Commentary Magazine


Kissinger & the Yom Kippur War

<p>What happened in October 1973? Or rather, what happened in Washington between October 6, 1973&mdash;when fighting erupted on the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights&mdash;and 3:30 A.M. on Saturday, October 13, when the definitive orders to start the USAF airlift of arms to Israel were finally issued? During those eight days of mounting agony, while the Israelis lost almost one-fifth of their air force, and were literally running out of ammunition, it seemed as if the survival of the Jewish state would hinge on a single decision, to be made in Washington. For a moment the most intense pressures of global politics converged on a small number of people, whose actions were shaped by their conflicting goals and by their partial views of a constantly changing military situation. Now almost a year later, as Israel and the United States are about to enter a new phase of their unequal dialogue at the Geneva negotiations, a precise account of the events of October 1973 could be of more than historical significance for both governments, and both concerned publics: many of the protagonists are still the same.</p>
<p>Unfortunately, unlike wars or even nuclear alerts, the processes of diplomacy and domestic decision that first held up, and then released, the flow of arms to Israel under siege were not public events. Hence there is no open record. What happened, and failed to happen, in Washington between October 6 and October 13 was the outcome of private meetings and private communications. Much of the time the critical exchanges were verbal. As a result, those who in the future may attempt a reconstruction of these events on the basis of written records will run the risk of being very seriously deceived. The written records are not only incomplete, but there is also a high probability that some are deliberately misleading.</p>
<p>Trained historians, to be sure, are familiar with the dangers of tainted sources. Often they can be overcome by careful textual analysis and by comparisons with all the other evidence. Thus historians of the Roman empire, whose major narrative source for much of the 3rd century is the <em>Historia Augusta</em>, a chaotic mixture of pure fabrication and factional slander, have done quite well by skillful analysis of the internal evidence and by interpreting the meaning of coins and epigraphs. Today, almost a year after the great turning point of October 1973, and on the eve of the Geneva peace conference, which may turn out to be another turning point, we ourselves are left with two conflicting accounts of the October crisis, both marked by factional tendentiousness. If, then, we want to uncover the truth, we will have to imitate the methods of the historians of the Roman empire: to analyze and compare the two accounts, testing them for internal coherence and against all the other evidence.</p>
<p>The most widely publicized of these accounts is what might fairly be called the Dinitz-Kissinger version, after Israel&#39;s Ambassador to the United States, Simcha Dinitz, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Its most authoritative statement can be found in a recent book published by two diplomatic correspondents, Marvin Kalb and Bernard Kalb.<sup><a name="1" href="#1.1">1</a></sup> The Dinitz-Kissinger version is straightforward. Almost from the very beginning, and well before the full gravity of the conflict could be appreciated in either Washington or Tel Aviv, the Secretary of State had decided that Israel should be allowed to obtain military supplies in the United States. But the Pentagon disagreed. Seemingly more concerned with oil interests and oil supply than with the survival of Israel, Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger and his senior aides rejected an Israeli request for selected items of ammunition and spare parts on the morning of Monday, October 8. They also refused to authorize the accelerated delivery of the Phantom fighter-bombers, forty-eight of which had been promised long before the war broke out. Told of the flat refusal of the Pentagon, Kissinger said he would help. In the course of the same morning of Monday, October 8, he was already able to reassure Dinitz that (a) El Al aircraft would be allowed to collect high-priority supplies at U.S. bases; and (b) Israeli aircraft losses would be replaced on a one-for-one basis. However, later on the same day, Dinitz was informed that only <em>two</em> Phantoms would in fact be released. He protested to Kissinger that Israel had lost many more. Kissinger in turn &ldquo;hinted&rdquo; that he was having &ldquo;bureaucratic difficulties&rdquo; with the Pentagon, and that only his &ldquo;personal intercession&rdquo; had secured the two Phantoms, the only aircraft released so far.</p>
<p>In the meantime, combat reports from Sinai were beginning to change the optimistic estimates made in Tel Aviv and relayed to Washington. By late evening on Monday, October 8, Dinitz received instructions to present a request list for much more mat&#233;riel, which was needed much sooner. Meeting Kissinger, Dinitz told him that several Senators had already volunteered their services, and that &ldquo;he did not know how long he could hold off a public outcry.&rdquo; So far Israel had received nothing.</p>
<p>From Monday until Wednesday in the Dinitz-Kissinger version the same themes are constantly repeated. Schlesinger and the Pentagon maintained their obdurate opposition to any and all aid for Israel. Kissinger continued to fight &ldquo;bureaucratic battles&rdquo; (with Presidential support) to obtain the release of aircraft and supplies. Dinitz, the recipient of constant reassurance, continued to remain loyal to his tacit bargain with Kissinger, and did nothing to encourage the pro-Israel forces on Capitol Hill, whose agitation could otherwise have seriously embarrassed the Secretary of State. Thus, for example, on Tuesday, October 9, Kissinger reported to Dinitz that he was engaged in a &ldquo;one-man fight&rdquo; with the Pentagon, and revealed that the President had decided to replace all Israeli losses. This being so, there was clearly no need to &ldquo;unleash&rdquo; Israel&#39;s friends.</p>
<p align="center">_____________</p><br />
<p>Wednesday, October 10, was the critical day of the crisis. Until then, expectations of a quick victory, and therefore of an early cease-fire, had persisted. But although the Syrians had been stopped and were about to be pushed back, the Israeli tank offensive in Sinai had failed, and with heavy losses. Hence there could no longer be an easy victory. It was now realized, in both Tel Aviv and Washington, that there would be many more days of hard fighting, perhaps weeks. It was also appreciated, for the first time, that the Israelis were running out of consumables, i.e., ammunition and spare parts. There was, for example, a critical shortage of tank ammunition. A thirty-day supply of this item alone, 105mm tank shells, would have cost the Israelis a quarter of a billion dollars. Israel&#39;s defense budget could not sustain such costs, and stock levels of tank ordnance, as of everything else, had accordingly been set on the basis of a very short war. By Wednesday, October 10, it was apparent that Israeli stocks would be exhausted in a matter of days. Israeli plans for a general offensive in Sinai would have to be suspended until resupply was guaranteed, and so stock levels had an immediate impact on the course of the war.</p>
<p>All this gave a new meaning to Israeli requests for supplies. It was no longer a matter of replacing lost aircraft and providing odds and ends, short &ldquo;shelf-life&rdquo; items, and such: Israel now needed total logistic support, from plain rifle ammunition to battle tanks. This in turn meant that El Al could no longer transport even the most urgent requirements, and that the United States would have to <em>deliver</em> supplies instead of merely &ldquo;releasing&rdquo; them, if it were to help at all.</p>
<p>Fortunately&mdash;the Dinitz-Kissinger account goes on&mdash;the Israelis had by then already been granted their requests in principle; only the detailed arrangements remained to be settled. But once again Schlesinger and the Pentagon proved to be immovable. A scheduled meeting between Dinitz and Schlesinger to discuss &ldquo;logistical details&rdquo; which had been secured (by &ldquo;Presidential arm-twisting&rdquo;) was canceled by the Secretary at the last minute, and no new appointment was set.</p>
<p>Here a new figure enters into the Dinitz-Kissinger version. William Clements, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and a wealthy drilling contractor &ldquo;with close ties to the oil industry,&rdquo; is portrayed as the evil genius of Schlesinger, and the chief obstructionist in the Pentagon. By Thursday, October 11, bewildered Israeli supporters who realized by then that things were not going well and who could not understand the Israeli embassy&#39;s failure to activate public pressure against Kissinger and the administration, were being told that Clements was the obstacle. Few people knew who Clements was.</p>
<p>On Thursday, October 11, with Israel&#39;s predicament ever more intense, Kissinger instructed Schlesinger to charter twenty civilian transports to deliver the most urgent supplies. &ldquo;Kissinger wasn&#39;t sure, at that point, if Schlesinger intended to help.&rdquo; And indeed Schlesinger again refused to cooperate. But Kissinger intervened with Nixon and Schlesinger received a direct Presidential order. On Thursday evening Dinitz was also told that six Phantoms would at long last be delivered. By then Israel needed many more. Dinitz now decided, according to this account, that unless more aid were forthcoming he would &ldquo;go public&rdquo;&mdash;that is, encourage Israel&#39;s friends in Congress to put pressure on the administration.</p>
<p>As of Friday, October 12, the total flow of aid to Israel was still limited to what a handful of El Al aircraft could carry on the long flight to Lod in Israel. There, the air force was curtailing its operations in order to conserve aircraft, and army ammunition stocks were nearing the danger point. Lives were being lost for lack of fire-power. And yet&mdash;still according to the Dinitz-Kissinger version&mdash;Schlesinger and the Pentagon remained uncooperative. U.S. airlines and charter companies had refused to make their aircraft available for fear of Arab reprisals, and on Friday morning around 10 A.M. Kissinger &ldquo;snapped&rdquo; an order to Schlesinger to use military aircraft&mdash;in other words, transports of the Military Airlift Command (MAC). It was recognized that this would make American aid a &ldquo;high-profile&rdquo; operation, and fully official.</p>
<p>On that day, at 6 P.M., Dinitz and Mordechai Gur, the then military attach&#233; at the Israeli embassy (and now Israeli Chief of Staff), were finally received by Schlesinger in the Pentagon, with Clements and other aides present. Dinitz complained bitterly of the lack of American support. He pointed out that a massive Russian airlift and sea-lift to both Egypt and Syria had been under way for several days. Schlesinger then informed Dinitz that the U.S. had tried and failed to charter civilian aircraft. U.S. military aircraft would now fly urgent supplies but only as far as the Azores, in the eastern Atlantic. The Israelis themselves would have to take care of the long flight from the Azores to Israel. As for the Phantoms, Israel would receive &ldquo;one-and-a-half&rdquo; Phantoms per day. But after &ldquo;a couple of days,&rdquo; deliveries would cease while the United States reviewed the situation. In any event, the absolute maximum would be a total of sixteen Phantoms.</p>
<p>Dinitz and Gur were horrified. Despite all the promises of the last several days, it seemed that the Pentagon would not help after all. Schlesinger and Clements were clearly making policy on their own. Once again&mdash;late on Friday night&mdash;Dinitz went to Kissinger for a &ldquo;brief but dramatic&rdquo; meeting. There were bitter complaints and a request for the immediate delivery of thirty-two Phantoms; there was also a threat.</p>
<p>Public, press, and Congress clearly supported Israel. So far, the Israeli ambassador had made no real effort to organize pressure on the administration. But now, just after 11 P.M. on Friday, October 12, the seventh day of the war and three days after the supply crisis had become acute, Dinitz at long last was threatening to appeal for public and Congressional support. Kissinger promised immediate help to overcome the &ldquo;bureaucratic difficulties.&rdquo; He &ldquo;warned,&rdquo; &ldquo;admonished,&rdquo; and &ldquo;instructed&rdquo; Schlesinger. He accused Clements and others of obstructionism. He demanded action. Later still that night, Kissinger saw Nixon, and (as the Kalbs put it), &ldquo;It would have been extraordinary if he did not lay particular stress on the Pentagon&#39;s obstructionist tactics.&rdquo; Nixon responded. He ordered Schlesinger to send twenty C-130 transports direct to Israel, and ten others to the Azores. By 1:45 A.M. Dinitz was told that Nixon had also ordered the prompt delivery of ten Phantoms.</p>
<p>The last act, according to the Dinitz-Kissinger version, took place on the morning of Saturday October 13, eighth day of the war. At an emergency meeting at the White House, Schlesinger was still explaining his failure to charter civilian aircraft. Nixon &ldquo;exploded.&rdquo; A direct order was given yet again. Kissinger, however, remained suspicious of the Pentagon&#39;s &ldquo;bureaucratic obstructionism&rdquo;&mdash;that is, the delaying tactics of Schlesinger, Clements, <em>et al.</em> Together with his aides, Kissinger accordingly monitored the situation closely. So far only twenty lightly-loaded C-130 medium transports had actually flown out to Israel. Another ten, originally due to land supplies in the Azores for transshipment, were now redirected to make full transit to Lod. It was only in the afternoon of Saturday, October 13, that the &ldquo;real&rdquo; airlift began, with the departure of the first C-5&#39;s, long-range heavy transports with many times the capacity of the C-130&#39;s. With this, the Dinitz-Kissinger version records the final victory of a persistent ambassador and a sympathetic Secretary of State over the oil lobby and its spokesmen in the Pentagon.</p>
<p align="center">_____________</p><br />
<p>Another version of the &ldquo;airlift crisis&rdquo;&mdash;the anti-Kissinger version&mdash;to be found in part in a widely publicized magazine article by Tad Szulc, flatly contradicts the Dinitz-Kissinger account. In this account, policy was made by Kissinger while the Pentagon merely followed orders.</p>
<p>According to this version, Kissinger was determined to deny Israel the logistic support necessary for a general offensive in Sinai. There was, however, a grave obstacle to his policy. An overt refusal to help Israel would meet with fierce opposition in Congress, in the media, and, above all, on Capitol Hill. Kissinger could count on Senator Fulbright to see both morality and <em>raison d&#39;&#233;tat</em> in any anti-Israeli policy; Senator Mansfield expressed his total stock of wisdom on foreign affairs on October 10 when he told newsmen, &ldquo;I want no more Vietnams,&rdquo; and he too would go along. But such allies would not suffice to outweigh popular and Congressional support for Israel.</p>
<p>To make matters worse from Kissinger&#39;s point of view, by Wednedsay, October 10, it became public knowledge that large-scale Russian airlifts and sealifts to Egypt and Syria were under way. This meant that the potential for Israeli pressures on the administration to release supplies was becoming much greater. For with the Russians so strongly engaged on one side, Israel would find new allies in unsuspected quarters.</p>
<p>Worse was yet to come. While Washington absorbed the news of the airlift, which proved that the Russians had violated the famous agreement on U.S.-USSR cooperation to avert threats to peace, the Russians managed to violate the remaining substantive clause of the agreement by openly inciting Algeria and other Arab states to join in the war. At the same time, a further erosion in the d&#233;tente was registered when word reached Washington that the Russians were encouraging Arab oil producers to cut off supplies to the West. These Russian moves considerably weakened Kissinger&#39;s hand, making it all the more difficult for an already very fragile administration to resist the pressures of Israel&#39;s friends in Congress and the country at large.</p>
<p>At this juncture Dinitz became a key figure for Kissinger. If Dinitz could be persuaded that matters were best handled by &ldquo;high-level&rdquo; diplomacy, he would refrain from soliciting the support of Israel&#39;s friends on Capitol Hill. The latter, in turn, receiving no appeals from the embassy, would naturally assume that all was well in U.S. Israeli relations. In other words, Dinitz could help to contain public pressures for aid to Israel that the administration could resist in no other way.</p>
<p align="center">_____________</p><br />
<p>Kissinger&#39;s handling of Dinitz in this version of the story emerges as a remarkable exercise in diplomatic technique. There was, first of all, a purely personal element. Throughout the crisis Kissinger was always turning a sympathetic ear to Israeli requests. Whatever else might stand in the way of American aid for Israel, it was not the Secretary of State. Second, Kissinger constantly reminded Dinitz in subtle ways that they were not only allies but colleagues, equals in a sense. This provided a further incentive to keep matters at the &ldquo;highest diplomatic level,&rdquo; instead of seeking support in the corridors of Capitol Hill, where men and circumstances are often so much less distinguished than on the seventh floor of the State Department. At a critical moment, when Dinitz showed signs of wavering, Kissinger had a special direct telephone&mdash;a &ldquo;hot line,&rdquo; in effect&mdash;installed in his office at the Israeli embassy.</p>
<p>The third manipulative technique was altogether more elaborate, though far from original. Known in police circles as the &ldquo;Mutt and Jeff&rdquo; routine, the technique is intended to undermine the resolve of the victim by creating a false sense of solidarity. While one policeman is friendly and overtly sympathetic, the other is harsh, even brutal. This leads the victim under interrogation to see the friendly policeman as an ally, to the point of confiding in him, especially since the friendly policeman intimates that he is doing all he can to help the victim against his brutal colleague.</p>
<p>With their feet &ldquo;nailed to the ground&rdquo; by national (i.e., Kissinger&#39;s) policy, Schlesinger and his men&mdash;in this second version&mdash;played the role of the brutal policeman while Kissinger was the sympathetic cop. Clements added color to the performance. As an oil-connected Texan, Clements was an ideal prop that could be wheeled in to act as the living personification of the pro-Arab oil lobby; and full use was made of him.</p>
<p>For all Kissinger&#39;s skill in handling Dinitz, and through him Israel&#39;s friends in Washington, and also the Cabinet in Tel Aviv, pure manipulation could not suffice for long. For despite all the talk about &ldquo;bureaucratic obstructionism,&rdquo; Schlesinger was not sufficiently plausible in the role of a major obstacle to Kissinger in his &ldquo;one-man fight&rdquo; to open the supply pipeline to Israel. An intellectual out of RAND, Schlesinger had no independent power-base, and was not cut out for the part thrust on him as the chief spokesman of the pro-Arab oil lobby, not even with Clements as his deputy. Kissinger was thus in danger of losing control over Dinitz, which would mean that the release of arms supplies to Israel would have to follow almost immediately.</p>
<p>It was at this point (according to the second version) that on Wednesday, October 10, Kissinger&#39;s office originated the first of the supply plans&mdash;the charter of civilian aircraft. This scheme had a dual purpose. If the charters <em>could</em> be arranged, the mechanical limitations of civilian aircraft, and the time needed to organize an airlift, would delay and restrict the flow of arms to Israel. This in turn would perhaps discourage the Israelis from launching their offensive in Sinai. Further, the United States would be maintaining a &ldquo;low profile,&rdquo; at any rate lower than if <em>military</em> aircraft were used. And if&mdash;as it must have been suspected&mdash;the charters could <em>not</em> be arranged, the scheme would still serve to mollify Dinitz, and prevent him from &ldquo;going public&rdquo; at least for another day or two.</p>
<p>According to this second version, even when it became clear that the civilian-charter scheme would not work, Kissinger refused to allow the military airlift, the &ldquo;MAC all-the-way&rdquo; solution, as it was known. Instead, his office originated the second &ldquo;low-profile&rdquo; scheme&mdash;the one calling for the delivery of supplies to the Azores, with the Israelis providing air transport for the second half of the journey to Israel. Under this scheme, MAC aircraft would deliver supplies at a U.S. base on one island while El Al aircraft would have to collect their loads at a civilian airport which was on a different island. The transshipment of air-transport pallets requires special handling equipment; and the transfer of supplies from one island to the next would require ships. It was not even known if these were available. Further, Portuguese cooperation would be needed, and when Dinitz was being briefed on the scheme it had not yet been obtained. At best, it would take several days to organize a viable transshipment scheme, and the increment in capacity over the direct-flight solution by El Al aircraft from the U.S. would be small. In fact, the scheme was a logistic nightmare and wholly impractical.</p>
<p>Nevertheless it too served its purpose. For on Friday, October 12, when the civilian-charter scheme was on its last legs, Dinitz was once again persuaded by means of the Azores scheme that he need not &ldquo;go public.&rdquo;</p>
<p>So far Kissinger had used the services of the Pentagon, and had also carried the President with him. Distracted by the Agnew resignation, long preoccupied with the ever-deepening Watergate crisis, Nixon supported Kissinger&#39;s policy, though it probably went against the grain. Nixon did not like to see U.S. policy make a passive response to the Russian logistic intervention. Moreover, having received appeals from Israel, and from Israel&#39;s supporters in the United States who were now too anxious to wait for a signal from Dinitz, and keenly aware of the possible political consequences of a further delay, Nixon finally intervened directly. Very late on Friday night he instructed Schlesinger to implement his &ldquo;MAC all-the-way&rdquo; solution, so long as Kissinger&#39;s consent was obtained. Even now, after 1 A.M. on Saturday, October 13, Kissinger hesitated, and tried to explore alternatives. Almost from the start the Defense Department had maintained that there was no practical solution other than a full-scale airlift; now it was in receipt of a direct Presidential order, and no longer willing to try any more of Kissinger&#39;s alternative schemes for a low-profile resupply operation. The Israeli military attach&#233; was present when after a planning meeting in the Pentagon the orders went out at around 3:30 A.M. to send the C-5&#39;s on their way. Yet another obstacle suddenly emerged when the Portuguese objected to American use of Azores base facilities to help Israel. A refueling stop in the Azores was not strictly speaking essential, but it would increase the delivery capacity of the C-5 by a considerable margin, and make C-130 flights practical. A firm letter from Nixon persuaded the Portuguese to waive their objections, and with this the airlift resumed in full swing.</p>
<p align="center">_____________</p><br />
<p>So ends this second&mdash;anti-Kissinger&mdash;version of the airlift crisis. It is clear that the two versions conflict and, ostensibly, we have no way of choosing between the two. Still, as in the case of the historians of ancient Rome, we are not left totally in the dark.</p>
<p>We must first consider the known facts, which set outer limits to the unknown. As both the President&#39;s National Security Adviser and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger was then in firm control of the country&#39;s foreign policy; more so than any of his recent predecessors, except perhaps John Foster Dulles. Only the strongest possible evidence would suffice to persuade us that Schlesinger could have opposed so blatantly the President&#39;s &ldquo;foreign-policy czar,&rdquo; especially since we are also told in the first version that Kissinger was all along supported by Nixon. No such evidence has been presented. Accordingly, the notion that Kissinger&#39;s policy was successfully blocked by Schlesinger for an entire week remains highly implausible.</p>
<p><em>A fortiori</em> the same argument applies for the supposed role of Clements. The Nixon administration, then still a living creature, was noted for its high degree of centralization; it was a regime in which no Deputy Secretary of Anything could oppose Presidential policy in the manner portrayed by the Dinitz-Kissinger version of the crisis. He would have been out in a matter of hours. Readers of <em>Pravda</em> would no doubt be told that Clements was more than a mere Deputy Secretary as the oil industry&#39;s man in Washington. But even if we are crude Marxists, in order to believe the Dinitz-Kissinger version we must further assume that Schlesinger&#39;s policy was captive to the will of his deputy, which contradicts what is known of the character of the two men. Yet even if this assumption were true, the first objection would still stand: Clements, too, could not have challenged Kissinger&#39;s recognized primacy in foreign policy unless he had Nixon&#39;s support, a highly unlikely possibility that the promoters of the first version have not even suggested.</p>
<p>And then there is some external evidence, stray bits of information, comparable to the coin symbolism and official epigraphs that sometimes illuminate a man or an episode of ancient history. One of these is quite critical. On Wednesday, October 10, when Israeli stock levels emerged as a major consideration in both versions of the story, Major General Sumner of the Pentagon, relaying instructions from the Secretary of Defense, told Mordechai Gur, the Israeli military attach&#233;, that the Israelis were not to curtail their operations because of expected supply shortages. Now, in the context of the first version of the story, this piece of information does not fit at all: Schlesinger was then supposed to be doing all he could to prevent any aid to Israel. But in the second version of the story, where Schlesinger was merely following Kissinger&#39;s policy, this piece of information does make sense. By then aware of how low Israeli stocks of &ldquo;consumables&rdquo; were, and having the expertise needed to appreciate the precise implications of future supplies for current operations, the Secretary of Defense was intimating to the Israelis that they would ultimately obtain what they needed, and conveying his own suggestion that they proceed with their planned offensive against the Egyptians in Sinai.</p>
<p>A second piece of evidence which is suggestive rather than definitive concerns the Azores scheme. It is very difficult to believe&mdash;as the first version requires us to do&mdash;that this scheme originated in the Defense Department, but quite easy to believe that it came&mdash;as the second version holds&mdash;from the State Department. In the State Department men are expected to be generalists. In the Department of Defense, specialist tasks are given to specialists. And no logistics man could have originated the inter-island transshipment scheme, which would have violated every rule in the book, and every professional instinct.</p>
<p>Finally there is some internal evidence. In the Dinitz-Kissinger version as reproduced in the Kalb book, a discrepancy slips in, in the form of a direct quotation attributed to Kissinger, describing his response to the Russian airlift: &ldquo;We tried to talk in the first week. When that didn&#39;t work, we said, fine, we&#39;ll start pouring in equipment until we create a new reality.&rdquo; Apparently, then, it was not until Friday, October 12 (after one week), that Kissinger decided that the United States would have to help Israel. Yet Dinitz is supposed to have been given assurances of support by Kissinger at least since October 7, and it was only the Pentagon which is supposed to have prevented him from delivering on his promise of &ldquo;rapid results.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Thus, as in the case of the <em>Historia Augusta</em>, here too a judgment can be made. While discounting the elements of personal animosity in both versions, it seems most plausible that the main obstacle to a rapid flow of military supplies to Israel was not Schlesinger, let alone Clements. It could only have been Kissinger.</p>
<p align="center">_____________</p><br />
<p>But why? Why should Kissinger have been so eager to deny aid to Israel in the first week of the war? The answer lies in the diplomatic background. In a nutshell, Kissinger hoped for Soviet cooperation in managing the crisis; he also thought that a low-profile policy would limit the damage to America&#39;s relations with the oil-producing countries of the Arab world.</p>
<p>By October 1973, the Middle Eastern diplomacy of the United States was a wasteland of abortive plans, &ldquo;interim&rdquo; solutions, and countless <em>ad hoc</em> proposals. Again and again, the State Department had tried to persuade the Egyptians to make political concessions in exchange for Israeli territorial concessions. But there was an obvious asymmetry in the exchange. While Israel was being asked to surrender territory, the most tangible of concessions, the Egyptians could only offer verbal undertakings. If the Israelis gave up the Sinai side of the Canal, the Egyptians were to promise that they would agree to negotiate; if the Israelis gave up the whole of Sinai, the Egyptians would issue a declaration of non-belligerency. Ultimately, it was this fundamental difference in the <em>nature</em> of the concessions to be solicited from each side that defeated all the efforts of Secretary Rogers, as those of his predecessors, after 1967. Whenever a new proposal was manufactured in the State Department, it was met with just enough of a positive response in Cairo and Tel Aviv to encourage its official adoption in Washington as a formal initiative. But each time American envoys would set out for the Middle East, it was only to find that the Egyptians could not bring themselves to make the right noises, while the Israelis refused to give up territory in exchange for vague and heavily qualified Egyptian promises. This was a position that Israel&#39;s friends in the United States were willing to support.</p>
<p>From the viewpoint of American diplomacy, every attempt made things a little worse than before. While the unresolved conflict was constantly eroding Western interests in the Arab world, the repeated failures of American diplomacy were steadily diminishing its credibility. And paradoxically enough, the one &ldquo;success&rdquo; of American diplomacy did more to damage its credibility than all the failures. This was the Egypt-Israel &ldquo;cease-fire and stand-still&rdquo; agreement of August 7, 1970, procured by Secretary Rogers. At that time, the Israelis were losing a casualty or two each day to Egyptian artillery fire along the Canal, while the Egyptians were suffering much heavier losses to Israeli air attacks. By then the Russians were present in force, with their own squadrons of MiG-21&#39;s patrolling the Nile Valley, and an array of Russian-operated missile batteries, which were being moved ever closer to the edge of the water. In August 1970 Egyptian losses and Israeli fears of an increasing open-ended Russian involvement had matured to the point where each side was willing to accept a cease-fire and stand-still agreement. The Israelis would suspend air attacks, while Russians and Egyptians would stop moving their missile belts forward.</p>
<p>At first, Secretary Rogers won great credit for the cease-fire/stand-still, but almost immediately it became apparent that the Egyptians, with full Russian cooperation, were massively violating the &ldquo;stand-still&rdquo; provisions. Theoretically, it was up to the United States to take action, since the agreement was underwritten by an implicit American guarantee. The response of the State Department to Israeli complaints came as a shock. After attempting to deny that the violations had taken place, only to be proved wrong by the evidence of both Israeli and American photographic reconnaissance, Secretary Rogers made no effort to force the Egyptians to comply with the terms of the agreement. Instead, the Israelis were offered compensation, in the shape of additional military equipment. In other words they were bought off. More than anything else, the debacle of the 1970 cease-fire hardened Israeli resolve in subsequent negotiations. No territory was to be surrendered without direct Israel-Arab negotiations. The Egyptians, for their part, continued to assert that direct negotiations were utterly unacceptable: non-recognition remained the fundamental plank of Arab policy toward Israel.</p>
<p>As far as Kissinger was concerned, this was the operational context of the war of October 1973; if American diplomacy were to achieve anything, the stalemate between an irreconcilable Egypt and an immovable Israel had to be broken. Before the war actually began, Kissinger concentrated on dissuading the Israelis from launching a preemptive strike. As it later emerged, the Israeli government had in any case already decided that it could not afford the diplomatic costs of attacking first.</p>
<p>(Yet whatever it might have meant in diplomatic terms, preemption had a precise military meaning. It would take almost three days to mobilize the Israeli army fully, but the air force was always at a high state of readiness, since all first-line squadrons were manned by regulars. As a result, two hundred or more strike aircraft could have immediately been sent into action, while keeping an adequate force of home defense fighters in reserve. Even if only five or six sorties had been flown by each aircraft before the Arab invasion armies could have moved into action in full strength, the Israeli air force could have delivered almost three thousand tons of bombs and rockets on the long columns of carriers and tanks, and on the supply depots east of the Golan cease-fire line and west of the Canal. Arab air defenses were very dense and already in a state of alert: Israeli air losses would have been heavy. Even so, losses would have been lower and results much better than those which could be achieved once the war began. A devastating blow would have been inflicted to Arab forces on the ground, and to Arab morale. Hundreds of Israeli lives could have been saved. And as for the diplomatic costs of preemption, these would undoubtedly have been heavy, but perhaps not quite as heavy as it was then thought. In their unconquerable innocence, the Israelis were shocked to discover after the event that from Albania to Zaire the governments of the world were uninterested in the evidence, and that the moral issue of who fired first did not after all make any difference. Rather the reverse. Most governments blandly accused the Israelis of being aggressors. Clearly only the United States mattered, and it remains an open question whether an Israeli air strike against Arab forces <em>whose offensive had entered the operational phase</em> would have made much of a difference to American opinion.)</p>
<p align="center">_____________</p><br />
<p>In the first days of the war, the expectation of a quick Israeli victory persisted. In Washington it was known that it would take more than seventy hours to mobilize the reserves. Since the war had started on Saturday, it would not be until Tuesday that a full-scale Israeli counter-offensive could be expected, and the estimate was that the Arabs would be decisively defeated a day or two after that. While this outcome was regarded in Washington as inevitable, it was not especially welcome. Defeated once again and humiliated still further, the Arabs would strike up postures of defiance yet more extreme, while the Israelis would be even less willing to give up territories whose solid tactical value had been proved so resoundingly in the first stage of the war. In other words, the majority view in Washington was that an Israeli victory would merely harden the pre-1973 diplomatic stalemate.</p>
<p>At this stage Kissinger, who shared this view, took the position that the only thing the United States could do was avoid actions which might intensify Arab hostility. The threat of an oil embargo was already manifest. In any case, Israel would not need any help, and the issue would be settled not in Washington but on the battlefield. When the intelligence picture of the conflict began to change, however, so did the range of possibilities. Perhaps an Israeli victory and the consequent diplomatic stalemate were not inevitable after all. As Israeli appeals for arms and ammunition became more urgent and more inclusive, new opportunities opened up. Israel would receive only limited assistance, and would thus be forced to accept a cease-fire which left the Egyptians in control of the narrow strip of land they had won in the first two days of the war. Then and only then American diplomacy would move into action. Having suffered and lost, the Israelis could be manipulated by remote control through the supply of military equipment, or its denial. They would be forced to make territorial concessions. Having won a <em>limited</em> victory, the Egyptians would most probably become more tractable, and Sadat would have established a political base which would allow him to make the required diplomatic concessions.</p>
<p>By Wednesday, October 10, it must have become clear that after years of drift American policy could at long last determine the course of events in the Middle East. As the Israelis produced a series of longer and longer lists, it was the <em>range</em> of the items&mdash;from standard rifle ammunition to underwear, from blankets to Phantoms&mdash;which made it increasingly obvious that they were in no position to launch a general counter-offensive in Sinai unless they received full logistic support. Kissinger had now become the ultimate quartermaster-general of the Israeli army, and could control its operations by modulating the flow of supplies. Anti-tank rockets and small quantities of other essentials delivered by El Al would suffice to contain Egyptian attacks at the Sinai passes and perhaps to launch a limited counter-attack. They would not suffice for a major Israeli victory.</p>
<p>There was undoubtedly no Machiavellian grand design in Kissinger&#39;s mind; American foreign policy simply reacted to events as they unfolded. Kissinger did not, of course, want the Israelis to be defeated, but on the other hand a total Israeli victory would have been highly undesirable. He was in favor of supplying arms to Israel but, in contrast to the Pentagon, he thought that this could be accomplished by waving a magic wand and without a military airlift. Consequently the pressures of public opinion and Congress for prompt and massive aid to Israel had to be contained. And this in turn could only be done by neutralizing the pressures at the source, in Tel Aviv, through the Israeli embassy in Washington. Hence the charade that was so successfully played out for the benefit of the Israelis.</p>
<p>As a matter of fact, Kissinger&#39;s role was even more complicated than this. For during that first week there were those in Israel who were in favor of an early cease-fire, and a request to arrange one even reached Washington. That was a diplomatic impossibility. If the <em>Arabs</em> wanted a cease-fire, they could get it in the Security Council as a matter of course, and very quickly. But if the Israelis asked for one, it would even be very difficult to convene a meeting. The Soviet delegates would cheerfully deny that there was any urgency, and neither Britain nor France would be willing to act. Hence while Kissinger kept the supply tap firmly shut, in order to weaken the Israelis, he also had to discourage those in Israel who accepted the logical alternative of a cease-fire, which would leave the Egyptians in place. For that too would make a diplomatic resolution of the conflict impossible, since the Egyptians would never agree to talk if they could win more ground, but only if they faced the prospect of losing what little they had won.</p>
<p>On Saturday, October 13, the airlift was ordered into action by Nixon and the Israelis received the means to attack, and win. They crossed the Canal and were about to trap the entire Egyptian army in a classic double envelopment, which could only result in a battle of annihilation, another Cannae. The little flags showing unit positions on situation maps in Tel Aviv, Washington, Moscow, and&mdash;belatedly&mdash;Cairo made this by far the most probable outcome. Suddenly, therefore, the Russians became very eager for a cease-fire; after much effort they had persuaded Sadat that the combat reports of his generals were not to be trusted, and that the outlook was bleak. The Russians turned to the United States seeking its support for the imposition of a cease-fire at the United Nations. For reasons not readily apparent, Kissinger immediately responded to the Russian request and flew to Moscow; perhaps he thought the d&#233;tente was in grave danger. Later, it was falsely claimed that the Russians were threatening to take forceful action, but in fact this only happened <em>after</em> the cease-fire. In Moscow the October 22 cease-fire agreement was quickly reached, while the Israeli government was still instructing its commanders in the field that they could afford to advance slowly and carefully, since there was no danger of a premature cease-fire which would prevent the encirclement of the Egyptian army.</p>
<p align="center">_____________</p><br />
<p>Most of Kissinger&#39;s subsequent moves in the Middle East have been based on the limits successively imposed on Israeli military action, themselves the result of successful diplomatic manipulation. Of course, Kissinger may claim that it is not his methods that matter but rather the results. On the surface, the United States has won a great diplomatic victory. The current journalistic formula is that the Russian presence in Egypt has been displaced by American influence, or, more grandly, it is said that the Soviet Union &ldquo;has been driven from the Arab world&rdquo; by the successes of American diplomacy. It is certainly true that relations between Egypt and the Soviet Union are frigid, but it is far from clear whether the fact that President Sadat kisses Kissinger on both cheeks every time they meet means very much. It certainly does not amount to &ldquo;influence.&rdquo; If that word means anything, it implies that Egypt would be responsive to American <em>desiderata</em>. So far, Egypt has merely been responsive to American promises of more chunks of Israeli-controled territory, investment money, nuclear reactors, and so on. In fact, it is the universal consensus of those who talk with Egyptian leaders nowadays that their expectations of what Kissinger will be able to deliver are grossly exaggerated. It is the familiar pattern of the Soviet-American d&#233;tente all over again, with its inevitable progression from diplomatic euphoria to a deepening disenchantment.</p>
<p>As for influence in the Arab world beyond Egypt, its concrete significance is to be measured in the price of oil. Even at present levels, oil prices are bringing about the gradual destruction of the Western economies. Pessimists think that the crash will come in a year. Optimists confidently assert that it will take three years. The focus and test of American diplomacy in the Middle East should accordingly be the reduction of the price of oil. Unless this happens, there is little meaning to American &ldquo;influence&rdquo; in the Arab world. So far, the price of oil has not gone down.</p>
<p>As far as Israel is concerned, the October war naturally falls into the context of Arab-Israeli relations in 1948, 1956, and 1967. On each occasion conflict was precipitated by the Arab refusal to accept a territorial status quo. On each occasion the Arabs fought and lost. On each occasion the Arabs subsequently appealed to great-power diplomacy in order to restore the very status quo which they had previously held to be unacceptable. The war of October 1973 has broken this pattern. This was largely due to the unreadiness of the Israelis in the first days of war, and to the changed international political climate which made the use of the Arab &ldquo;oil weapon&rdquo; feasible. But American policy also played an important role. The long-term consequences for the security of Israel are impossible to foresee.</p>


Footnotes

1 Kissinger, Little, Brown, 577 pp., $12.50.

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