Long forgotten, but still alive, Henry Kissinger’s recent interview suggested that he has matured somewhat over the years. His initial response during the interview attests to this observation in that he sees no path to negotiation with the Islamic state. “I think it has to be defeated. During the Second World War, nobody said, ‘What is the solution for dealing with Hitler? This is an organization which has engaged in mass murder on television in the killing of prisoners’”.
Now for an insight into the Kissinger of the Nixon-Ford era, one of the finest resources is to be found in historian, Gil Carl Al Roy’s, “The Kissinger Experience – American Policy in the Middle East”. At the outset, we learn that it was no new policy. It was Al Roy’s contention, one of the oldest and least successful US schemes. “Seeking American hegemony and peace in the area by wooing the Arabs with Israeli-held territory” is an old dream in Washington, which has been tried by Secretaries of State from John Foster Dulles to William Rogers.” He asserts that it is a policy that cannot succeed as long as the Arabs remain bent on the destruction of Israel. Of course we now know that the policy continued past Kissinger through Casper Weinberger, Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross, Daniel Kurtzer, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel and Daniel Shapiro. Samuel W. Lewis and Aaron David Miller demonstrated a moderate & more balanced posture towards Israel.
Al Roy thinks that Kissinger was given to believe in the Arab pretense of moderation among certain Arab leaders and was especially vulnerable to Arab propaganda, displaying a timorous assimilationist tendency, morbidly eager to prove that he does not favor the Jews over their enemies. At the outset, Israelis were suspicious of the appointment of a Jew as Secretary of State, particularly for a US government that had shown itself favoring the Arabs over themselves. Was there not the case of the British Herbert Louis Samuel to recall in the earlier period of Palestine? Al Roy astutely recognizes a common Jewish ailment whereby “Jewish anxiety arises from the fact that Jews in high office in the gentile world have all too often felt irresistible pressures to prove their loyalty to their benefactors, sometimes by engaging egregiously against Jewish interests.” There were numerous cases of Kissinger’s behavior to bear expectations of him demonstrating this phenomenon. Henry Kissinger maintained his Orthodox Jewish religion in his youth seemingly for his parents’ sake, willingly discarding it soon thereafter
Understanding Kissinger’s early development provides an insight into expectations of his policies towards Israel. In this, Al Roy contributes much as demonstrated by the following quotations; “He anxiously shunned associations with Jewishness as an adult.” Apparently, only when his mother asked him to do so did he address a group identified with work in Israel, without mentioning Israel. He showed no interest in the fate of three million Jews in Israel “even if they were to perish as a consequence of his policies.” When he took the oath of office, he elected to use the New Testament despite the availability of the Jewish Old Testament and did so “on the Sabbath to boot”.
Contrary to common belief, it was the gentile Richard Nixon and not Kissinger who effected the vital rearmament of Israel’s forces during the Yom Kippur War. For many days of fierce battle and absolute desperation in Israel, it was as if Kissinger did not exist. On the other hand, Nixon specifically ordered Kissinger and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to expedite the transfer of army supplies to Israel. When Schlesinger provided him with an assessment of Israel’s military needs, he instructed him to double it. Golda Meir credited Nixon with having saved Israel in 1973 by ordering a massive arms airlift to Israel, while war still raged. In particular, Nixon overruled Kissinger on the airlift.
Kissinger’s behavior evoked feelings of mistrust manifesting itself in one of the largest demonstrations outside the Israeli Prime Minister’s office in the fall of 1974. Typical signs urging the exalted American guest to “go home “and “burn oil, not Jews” were visibly displayed. Given that some reports indicated that he had actually held up American arms deliveries to Israel to make a clean, lightning victory possible enraged a segment of the populous. Could this man be an honest broker? “But there lingers, on the one hand, , the incredulity that a Jew, indeed one who has experienced some of Hitler’s persecution of Jews and lost some relatives to his gas chambers, would be able to sell out the Jewish state.”
With the turn of events, Kissinger did his utmost to bring the war to a halt. He hoped that a more vulnerable Israel would be significantly compliant with his overall diplomatic designs to bring peace to the Middle East whilst effectively minimizing Soviet action. He did succeed in restoring to the Arabs territorial losses in a war they themselves had started, freedom for Sadat’s Third Army that had been in a trap; the whole bridgehead on the west bank of the Suez Canal pointed at Cairo, the whole length of the west bank of the Canal to a depth of some ten miles – all this from being on the brink of a disaster prevented by him.
History demonstrates a certain coincidence with Kissinger’s emergence on the scene towards the conclusion of the Yom Kippur War. Within 2 days of taking office, at an address to the UN, he spoke of America’s “special obligation” in the search for a Middle East settlement emphasizing preparedness to use US influence to that end. Speaking to Arab delegates, he declared, “the US understood the Arabs concern over the current Middle East stalemate” while three years later he said, “The US is committed to defend Israel’s existence, but not Israel’s conquests.”
Dr AlRoy’s astuteness is expressed in an understanding of the world of Islam which eludes the US State Department. “Orientalists have long agreed that the roots of Arab antagonism to the Jewish state are deep and intractable.” With some modifications, Henry Kissinger differed little from the positions prescribed by his predecessor as documented in the Rogers Plan, one that continues to this day. While it has assumed many titles, now it is trendy to refer to it as “The 2 State Solution”. In fact, what it amounts to is “flogging a dead horse”, one in which Israel is expected to trade territory to the Arabs for the elimination of incorrectly labeled “settlements” and “occupation” for a vacuous peace.
We are indebted to Gil Carl AlRoy for his outstanding 1975 book which extends beyond Kissinger by explaining valuable background information on the Arab-Israel conflict which has not lost any relevance with time.