensions of that pledge began to become clear less than two years later when Kissinger, after another highly publicized shuttle between Cairo and Jerusalem, achieved what became known as Sinai II, signed on Sept. 4, 1975.5 The agreement was especially favorable to Israel, and considerably less so to Egypt. The major article involving Egypt committed that most powerful of Arab countries to abstain from the use of force to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, meaning in the words of scholar Abdel Safty: “Thus, the agreement marked Egypt’s military abandonment of its commitment to the right to liberate occupied Arab territories.”6
For the Arabs, there was the bitter realization that Israel’s continued occupation of their territory was against official U.S. policy and the major instruments guiding international civilized behavior since World War II: the U.N. Charter and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Yet it was Israel, not Egypt, that profited far more from Kissinger’s diplomacy.
Kissinger made no effort to demand that the occupation end in exchange for the treasury he was about to give Israel. Instead he assured Israel a level of annual aid at around $2 billion for the next five years and opened to Israel a cornucopia of other U.S. assets never imagined by the average U.S. taxpayer.7 The irony was that the amount of aid was of such magnitude that it allowed Israel to maintain the very occupation that the United States said it opposed.
It goes without enumeration that the staggering amount of money given to Israel would have been of significant impact in helping America address its own domestic problems, especially those in the ghettos of the crumbling cities.
Kissinger’s series of secret understandings included a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Israel in which he committed the United States to “make every effort to be fully responsive...on an on-going and long-term basis to Israel’s military equipment and other defense requirements, to its energy requirements and to its economic needs.” This was made at a time when the U.S. economy itself was reeling under the staggering costs of the oil boycott, which in turn had been imposed as a direct result of Washington’s ostentatious support of Israel during the 1973 war.
The memorandum also officially committed American support against threats by a “world power,” meaning the nuclear-equipped Soviet Union, and among other things promised:
· America would guarantee for five years that Israel would be able to obtain all its domestic oil needs, from the United States if necessary.
· America would pay for construction in Israel of storage facilities capable of storing a one-year’s supply of reserve oil needs.
· America would conclude contingency planning to transport military supplies to Israel during an emergency.
· America shared Israel’s position that any negotiations with Jordan would be for an overall peace settlement, that is, there would be no attempt at step-by-step diplomacy on the West Bank.
· In a secret addendum to the secret MOU, America promised that the administration would submit every year to Congress a request for both economic and military aid for Israel. It also asserted that the “United States is resolved to continue to maintain Israel’s defensive strength through the supply of advanced types of equipment, such as the F-16 aircraft.” In addition, America agreed to study the transfer of “high technology and sophisticated items, including the Pershing ground-to-ground missile,” which is usually used to deliver atomic warheads.
· In another secret memorandum, Kissinger committed America not to “recognize or negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization as long as the Palestine Liberation Organization does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and does not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”8 This language was passed into law by Congress in 1985.
· The United States would coordinate fully on strategy for any future meetings of the Geneva Conference. Thus, with Israel and the United States refusing to recognize the PLO and with powerful groups within the PLO refusing to accept Resolutions 242 and 338, the stalemate on the West Bank was set in concrete, much to Israel’s satisfaction.
· In a separate secret letter signed by President Ford, the United States promised Israel that it would not put forward any peace proposals without first discussing them with the Israelis. This was a significant concession since it gave Israel, in effect, a direct input to formulation of U.S. policy in the Middle East.9
· In addition, President Ford signed a secret letter promising that the United States “will lend great importance to Israel’s position that any peace treaty with Syria must be based on Israel’s remaining on the Golan Heights.”10
· For this colossal commitment of U.S. wealth, technology and diplomatic support, Israel agreed to withdraw its forces between 20 to 40 miles east of the Suez Canal. This left well over half of Sinai under continuing Israeli occupation. Israel’s major concession was to give up Egypt’s oil fields, which lay on the western edge of the Sinai. The withdrawal resulted in Israeli forces being deployed east of the Gidi and Mitla passes, which were turned into observation posts. The United States pledged to set up and pay for stations manned by two hundred Americans to protect both sides from violations. The arrangement replaced U.N. peacekeepers, who Israel opposed as being prejudiced against it even though U.N. reports from the field had proved to be rigorously objective over the decades.11
Defense Minister Shimon Peres summed up the benefits to Israel of Sinai II: “The…agreement [assures] us arms, money, a coordinated policy with Washington and quiet in Sinai…We gave up a little to get a lot.”12
Indeed, there is no example in history when one nation granted to another such enormous amounts of wealth and array of commitments as Henry Kissinger’s Sinai II agreement. This perhaps help explain the tantalizing reference to Kissinger in the memoirs of Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister at the time of Sinai II, in which he wrote: “The story of Kissinger’s contribution to Israel’s security has yet to be told, and for the present suffice it to say that it was of prime importance.”13
Kissinger, Henry A, Years of Upheaval, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1982.
Medzini, Meron, Israel’s Foreign Relations: Selected Documents, 1974-1977 (vol. 3), Jerusalem, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1982.
*Neff, Donald, Warriors Against Israel: How Israel Won the Battle to Become America’s Ally 1973, Brattleboro, VT, Amana Books, 1988.
Riad, Mahmoud, The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East, New York, Quartet Books, 1981.
Quandt, William B., Decade of Decisions: American Policy Toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1967-1976, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977.
Rabin, Yitzhak, The Rabin Memoirs, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1979.
Safty, Adel, From Camp David to the Gulf: Negotiations, Language & Propaganda, and War, New York, Black Rose Books, 1992.
Sheehan, Edward R. E., The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger: A Secret History of American Diplomacy in the Middle East, New York, Reader’s Digest Press, 1976.
Yodfat, Aryeh Y. and Yuval Arnon-Ohanna, PLO: Strategy and Tactics, London, Croom Helm, 1981.
1 Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, pp. 809-21; the text is in Sheehan, The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger, appendix Six.
2 Robert W. Gibson, Los Angeles Times, 7/20/87. Gibson reports that by fiscal year 1988, total U.S. aid to Israel since 1948 had equalled in inflation-adjusted dollars $58.8 billion. Under the Marshall Plan, Congress in 1947 voted some $12 billion to be given to friendly European countries to rebuild their war-ravaged economies. The major difference with U.S. aid to Israel is that Marshall Plan aid was limited to a three-and-a-half-year period, while aid to Israel has been open-ended both in terms of time and amounts. Moreover, all aid to Israel since 1985 has been in the form of nonrepayable grants, averaging $3 billion a year in economic and military funds.
3 Riad, The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East, pp. 274-75. Also see Safty, From Camp David to the Gulf, pp. 55-56.
4 Sheehan, The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger, p. 112. Also see Quandt, Decade of Decisions , p. 228.
5 Text of the agreement and of the MOU and its secret addenda are in Medzini, Israel’s Foreign Relations, Selected Documents, 1974-77, vol. 3, pp. 281-90. Also see Sheehan, The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger , Appendix Eight.
6 Safty, From Camp David to the Gulf, pp. 56-57.
7 Over the next five years the State Department reported total aid to Israel equalled $1.742 billion in 1977, $1.792 billion in 1978, $4.790 billion in 1979 (reflecting the costs to move Israel out of the Sinai, where it had no right to be in the first place), $1.786 billion in 1980, and $2.164 billion in 1981; see New York Times, 8/8/82. By contrast, total U.S. aid to Israel in fiscal 1970 had totaled less than $100 million.
8 Text is in Yodfat and Arnon-Ohanna, PLO, p. 191, and Sheehan, The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger, pp. 256-57.
9 Quandt, Decade of Decisions , p. 201.
10 The text is in Journal of Palestine Studies, Autumn 1991, pp. 183-84.
11 Neff, Warriors Against Israel, pp. 302-03; Sheehan, The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger, p. 190.
12 Sheehan, The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger, p. 192. Peres refused to be identified as the source of the quote, which originally appeared in Time magazine. However, I was head of theTime bureau in Jerusalem during this period and Peres made the statement to one of my reporters.
13 Rabin, The Rabin Memoirs, p. 261.
*Available from the AET Book Club.