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Leon Hadar

What Would Dr. Kissinger Do?

In 1973, in the midst of the war between Israel and Egypt and Syria AKA Yom-Kippur War then US Secretary State Henry Kissinger helped end that war between Israel and its Arab adversaries, Egypt and Syria. And he then went on to negotiate a historic diplomatic deal between Egypt and Israel that ushered in an era of relative stability and an ensuing Pax Americana in the Middle East.

Dr. Kissinger’s diplomatic success was based on his belief in a gradualist, step-by-step approach that in a way became his leitmotif. His strategic objective was to remove Egypt from the arena of the conflict with Israel by integrating it, like France after the Napoleonic Wars, into the new Middle Eastern US-led order while isolating the radical Arab states then backed by the former Soviet Union.

In the pursuit of these strategic objectives at the end of the 1973 war, Dr. Kissinger managed the delivery of emergency supplies of weapons to Israel after it was attacked by a coalition of Arab states that had almost destroyed the Jewish State, helping to turn the tide in favor of Israel.

But he then went on to avert a total Israeli military victory, ensuring the survival of the Egyptian army by not allowing the Israelis to force its surrender, thus preventing then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s humiliation by a triumphant Israel.

If the latter would have happened, neither Israel nor Egypt “would have been malleable enough to be moulded into the roles Kissinger needed them to play,” writes former American ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, in his Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2021). “The hard-won Egypt-Israel agreements that followed vindicated Kissinger’s conception and his judgement, creating the mainstays of his grand design,” he stipulates.

In a way, US President Joe Biden is facing a somewhat similar strategic reality in the Middle East today. Like in 1973 the Israelis were overwhelmed by surprise attack by an Arab foe that posed threats to its existence, then by Egypt and Syria, today by the Hamas militant group Hamas that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after it had won the Palestinian legislative election a year earlier.

Then US President Richard Nixon following the diplomatic script authored by Dr Kissinger, suppled Israel with the weapons its needed to defend itself against that threat, and even placed America’s nuclear threats under alert after the Soviet Union that had threatened to intervene in the war in order to save Egypt from a defeat by Israel.

Very much the along the same lines, President Biden has reasserted American commitment to defend Israel and deployed two US aircraft carriers as well as other military forces to the Middle East in order to deter Iran and its proxy, the Lebanese Hezbollah group from intervening in the Gaza War.

But like in 1973, America’s support for Israel isn’t unconditional. The Biden Administration has pressed the Israelis to allow humanitarian aid enter the Gaza Strip, and it has also made it clear while it supports Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas, it would oppose any Israeli plan to re-occupy the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, the Americans have also continued to back the idea of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, that would leave in peace side-by-side with the Jewish State, the so-called “two-state solution.” It’s an idea that enjoyed also support among large segment of the Israeli public and the center-left political parties, although it has been rejected by the members of the current Likud-led Israeli government.

From that perspective, the US may be in a position very much like in 1973 to promote a creative diplomatic approach in the Middle East that would build both on Israel’s military strength and the containment of Iran, but that would at the same time position the Americans as the only global power that could help the Palestinians achieve goal of political independence and economic recovery.

Such a plan could be part of an overall Arab-Israeli strategy very much along the lines of the one pursued by Washington before October 7th: Creating the conditions for normalization of relations between the Arab World and the Jewish State as part of an effort to contain the threat from Iran and its regional proxies, one of which, Hamas, expected to be wrecked at the end of the current war. But in the aftermath of the Gaza War, Washington could promote the idea of integrating a Palestinian entity into the evolving Arab-Israeli strategy.

Hence the Biden Administration could revive its plan to normalize the relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, along the lines of the so-called Abraham Accords and integrate into that process a renewed effort to achieve the two-state solution.

In that context, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf States could emerge as a central player in an effort to finance the rebuilding the Gaza Strip and its economy while the Palestinian Authority (PA), a moderate force that controls the West Bank and is in peace with Israel, could replace the Hamas as the ruling power in Gaza, all that as part of a diplomatic initiative that could be embraced by the Arab League.

Indeed, a multinational military force led by Egypt and Jordan could take over control of the Gaza Strip perhaps with the support of peacekeeping forces of the European Union (EU), led by France and Germany, that has an interest in bringing stability to its strategic backyard and in promoting an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

This process could take several years and as part of it, the powers involved could set a date for a free election in the West Bank and Gaza, say, three years from now, following the economic reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, that could create the conditions for turning this territory into a tourist resort and commercial center, as the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had predicted, into the Singapore of the Middle East.

After all, the final Egyptian-Israeli agreement was only signed in 1977. This time it would be driven by an agenda and a vision of peace advanced by the US, of an Israeli state and a Palestinian and integrated into an American-backed Arab-Israeli partnership.

Is it possible that after decades of fighting and bloodshed, the Palestinians and the Israelis are now exhausted, like the Egyptians and the Israelis were in 1973 and are ready to take the long road toward peace? Washington could at least give that idea a try.

About the Author
Leon Hadar is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Middle East Program. Dr. Leon Hadar served as Washington correspondent for The Business Times of Singapore and as the New York and United Nations bureau chief of The Jerusalem Post and The London Jewish Chronicle. He is a contributing editor with The National Interest and The American Conservative, having contributed regularly to The Spectator, and is a columnist and blogger for Haaretz (Israel). He holds three Master’s degrees, one in political science and communication from Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and two from the School of International and Public Affairs and the School of Journalism (where he was the recipient of the Henry N. Taylor Award) at Columbia University where he also received a certificate from the Middle East Institute. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from the American University, Washington DC. He has taught international relations, Middle East politics, and communication at the American University and the University of Maryland, College Park, and was the director of international studies at Mount Vernon College in Washington.
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