Kissinger and Nixon
Kissinger and Nixonmontage

A military historian and author recently asked me for comment on Israel and the "Kissinger era" (as he put it) for an essay he was working on marking the occasion of Henry Kissinger's 100th birthday—he had read several of my op-eds about Kissinger.

I believe my response to him is worth sharing with a wider audience.

The "Kissinger Era" in Middle East diplomacy refers to the years when the secretary of state brokered agreements based on the idea that Israel should give up tangible assets in exchange for something less than actual peace. Thus in 1975 he pressured Israel into surrendering the Mitla and Giddi passes in the Sinai and the Abu Rodeis oil fields there in exchange for a brief "non-belligerency" pledge from Egypt.

After Kissinger left office, the dynamics of Arab-Israeli diplomacy changed, in ways that Kissinger--for all his reputed brilliance--never expected. Egypt’s Sadat realized the only way to get back the entire Sinai was to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and so he did. Yasser Arafat realized the only way to get an almost-sovereign territory and a de-facto army was to sign a peace agreement with Israel, so he did. Jordan, and then more recently several Gulf kingdoms, decided it was more advantageous to them to sign peace treaties with Israel, so they did.

But two essential problems haunt both the Kissinger Era agreements and the post Kissinger agreements. The first is that a treaty signed with a dictator can be tossed out at any moment, for any reason. That happened during the brief rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It also happened when Israel agreed to give Gaza to the PA, and then shortly afterwards Hamas took over.

But the second, and also a very serious problem, is that not a single of the aforementioned Arab regimes has undertaken genuine peace education. They have not taught their citizens to embrace peace and coexistence with Israel. They have likewise made no effort to teach their children in this regard. So anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist hatred still simmers just below the surface among the Arab masses in all of those countries, ready to explode. Thus the extraordinary concessions Israel made for each of those treaties, in the end, secured for the Jewish State what are little more than ceasefire agreements.

As far as Kissinger himself it is actually even more enlightening to go back to the day before Israel was attacked in 1973 – the day Kissinger prevented Israel from launching a preemptive strike.

We know what happened on the eve of the war and the days to follow from three reliable sources: Walter Isaacson’s well known Kissinger: A Biography; long-time Haaretz chief diplomatic correspondent Matti Golan’s The Secret Conversations of Henry Kissinger; and from former Obama administration Middle East envoy David Makovsky.

On Yom Kippur morning, hours before the 1973 Arab invasion, Golda Meir was informed by her military intelligence officials that Egypt and Syria were massing their troops along Israel’s borders and would attack later that day. The Israelis immediately contacted Kissinger.

Golan describes what happened next: “Till the very outbreak of the fighting, Kissinger remained more concerned with the possibility of an Israeli preemptive strike than an Egyptian-Syrian attack.” Kissinger instructed the US ambassador in Israel to personally deliver to Meir “a presidential entreaty” – that is, a warning, in the name of President Nixon “not to start a war.”

Abba Eban, who was the foreign minister then, confirmed in his autobiography that IDF chief of staff David Elazar proposed a preemptive strike, but Meir and defense minister Moshe Dayan rejected it on the grounds that “the United States would regard this as provocative.”

As soon as the Arabs attacked, the Israelis requested an American airlift of military supplies. Kissinger stalled them – for an entire brutal week. Kissinger’s strategy was to orchestrate “a limited Egyptian victory,” Makovsky wrote in The Jerusalem Post in 1993. The secretary of state feared an Israeli victory “would cause Israel to strengthen its resolve not to make any territorial concessions in Sinai.”

“Kissinger opposed giving [Israel] major support that could make its victory too one-sided,” Isaacson confirms. He told defense secretary James Schlesinger, “The best result would be if Israel came out a little ahead but got bloodied in the process.”

A “little bloodied”? Are 2,656 dead Israeli soldiers.the best result?

In the aftermath of the war, Kissinger undertook shuttle diplomacy aimed at getting Israel to give up parts of the Sinai to Egypt. When prime minister Yitzhak Rabin initially hesitated, Kissinger announced a brutal “reassessment” of American support for Israel. That meant a total cutoff of U.S. arms shipments to Israel during the summer of 1975, until Rabin finally gave in.

During those same years, Kissinger also viciously undermined efforts to save Soviet Jewry. In an attempt to block the Jackson Amendment – which linked U.S.-Soviet trade to emigration of Soviet Jews – Kissinger threatened Jewish leaders that he might cut off American aid to Israel unless they withdrew their support for Senator Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson.

In December 2010, we learned just how low Kissinger stooped in his attempts to harm Soviet Jews. That was when a White House tape recording was released revealing Kissinger advising president Richard Nixon that the persecution of Soviet Jewry “is not an American concern.” Kissinger said, “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.”

Blasting American Jews for trying to link trade and human rights, Kissinger told Nixon, “And I think that the Jewish community in this country on that issue is behaving unconscionably. It’s behaving traitorously.”

Kissinger didn’t even have the decency to offer a genuine apology when his remarks were exposed. He insisted he had just been speaking in “shorthand” and that his critics were taking his statements “out of context.”

Henry Kissinger is responsible for causing grave damage to both the State of Israel and to Soviet Jewry. That's what should be recalled when we discuss Kissinger.

Moshe Phillipsis a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a US delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020. Phillips, former National Director of Herut North America, was a board member of the American Zionist Movement from 2018 until 2021

Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a US delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020. Phillips, former National Director of Herut North America, was a board member of the American Zionist Movement from 2018 until 2021. The views expressed are his own.