"In the Middle East is the problem of Israel. Israel's lobby is so strong that Congress is not reasonable. When we try to get Israel reasonable, the excuse is an Israeli election, the US election, or something. This is my primary occupation. Please don't take an all out Israeli line. The Israelis are attractive and efficient, but the stakes are big," Nixon told his cabinet on May 18, 1973.
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Nixon said the basic point is that Israel can "defeat the Arabs with our aid," but added that "if the our relationship with the Soviet Union collapses, and the Soviet Union aids the Arabs, Israel will be swamped. This is why we need to have movement on trade with MFN (Most favored Nations.) We have to have policies which don’t allow an obsession with one state to destroy our status in the Middle East."
The State Department also released the minutes of a conversation between then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and other top White House officials which took place on August 3, 1973. Two months prior to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, Kissinger posited that Israel "is so much stronger that the dilemma is on the Arabs. Right now Israel is asking for their immediate surrender, and the Arabs are asking for a miracle. We want to help, but we will not put out a plan for both to shoot at. We are trying to get both sides, or one side, to put out something which will get negotiations going."
'Israel has no friends. They are totally dependent on the United States' (Photo:AFP)
But about two weeks after the war erupted, Kissinger, who was now secretary of state, hinted that Washington's approach was wrong: "There is a story going around that we held Israel back from a preemptive attack. All our intelligence said there would be no attack. Why did Israel not figure there would be an attack? Because we for four years had been telling them they had to make diplomatic moves. Therefore they developed the posture that there was no need to move, there was no threat, the Arabs are too weak, so they interpreted the intelligence this way. We did the same, but we figured that because they were so good, the Arabs wouldn’t dare to attack."
During the closed October 6 meeting, Kissinger, who won the Nobel Peace Prize that year for his efforts to stop the fighting in Vietnam, claimed that the war "showed that Israeli tactics are out of date. The fact is that Israel can no longer score victories like they did in 1967. Their strategy has been to fight on one front at a time. This time they couldn’t do it, so we are in a war of attrition. That is very serious for Israel."
Nixon intervened: Before this war Israel felt it had no incentive to negotiate; now they have to make an agonizing reappraisal of that position. They can’t take another war.
Kissinger responded by saying that "Now Israel has to consider how they can enhance their position by diplomacy, not just by military means. We are in a position now where if we can keep the war from escalating and from turning into a confrontation with the Arabs, we have the best chance for settlement."
The secretary of state mentioned during the meeting that "at the President’s very first Cabinet meeting, he said that the greatest danger in the Middle East would be that local powers would draw the superpowers in, as happened in World War I. We have resisted letting the local clients dictate the pace of events. Both the US and the Soviet Union have friends to support. The test is whether we can support them and still retain our balance with each other.
Nixon, whose administration airlifted weapons to Israel during the war, warned that the key point is to try to keep the Soviet Union from sending in their own personnel. Do we want to push the Soviet Union—this is what I hear from the “new hawks”—so far that they do this and confront us with a terrible choice?
Kissinger said, "We are taking tough action but speaking softly. We should not escalate until we see how the diplomacy can work out. We are being very quiet and we have put in massive material, with only a modest reaction from the Arabs."
'We have no intentions of sacrificing Israel'. Kissinger with Meir (Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO)
During a cabinet meeting held on November 27, 1973, Nixon asks Kissinger to brief him on his tour of the Middle East. During this crucial meeting, Kissinger said, "When I went on the trip to the Middle East, first, we faced the Arab demand for a return of Israeli forces to the 22 October lines. Second, we had to get a negotiating process started. Third, I told the Arabs that only the United States could bring them negotiations and territory. I told Sadat he had an historic opportunity. He could argue about the ceasefire line or he could work for a conference which could bring about a true peace. Sadat is a wise man. As a result, we negotiated the six-point plan to consolidate the ceasefire and begin the negotiating process."
Kissinger told Nixon's cabinet that in any case "Israel can’t do much before January." Elections in Israel, which were postponed due to the war, were held on December 31. Kissinger hoped the end of the war would lead to peace negotiations.
"The first portion will probably be devoted to separation of forces—hopefully to inject some UN forces so that the subsequent negotiation can be freer from the prospect of fighting. The second phase is the difficult issue of Israel’s border, security arrangements between Israel and the Arabs, and outside guarantees," he said.
"We don’t want guarantees such that the United States and Soviet Union are automatically charmed into every little dispute. Our impression is there is more disposition in the Arabs for moderate discussion than at any time since World War II. Nevertheless, there is severe pressure from the rich radical states—Iraq and Libya. Potentially also from the Soviet Union, although not yet. Also regretfully, the British, French, and Japanese, who take positions near those of the radical Arabs," Kissinger added.
The secretary of state appeared to be optimistic, saying "The prospects are bright, but it will be difficult. There will be some painful time for Israel, who will have to withdraw from some territories. But Israel can’t want to keep on with these debilitating wars. The Israeli problem is traumatic. They have relied totally on military supremacy and now know they can’t do that."
Later on in the meeting Kissinger told the cabinet that before the war, Israel thought that "any conflict would be a repetition of 1967. Israel thought they couldn’t be in a better position, and there was no real pressure to make them change. Now things are different — the war, and their diplomatic isolation."
Addressing the pressure from the European countries, Kissinger said, "We must make clear that we are committed to Israeli security, but it must be sought in other than purely military ways. I think territorial belts of security are better than guarantees. The only guarantee Israel would take seriously would be a US guarantee. A European-US or a UN guarantee they would laugh at. The Soviet Union could guarantee the Arabs."
The secretary of state continued to say that "there are two non-military aspects" to the negotiations: Jerusalem and the Palestinians.
"On the Palestinians and Gaza there is a possibility. Jerusalem is a tough problem. A way must be found to remove the Arab holy places from Israeli control. Egypt doesn’t care much about Jerusalem; Faisal is obsessed by it, but doesn’t care much about the Sinai. Intellectually, Jerusalem is solvable with a Vatican-type setup," he said.
During the meeting Kissinger complained that while Israel is willing to offer concessions, the American Jews "are so tough."
"Let’s make clear: We are trying to preserve Israel’s security. We have no intentions of sacrificing Israel, and some day they will thank us," he argued, adding that president Nixon "is the best friend Israel ever had. In time they will realize that. Israel can’t go on with military solutions. They cannot win a war of attrition."
Nixon sums up the meeting by saying, "We are for Israel’s security and we are against any effort to impinge on that. We demonstrated it twice in this conflict—by the airlift and by the alert. The Israeli hawks have to talk this way. But Israel has no friends. They are totally dependent on the United States.
"As long as we provide the weapons, Israel can lick the Arabs for twenty-five years, but they can’t keep the Soviet Union at bay. What they must ask themselves is what we would do if the Soviets call our hands. This last time we did," he said.
"Israel can’t base its policy on military security. We need that supplemental so they don’t think we are blackmailing them. A settlement has to cost Israel some territory. That is why we are for 242. It avoids our having to come down on one side or the other."
During the meeting Kissinger was also asked if Israel and Egypt have the capability to produce nuclear weapons. "Israel has the capability to make small numbers. Not Egypt. And we don’t think the Soviets have put them in. Should Israel brandish nuclear weapons, the Soviets would counter it and it would be very dangerous for Israel," he replied.
Kissunger at Yitzhak Rabin's grave, 2011 (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The State Department also released a transcript of a meeting held on April 24, 1974 between Nixon, his deputy Gerald Ford, Kissinger, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Congressional leaders.
The meeting focused on the plan to approve $2.2 billion in aid to Israel. "The idea that Israel can defend itself with only American arms was proved false in October 3," Nixon said.
"Israel can’t survive against Soviet opposition. We are at a watershed period in foreign policy, in a period when often we are tied exclusively to Israel. We are now developing a relationship of friendship with the whole area. It’s not to get the Soviet Union out — that is self-defeating — but to have us in. Not with a big giveaway, but to play a peacekeeping role. Others may have designs on the Middle East. The Arabs who are turning to us know they have nothing to fear from us. This is a great price for their independence and peace in the area," he said.
During the meeting Nixon urged Congress to grant $250 million in aid to Egypt, saying "Our Israeli aid is 10 times that of the Arabs."
Kissinger added: "Sadat is the first leader to commit his country to peace on terms other than the extermination of Israel…Sadat has to demonstrate to his people that the new policy has benefits and that he has ties to the United States…We can make progress with Israel only to the extent they don’t feel their security is jeopardized."
Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty five years later.
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