Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Using the 1973 October War, Kissinger Drove
the Soviets Out of the Arab World
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, October
|Sadat and Kissinger 1973
The Kissinger Story
I AM writing this (may God
forgive me) on Yom Kippur.
Exactly 43 years ago, at this exact
moment, the sirens sounded.
We were sitting in the living room,
looking out on one of Tel Aviv's main streets. The city was completely
silent. No cars. No traffic of any kind. A few children were riding about on
their bicycles, which is allowed on Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day. Just
Rachel, my wife, I, and our guest, Professor Hans Kreitler,
were in deep conversation. The professor, a renowned psychologist, was
living nearby, so he could come on foot.
And then the silence was
pierced by a siren. For a moment we thought that it was a mistake, but then
it was joined by another and another. We went to the window and saw a
commotion. The street, that had been totally empty a few minutes before,
began to fill up with vehicles, military and civilian.
And then the
radio, which had been silent for Yom Kippur, came on. War had broken out.
A FEW days ago I was asked if I was prepared to talk on TV about
the role of Henry Kissinger in this war. I agreed, but at the last moment
the program was canceled, because the station had to devote the time to
showing Jews asking God for forgiveness at the Western Wall (alias the
Wailing Wall). In these Netanyahu times, God, of course, comes first.
So, instead of talking on TV, I shall write down my thoughts on the subject
Henry Kissinger has always intrigued me. Once my friend Yael,
the daughter of Moshe Dayan, took me - in the great man’s absence, of
course, since he was my enemy – to his large collection of unread books and
asked me to choose a book as a present. I chose a book of Kissinger’s, and
was much impressed by it.
Like Shimon Peres and I, Kissinger was
born in 1923. He was a few months older than the other two of us. His family
left Nazi Germany five years later than I and went to the US, via England.
We both had to start working very early, but he went on with his studies and
became a professor, while poor me never finished elementary school.
I was impressed by the wisdom of his books. He approached history without
sentiment and dwelled especially on the Congress of Vienna, after Napoleon's
downfall, in which a group of wise statesmen laid the groundwork for a
stable, absolutist Europe. Kissinger stressed the importance of their
decision to invite the representative of vanquished France (Talleyrand).
They realized that France must be part of the new system. To ensure peace,
they believed, no one should be left out of the new system.
Unfortunately, Kissinger in power disregarded this wisdom of Kissinger the
Professor. He left the Palestinians out.
THE SUBJECT I was to speak
about on TV was a question that has intrigued and troubled Israeli
historians since that fateful Yom Kippur: Did Kissinger know about the
impending Egyptian-Syrian attack? Did he deliberately abstain from warning
Israel, because of his own nefarious designs?
After the war, Israel
was rent asunder by one question: why had our government, led by Prime
Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, disregarded all the
signs of the coming attack? Why had they not called up the army reserves in
time? Why had they not sent the tanks to our strongholds along the Suez
When the Egyptians attacked, the line was thinly held by
second-class troops. Most soldiers were sent home for the high religious
holiday. The line was easily overrun.
Israeli intelligence knew of
course of the massive movement of Egyptian units towards the canal. They
disregarded it as an empty maneuver to frighten Israel.
understand this, one has to remember that after the incredible victory of
the Israeli army only six years earlier, when it smashed all the neighboring
armies in six days, our army had abysmal contempt for the Egyptian armed
forces. The idea that they could dare to carry out such a momentous
operation seemed ridiculous.
Add to this the general contempt for
Anwar al-Sadat, the man who had inherited power from the legendary Gamal Abd-al-Nasser
a few years earlier. Among the group of "Free Officers" who, led by Nasser,
had carried out the bloodless 1952 revolution in Egypt, Sadat was considered
the least intelligent, and therefore appointed by consent as Nasser's
In Egypt, a country of innumerable jokes, there was joke
about that, too. Sadat had a conspicuous brown spot on his forehead.
According to the joke, whenever a subject came up in a Free Officers'
Council meeting, and everyone expressed his view, Sadat would stand up last
and start to speak. Nasser would put his finger on his forehead, press it
gently and say: "Sit down, Anwar, sit down."
In the course of the
six years between the wars, Sadat several times conveyed to Golda that he
was ready for peace negotiations, based on Israel's withdrawal from the
occupied Sinai Peninsula. Golda contemptuously refused. (In fact, Nasser
himself had decided on such a move just before he died. I played a small
role in conveying this information to our government.)
Back to 1973:
almost at the last moment Israel was warned by a well-placed spy, no less
than Nasser's son-in-law. The message gave the exact date of the impending
attack, but the wrong hour: instead of noon, it predicted the early evening.
A difference of several fateful hours. In Israel it was later debated
whether the man was a double agent and had give the false hour on purpose.
It was too late to ask him – he had died in mysterious circumstances.
When Golda informed Kissinger about the impending Egyptian move, he warned
her not to carry out a preemptive strike, which would put Israel in the
wrong. Golda, trusting Kissinger, obeyed, contrary to the views of the
Israel Chief of Staff, David Elazar, nicknamed Dado.
delayed informing his own boss, President Nixon, by two hours.
SO WHAT was Kissinger's game?
For him, the main American aim was to
drive the Soviets out of the Arab world, leaving the US as the sole power in
In his world of "realpolitik", this was
the only objective that mattered. Everybody else, including us poor
Israelis, were just pawns on the giant chessboard.
A major but
controlled war was for him the practical way to make everybody in the region
dependent on the US.
When the Egyptian and Syrian attacks initially
succeeded, Israel was in panic. Dayan, who in this crisis showed himself to
be the nincompoop he really was, bewailed the "destruction of the Third
Temple" (adding our state to the two Jewish temples of antiquity which were
destroyed by the Assyrians and the Romans respectively.) The army command,
under Dado, kept its cool and planned its counter-moves with admirable
But munitions were running out quickly and Golda turned
in despair to Kissinger. He set in motion an "air bridge" of supplies,
giving Israel just enough to defend itself. Not more.
Union was helpless to interfere. Kissinger was king of the situation.
WITH REMARKABLE resilience (and the weapons delivered by Kissinger) the
Israeli army turned the tables, pushing the Syrians back well beyond their
starting point and nearing Damascus. On the Southern front, Israeli units
crossed the Suez Canal and could have started an offensive towards Cairo.
It was a rather confused picture: an Egyptian army was still east of
the Canal, practically encircled but still able to defend itself, while the
Israeli army was behind its back, west of the canal, also in a dangerous
position, liable to be cut off from its homeland. Altogether, a classic
"fight with reversed fronts".
If the war had run its course, the
Israeli army would have reached the gates of Damascus and Cairo, and the
Egyptian and Syrian armies would have begged for a cease-fire on Israeli
That's where Kissinger came in.
THE ISRAELI advance
was stopped on Kissinger's orders 101 km from Cairo. There a tent was set up
and permanent cease-fire negotiations started.
Egypt was represented
by a senior officer, Abd-al-Rani Gamassi, who soon captured the sympathy of
the Israeli journalists. The Israeli representative was Aharon Yariv, former
chief of army intelligence, a member of the government and a general of the
Yariv was soon recalled to his seat in the cabinet. He was
replaced by a very popular regular army general, Israel Tal, nicknamed Talik,
who happened to be a friend of mine.
Talik was devoted to peace, and
I often urged him to leave the army and become the leader of the Israeli
peace camp. He refused, because his overriding passion was to create the
Merkava, an original Israeli tank that would give its crew maximum security.
Immediately after the fighting I met Talik regularly for lunch in a
well-known restaurant. Passersby may have wondered about these two – the
famous tank general and the journalist universally hated by the entire
establishment – conversing together.
Talik told me – in confidence,
of course – about what had happened: one day Gamassy had taken him aside and
told him that he had received new instructions – instead of talking about a
cease-fire, he could negotiate an Israel-Egyptian peace.
excited, Talik flew to Tel-Aviv and disclosed the news to Golda Meir. But
Golda was cool. She told Talik to abstain from any talk about peace. When
she saw his utter consternation, she explained that she had promised
Kissinger that any talks about peace must be held under American auspices.
And so it happened: a cease-fire agreement was signed and a peace
conference was called in Geneva, officially under joint US and Soviet
I went to Geneva to see what would happen. Kissinger was
there to dictate terms, but Andrei Gromyko, his Soviet counterpart, was a
tough customer. After a few speeches, the conference adjourned without
results. (For me it was an important event, because there I met a British
journalist, Edward Mortimer, who arranged for me to meet the PLO
representative in London, Said Hamami. Thus the first Israeli-PLO meeting
came about. But that is another story.)
The Yom Kippur war cost many
thousands of lives, Israeli, Egyptian and Syrian.
Kissinger achieved his goal. The Soviets lost the Arab world to the
Until Vladimir Putin came along.
Share the link of this article with your facebook friends