Thirty-one years have gone by since the Yom Kippur War, yet there are still occasional new revelations about the conflict. Henry Kissinger's telephone calls during the war, the transcripts of which appear in his book, "Crisis: The Anatomy of Two Major Foreign Policy Crises," have produced such a revelation.
In the book, Kissinger divulges that the Egyptian president at the time, Anwar Sadat, made contact with the United States on the very first day of the war, through a secret intelligence channel, even though the two countries did not have diplomatic relations.
The significance of the secret move is that the Egyptian leader effectively betrayed his partner in the war, Syria. Even earlier, in discussions preceding the war, Sadat did not tell President Hafez Assad - who was expecting a broad military strike - that his aim was to seize no more than a tiny area in Sinai and not to launch an all-out campaign toward the border with Israel. If Sadat had told the Syrians his plan, they might have changed their minds about the joint war. Kissinger writes that no one understood initially that, in Sadat's view, the war was intended to bring about negotiations between the sides with a different balance prevailing between them.
By making immediate contact with Washington, Sadat also acted behind the back of the Soviet Union. Moscow was then lobbying other Arab countries to join the war against Israel. Kissinger relates that Moscow also approached both King Hussein of Jordan, who reported the overture to Washington, and the president of Algeria. If the Soviets had known about Sadat's true plan, they might have thought differently about supplying arms to Egypt during the war.
The Americans, too, kept Sadat's move secret. If it had been leaked to Israel, it would have certainly made it public right away in order to undermine the relations between Sadat and Assad and to cause a rift in Sadat's relations with the Soviet Union. However, the secret was kept, and Israeli intelligence did not get wind of it.
According to Kissinger, the message Sadat sent Washington on the first day of the war bore the title, "Conditions for stopping the war." Sadat wrote that he was not interested in intensifying the fighting and did not want "to widen the confrontation." Kissinger wrote that he understood, from Sadat's note, that he was effectively inviting the United States to take control of the postwar peace process.
In addition to the claim of inter-Arab betrayal, it can also be argued that Sadat showed a capacity for strategic thought and foresight. The message, in his name, was signed by his security adviser, Hafez Ismail. In the summer of 1973, Kissinger had received Ismail for an official meeting in Washington, a meeting that was considered a failure by Cairo.
Another subject Kissinger deals with in the book has to do with Hussein's decision to send armored forces to assist the Syrians. The book contains details not previously made public. In the background is the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Hussein rushed to join Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and ended up losing the West Bank. The 1973 war began without Hussein. When the Syrians found themselves under pressure, Assad asked Hussein for help. In regard to the nature of the treacherous relations between the Arab leaders, it should be recalled that three years earlier, the Syrian army had invaded Jordan. At that time, in 1970, Israel, at Washington's request, massed forces on the Syrian border in order to alleviate the pressure on Jordan.
King Hussein wanted have his cake and eat it, too: to assist a "sister" Arab state against Israel but to ensure that Israel would not attack it as a result. According to Kissinger's telephone conversations (known as "telcons"), Hussein first turned to the British prime minister, Edward Heath, asking him to ask the Americans to talk to Israel. Heath explained to Kissinger that they should let Hussein appear to be doing something when he would actually be doing nothing. Afterward, the Jordanians turned directly to the Americans, and Kissinger passed on the request to Israel's ambassador to Washington, Simcha Dinitz.
On October 21, when Dinitz conveyed to Kissinger Israel's negative response, he told the secretary of state that Hussein had made direct contact with the Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir. Hussein told her that he intended to take action against Israel but asked Israel not to react. Israel understood that the moment the Jordanian force would be sent to Syria, control over it would be lost and it would get entangled in the fighting, and therefore rejected the proposal.
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