"As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever." - Reagan, January 20, 1981

"In Vietnam, we tried and failed in a just cause. No More Vietnams can mean we will not try again. It should mean we will not fail again." - from No More Vietnams by Richard Nixon

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Cold War, Jordan, Israel and Sadat

On Aug. 16, 2008, veteren Israeli diplomat Yehuda Avner wrote an extraordinary article recalling "a now all but forgotten conflagration called the War of Attrition."

It was orchestrated by the thousands of Soviet instructors in Egypt who were rapidly retraining and re-equipping that country's battered army after the Arab debacle of the 1967 Six Day War.

In March [8] 1968 the Egyptians launched a massive bombardment of Israel's fortifications along the Suez Canal, from which time on the greasy black puffs of bursting shells rained ever more relentlessly and lethally upon the IDF's forward positions - the Bar-Lev line. Casualties mounted and Israel hit back with escalating and deep-penetrating ferocity. Yet the Egyptians pounded on, intent on compelling the IDF to abandon the canal line while pushing forward their umbrella of sophisticated Soviet surface-to-air missiles - SAMs - to neutralize Israel's overwhelming air superiority. The one hope the Egyptians ever had of regaining the Sinai by force was by first knocking IAF aircraft from the skies so as to enable their amphibious forces to cross the canal. The Soviet-manned SAMs were designed to do just that.

Israel's eastern front erupted soon after (note that both Arafat and Habash were Soviet assets)
(PBS: 50 years war: Israel and Arabs)

But one year later, new leadership had been elected in both Israel and the United States - and for the next 6 years they would develop mutual respect and a dear friendship. One of these leaders, Richard Nixon, later wrote of his friendship with his counterpart, Golda Meir

We both took office in 1969. We both resigned in 1974. She became Prime Minister just two months after my own inauguration, and she served until two months before my resignation. In effect, she was “my” Israeli Prime Minister; I was “her American President."

Nixon wrote in his memoirs that

On September 25, 1969, Golda Meir came to Washington for a state visit. In Israeli terms she was a “hawk,” and a hard-liner opposed to surrendering even an inch of the occupied territory Israel had won in the 1967 war. Mrs. Meir conveyed simultaneously the qualities of extreme toughness and extreme warmth; when the survival of her country was involved, the toughness was predominant. She requested twenty-five Phantom jets and eighty Skyhawk fighters and complained about the delays in delivery of planes that had already been approved. She also asked for low-interest loans of $200 million a year for periods up to five years. I reassured her that our commitments would be met.

At a state dinner in her honor she expressed concern regarding our moves toward détente with the Soviets. I told her that we had no illusions about their motives. I said, ‘Our Golden Rule as far as international diplomacy is concerned is: “Do unto others as they do unto you.’”

“Plus ten percent,” Kissinger quickly added.

Mrs. Meir smiled. “As long as you approach things that way, we have no fears,” she said.

It was at this summit that an important accord that had been under development for months had been agreed upon. It's contents were most closely (though not completely) described by National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger in a "July 7, 1969, memorandum to Mr. Nixon titled, 'Israeli Nuclear Program,' [which] said that by the end of 1970, Israel would likely have 24 to 30 French surface-to-surface missiles, 10 of which would have nuclear warheads."

Mr. Kissinger, who later became secretary of state, wrote that ideally, the U.S. would prefer Israel to have no nuclear weapons, but that was not attainable.

He added that "public knowleadge is almost as dangerous as possession itself," arguing that an Israeli announcement of its arsenal or a nuclear test could prompt the Soviet Union to offer Arab states a nuclear guarantee.

"What this means is that: While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession, what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact," Mr. Kissinger wrote.

The agreement held that the US would do what it could to "shield" Israel's nukes from outside inspection as long as they did not go public about the program or detonate a nuke.

At the end of the summit, Meir would proclaim: "We discussed the problems of Israel as though they were our common problems. This means a lot ... thank you for enabling me to go home and tell my people that we have a friend, a great friend and a dear friend."

And so, "The War of Attrition went on for more than two years until, in August 1970, the Americans, under president Richard Nixon, and through his secretary of state William Rogers, brokered a cease-fire."

The Rogers initiative was a political-military package in which both sides agreed to stop shooting and start talking under a UN umbrella. The envisaged talks were to be essentially based on the famous Security Council Resolution 242, which called for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent [1967] conflict." This, to Menachem Begin, was anathema.

After much wrangling, prime minister Golda Meir finally accepted the US initiative, whereupon Begin and his party quit her government. As they saw it, Israel was being asked to commit itself to a withdrawal even before a concrete peace proposal was in sight.

Worse was to follow when, hours after the cease-fire came into effect, Egypt brazenly violated it by rushing its SAM umbrella into the designated standstill zone adjacent to the canal, achieving by stealth what it had failed to accomplish by attrition. Cairo now had the means to clear the skies of Israeli aircraft whenever it resolved to strike across the canal.

Golda fumed. She demanded the missiles be removed forthwith, but Nixon, embroiled in his losing war in Vietnam and fearful of a direct confrontation with the Soviets, procrastinated. He showered the prime minister with hopeful reassurances until she succumbed, igniting Begin's outrage. ...

He told the Knesset: "The Egyptians, with the aid of their Russian advisers, have violated the cease-fire in a manner so gross it threatens our security, indeed our very future. They have deployed batteries of enhanced SAM missiles capable of penetrating to a depth of 10 to 15 kilometers over our side of the canal. Hence, whenever Egypt decides to reopen fire - and knowing the realities we have to assume that such a day shall surely come - it will have a decisive advantage over us. Given its expanded missile umbrella, it will be very difficult for our air force to hit back without sustaining substantial losses. This is the reality, and our people must know it."

WITH THIS crescendo of indignation, Begin wound up his speech and stepped down from the podium into a crowd of admirers who showered him with their fervent praise, to which he responded with thanks full of grace. He made his way to the Knesset dining room where Golda was conversing with Yitzhak Rabin, then ambassador to Washington.

"That was some fire and brimstone," hissed Golda derisively as the opposition leader walked by. ...

Begin sat down uninvited. "So how does that square with Rogers cease-fire initiative, which is tantamount to appeasing the Russians and the Arabs?" he asked.

"It squares," said Rabin, sinking his teeth into the argument, "because all along Nixon and Kissinger have known that in the War of Attrition the Soviets and the Egyptians were putting us both - America and Israel - to a test. They know the Soviets are feeding and manipulating the entire Egyptian war effort. That's why I was the one to advocate deep penetration raids into the heart of Egyptian territory, to prove to the Americans that we have what it takes to stand up to the Soviets. Those raids not only changed the balance of power along the fighting front, they tipped the scales of the superpower confrontation in America's favor. And thanks to that it ensures our American arms supplies. But Nixon, nevertheless, has to strike a balance."

TO MAKE his point he extracted from his pocket a sheet of paper, and said, "Let me quote Nixon's own words to me." He read: " 'If it were just a question of Israel against the Egyptians and the Syrians, I'd say, "Let 'em have it! Hit 'em as hard as you can." Every time I hear you penetrating deep into their territory and hitting them hard on the nose, it gives me great satisfaction. But it's not just a problem of Egypt and Syria alone. The other Arab states are watching, too, so we have to play it in a manner that we won't lose everything in the Middle East. We want to help you without harming ourselves by losing the Arabs.'"

Here, Rabin paused, and when he read on there was a touch of triumph in his voice: "'Damn the oil! America can get it from other sources. We have to stand by decent nations in the Middle East. We will back you militarily, but the military escalation can't go on endlessly. We must do something politically.' And that," concluded Rabin, "is the meaning of the Rogers initiative."

To which Golda, brimming with gratification at her ambassador's first-hand analysis, said, "I, personally, don't think any American president has ever uttered such a pro-Israel statement before. Add to that, in return for our accepting the Rogers cease-fire package Nixon has promised me we will not be expected to withdraw a single soldier from the cease-fire lines except in the context of a contractual peace agreement which we would regard satisfactory to our security needs. Moreover, had we not accepted the Rogers initiative we would not be getting any more American arms."

One month later

Syria, like the PLO and PFLP, was a Soviet asset

According to Daniel Pipes "The September 1970 war between the PLO and the Jordanian government was the decisive event in Asad's rise to power. Jadid sent Syrian ground forces to help the Palestinians but Asad refused to send air cover. The defeat of Syrian armor precipitated Asad's bloodless coup d'état two months later."

At the end of September, Egypt's Nasser died.
(PBS: Yom Kippur War 1973: The Egyptian Revenge)

According to Israeli historians Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, in May 1971

A declassified tape from the Nixon Oval Office, recently published by Craig Daigle, recorded Rogers as reporting to the President that Sadat had promised him: "If we can work out an interim settlement… I give you my personal assurance that all the Russian ground troops will be out of my country at the end of six months. I will keep Russian pilots to train my pilots because that's the only way my pilots can learn how to fly. But in so far as the bulk of the Russians--the ten or twelve thousand--they will all be out of Egypt within six months." Nixon indeed instructed Rogers to take steps to ensure that end, including a delay of arms deliveries to Israel. For Sadat, this was one immediate payoff for re-establishing some leverage in Washington.

But, by September 1971, the USSR made Nixon an almost identical offer. A newly declassified transcript shows that on his visit to the White House, Gromyko said, on direct instructions from Brezhnev and apparently referring to Kissinger's "indiscretion":

Gromyko: Some time ago you expressed interest of, I don’t know, Egypt, about our presence there -- our military presence.

Nixon: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Gromyko: In a sense we are present there -- in a sense, North of Cairo certain personnel and in connection with a full understanding on the Middle East, we are ready to agree not to have our military units there. We would leave a limited number of advisors for purely advisory purposes

Although it may be tinged with some retrospective apologetics, there is adequate evidence that the Soviets were already seeking a way to withdraw their regular units from Egypt, whose presence there they had never acknowledged (hence Gromyko's hesitation in confirming it). The financial burden of keeping them there was mounting; the ceasefire of August 1970, and its successful violation by moving the Soviet SAM batteries to the canal bank (this is what so enraged Begin at Meir's aceptance of the Rogers plan), had largely accomplished their mission; and Moscow too considered a lower profile in Egypt to be politically preferable. Both the Egyptians and the Soviets were thus using the classic negotiating ploy of offering as a concession a move that one intends to make anyway, and trying to extract some concession in return -- in the case of the Soviets, also at the global level.

Avner writes that it was "under the umbrella of [those Soviet] SAM missiles [that] Egyptian armies massively crossed the Suez Canal" in October 1973

(BBC/CNN: The Cold War)

Narration: Sadat needed the arms. He was planning to end the uneasy peace.

Interview: Mohamed Sid Ahmed, Egyptian journalist, Al Ahram

"He wanted to go to war -- he needed to go to war. He felt he couldn't do otherwise. He considered that negotiations were impossible without some heating of the whole process -- I mean, some shock therapy."

(Al Jazeera: Cold Peace)

As the Camp David agreements were being discussed, the Shah of Iran's government was overthrown by, as the Shah put it, and "unholy alliance" of Islamic extremists and communists. Sadat had this to say

Farah Pahlavi's website says

On January 16, 1979, the Shah and the Empress left Iran for an exile which was thought to be only temporary. At a strike-ridden and empty airport, in presence of only a restricted group of loyalists and Prime Minister Bakhtiar, the sovereigns left by plane for Assouan in Egypt. The Shah could hardly keep his tears. The Queen had taken tranquilizers to hide her deep sadness. President Sadat and his family welcomed them with profound friendship. It was the beginning a painful and long wandering which would take them in succession to Morocco, the Bahamas, Mexico, the United States, then Panama and finally Cairo.

On February 11, 1979, Khomeyni took power and a death warrant against the Shah and his entourage was iussued. It was a condemnation which extended to all those who would give them hospitality or help them. The Shah and the Shahbanou were obliged to leave the country without a definite destination for no land of haven had been suggested. Upon the intervention of the United States, the Bahamas Islands accepted to grant them asylum for only three months, on the condition that the Shah would refrain from taking any action or make any declaration. They went later on to Mexico, where the health of the Shah who had cancer, rapidly deteriorated. An operation becoming necessary, the United States, for humanitarian reasons accepted under the condition that the surgical intervention would take place in New York. This action provoked the wrath of the Iranian authorities. They requested the prompt extradition of the sovereign and enforced they demand by taking hostage the personnel of the American embassy in Tehran. Despite urgent medical needs, the Shah and the Shahbanou were forced to leave New York for Texas, until a new country of asylum could be found.

That country was Panama, where again the Iranian government exerted considerable pressure to obtain an extradition. The Shah was in dire need of a new surgical operation, but after having accepted American surgeons to operate the Shah on its territory, Panama recanted. ... At that time, President Sadat asked the Shah to hurry and come to Egypt. The sovereigns departed for Cairo on March 23rd 1980 ... the Shah and the Shahbanou landed on Egyptian soil where President Sadat greeted them with utmost warmth, friendship and fraternity. In Cairo, they were able to see their children who had been studying in the United States and from whom they had been separated.

The Shah passed away in Cairo's Maadi hospital on July 27, 1980. President Sadat organized official if not national funerals. The Shah's coffin, covered with the Iranian flag, was transported on a canon barrel with full military honors.

(In this photo: Former President Nixon, the only U.S. dignitary at the Shah's last rites, walks in funeral procession with the late King of Iran's family and Egyptian President Sadat)

Nixon was furious with the State Department, with other governments who declined to send delegations, but particularly with Carter, whose behaviour during the Shah's wandering exile he had yet to forgive. To a crowd of waiting reporters, he pronounced Carter's handling of the Shah "one of the black pages of American foreign policy history." It was "shameful" said Nixon, that the Administration didn't even have the grace to point out that he had been an ally and a friend of the United States for 30 years." He paused to glare at the journalists. Then he added "I think President Sadat's guts in providing a home for the Shah in his last days at a time when the U.S. turned its back one one of its friends is an inspiration to us all."

(Excerpts from "Exile," a book on President Nixon by Robert Sam Anson - Simon & Schuster . New York. )

It was Ronald Reagan who was President during Sadat's last year. He wrote in his memoirs

A few days later, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to Washington for a state visit. In the Oval Office, I revealed our plans for the maneuvers (in the the Libyan gulf, in response to Qaddafi's harassment of the US Navy's Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean). Before I could finish, he almost shouted: "Magnificent." Sadat was a very likable man with both a sense of humor and a sense of dignity, and he had a good grasp of events and personalities in the Middle East. He was a staunch ally of the United States and also a courageous statesman whose efforts to achieve peace with Israel had isolated him from most other Arab nations. As had Jimmy Carter, I regarded him as a giant figure in the Middle East and thought he might hold the key to resolving that region's long and bitter struggle between Arab and Jews.

During his visit, Sadat had other things on his mind besides the difficult task of resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute. Terrorists and radical Muslims who were allied with Qaddafi and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in trying to create an Islamic fundamentalist state were trying to subvert his government and were making significant inroads in neighboring Sudan and Chad. The goal of Libya and the fundamentalists, Sadat said, was to remove him and impose a government in Egypt modeled after Iran's fundamentalist regime. The Soviet Union, he said, was working hard to gain influence over the Islamic fundamentalist movement and was using Libya as its surrogate in the region, supplying it with large amounts of arms that Libya transferred to terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere. In response to indications that Libya was building up hostile forces along its border with Egypt, we had agreed to give limited technical assistance and other support to Egypt if Qaddafi did attack.

I assured him we would continue doing everything we could to help Egypt, and as he left I had a good feeling about the visit. That night, writing in the diary, "I'm encouraged that between us, maybe we can do something about peace in the Middle East." ...

Just two months after Nancy and I said good-bye to Anwar and Jehan Sadat at the White House, I was awakened by an early morning call from Al Haig. He told me Sadat had been shot, but was expected to live. Several hours later we learned he had died instantly, assassinated by Muslim fundamentalists. I had to continue my regular schedule that day, but it was very difficult. The news had hit Nancy and me like a locomotive: we had spent only a few hours over two days with the Sadats, but felt we had formed a deep and lasting friendship with them. Now, suddenly, this great, kind man filled with warmth and humor was gone; it was an enormous tragedy for the world and a terrible and painful personal loss for us.

A few hours after we got news of Sadat's death, I watched Muammar al-Qaddafi on television. He was almost doing a jig, gloating over Sadat's death while Libyans danced in the streets. We discovered that even before Sadat's death was confirmed, Qaddafi had gone on the radio to call for a holy war on behalf of Islamic fundamentalism - propaganda material tied to Sadat's murder that had to have been prepared before the shots were fired in Cairo. He had to have known in advance that Sadat was going to be assassinated. As I prayed for Sadat, I tried to repress the hatred I felt for Qaddafi, but I couldn't do it. I despised him for what had happened in Cairo.


Avner writes that at 4 p.m. on October 7, 1981 "Reagan and his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, were sitting under a portrait of Thomas Jefferson which dominated one wall of the Oval Office" when Reagan "haplessly confessed, 'Al, I have a problem. My security folks won’t let me attend Anwar Sadat’s funeral. They say it’s far too risky. Got any ideas who might go in my stead?'"

They were ruminating over the assassination the day before of the president of Egypt, and Haig, a veteran soldier with a trim carriage, chiseled nose, firm chin and silver bristled hair, pushed his bottom lip forward in thought, and proffered, “How about authorizing me to lead a delegation of all the former presidents – Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon? For the Egyptians, their presence at the funeral would be an uncommon mark of respect.”

Reagan popped a jelly bean into his mouth, and mused, “Jerry, Jimmy and Dick – what a grand idea. I’ll ask them personally,” and he instructed his secretary to put him through.

A day later, "In honor of Anwar Sadat’s funeral, the 37th, 38th and 39th presidents of the United States boarded their once familiar Air Force One." All three Presidents attended the funeral, and all three spoke in his honor.

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