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Nixon in '73: Stop obsessing over Israel


The US State Department this week released secret documents, protocols and memos from meetings President Richard M. Nixon held with senior US officials between 1973 and 1976. In the meetings Nixon complained that the strong Jewish lobby in Washington was taking orders from the Israeli government, which was headed by Golda Meir, and preventing the US from exerting its influence outside the Israeli-Arab conflict.
 
"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.

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."
  
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."



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