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Richard Nixon Administration: Foreign Relations of the United States Volume XXV - Arab-Israeli Crisis and War


The editors of this volume sought to present documentation that explains and illuminates the major foreign policy decisions taken by the administration of Richard M. Nixon toward the Arab-Israeli dispute in the months preceding, during, and immediately following the October 1973 War. Documentation in this volume includes memoranda; records of discussions both within the U.S. policy-making community, as well as with foreign officials; cables to and from U.S. diplomatic posts; and papers that set forth policy issues and options, and which show decisions or actions taken. The emphasis is on the process by which U.S. policy developed, and the major repercussions of its implementation rather than the details of policy execution.

This volume covers an important period in the history of the U.S. engagement with the Arab-Israeli dispute. The October 1973 War represented not only a renewed clash of Arab and Israeli forces, it ignited an energy crisis brought on by an Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) oil embargo against the United States, and led to the threat of a direct superpower confrontation. The war also prompted the United States to undertake an unprecedented role in the pursuit of a negotiated settlement to the dispute.

At the beginning of 1973, the Middle East was in a state of diplomatic and military stalemate. There had been no overt armed clash of Arab and Israeli forces since the August 1970 ceasefire which ended the three-year Egyptian-Israeli War of Attrition and, with the exception of the Jordanian crisis the following month, no major event had occurred that disrupted the region’s strategic status quo in over two years. Moreover, efforts toward a diplomatic settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute during President Nixon’s first term, such as the Jarring mission and the Rogers Plan, had had little success. Even Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s decision to expel Soviet advisers from Egypt in July 1972 did not have an immediate effect on the stalemate. During his first term in office, Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, had been preoccupied largely with ending U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War, the burgeoning rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China, and pursuing de´tente with the Soviet Union. Yet both Nixon and Kissinger were aware of the importance of the Middle East to U.S. national security—economically, politically, and militarily—and, with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973, sought to launch a new diplomatic initiative for peace in the Middle East during Nixon’s second term.

In order for this new initiative to succeed, Nixon’s foreign policy team needed to confront the legacies of the 1967 war. The first third of this volume, covering January to October 1973, documents the Nixon administration’s efforts to break this diplomatic and military impasse while seeking to prevent simmering tensions from instigating renewed hostilities. Within this context, Washington attempted to address Israel’s continued insistence upon Arab recognition, direct negotiations, and security assurances as preconditions for its withdrawal from the territory it occupied in June 1967, territory which it considered necessary to act as a buffer against future Arab attacks. On the other hand, U.S. policymakers also had to grapple with Arab dissatisfaction toward a status quo that, from the Arab perspective, placed Israel in a dominant position. Indeed, Sadat had concluded by 1972 that military action was necessary to restore Egyptian honor and, more importantly, prompt U.S. diplomatic intervention, all with the ultimate aim of bringing about a peace settlement acceptable to the Arab states. Ultimately, the Nixon administration saw the conflict as part of the Cold War struggle; any move to bring the Arab states and Israel to a negoti ated settlement needed to take into consideration the Soviet Union, whose role in the region had risen significantly in the years since 1967.

The core of this volume is U.S. diplomacy during the course of the October 1973 War itself, the outbreak of which, following the attack by Egyptian and Syrian forces on Israeli positions in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights on October 6, 1973, presented the United States with a number of profound and, at times, conflicting concerns. In a strictly regional context, the October 1973 War pushed the Nixon administration to weigh Washington’s historic commitment to the security of Israel alongside a desire to avoid an irreparable rift with the Arab world, especially Arab states such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia with which the United States had generally maintained good relations. Concurrently, the Nixon administration was compelled to address mounting concerns that the Soviet Union might exploit the tensions in the region, a prospect that would hamper, if not wreck, its pursuit of East-West de´tente. Within weeks, the shifting tide of the war against the Egyptians pushed the superpowers toward a military confrontation of their own. U.S. policymakers sought to prevent the war from triggering a wider, more destructive conflict that would shatter the regional and global power balance. The volume provides extensive documentation of the high level contacts between Washington and officials of the belligerent countries, the United Nations, and the Soviet Union. Due to the increasing impact of Watergate on Nixon and many of his advisors, Kissinger undertook the management of the conflict and efforts to bring about a negotiated ceasefire. The volume also illustrates the actions undertaken to initiate and execute the massive military re-supply of the Israel Defense Forces following the IDF’s heavy losses during the early stages of the war, the internal institutional politics of the airlift debate, and the largely unsuccessful diplomatic push to win the support for U.S. policy aims by Washington’s Western European allies.

The volume concludes by documenting events during the immediate postwar period. Following the October 1973 War, the quest for peace between Israel and the Arab states became a top priority for U.S. policymakers. Kissinger’s late October trip to the region, his first as Secretary of State, confirmed the U.S.’ growing postwar position as mediator in the Arab-Israeli dispute, one which would continue through the remainder of the 1970s. Yet Washington’s decision to actively aid the Israeli military presented a new set of diplomatic challenges. While the OAPEC oil embargo is documented extensively in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, the political dimensions of the embargo and the Nixon administration’s immediate response to them are presented here.

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Sources: U.S. Department of State