from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

Middle East History: 1973 and Now

July 22, 2011 11:46 am (EST)

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When you share a printer with others in your office, you also tend to share interesting news items and reports. Such was the case with my CFR colleague, Michael Levi, and I with the State Department’s just-released Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973.

On his CFR blog, Michael posted his favorite finding from the 1,278 page historical record. During an October 1973 briefing from the Deputy Defense and Treasury Secretaries on oil policy, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger asked aloud: “Does anyone here understand what these two are talking about?”

The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, which began 150 years ago and now comprises over 400 individual volumes, is the “official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions,” according to the State Department’s Office of the Historian. Published thirty or forty years after the events covered, they contain analytical memos, transcripts of conversations, and policy instructions, very little of which is deleted for classification reasons. Moreover, the FRUS series explains how much of a document has been excised, with editor’s notes, such as “less than one line not declassified.” To learn more about the "official" versions of the history of American foreign policy visit here and browse.

After reading the latest FRUS release for several hours, I share my five favorite findings:

Memorandum of Conversation, Washington, February 13, 1973, 11:30 a.m.

President Richard Nixon: We are Israel’s only friend. Israel has only contempt for the UN….The Middle East will never be totally settled. We would like to get started on something, though, and the private channel is best. Because if the public channel were to fail, it would be catastrophic. We’ll go public in the channel only when we know it will succeed. (p. 50)

Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting, Washington, October 6, 1973, 7:22–8:27 p.m.

Mr. [James] Schlesinger [Secretary of Defense]: What if Qadhafi goes on a rampage?

Mr. Kissinger: Then we’ll get the Marines moving. (p. 335)


Minutes of Bipartisan Leadership Meeting, Washington, November 27, 1973, 8:30 a.m.

[Senator Michael] Mansfield: Do Egypt and Israel have the capability to make nuclear weapons?

Kissinger: Israel has the capability to make small numbers. Not Egypt. And we don’t think the Soviets have put them in. Should Israel brandish nuclear weapons, the Soviets would counter it and it would be very dangerous for Israel. (p. 993)

Paper Prepared in the Defense Intelligence Agency, Washington, undated [probably October 1973].

Israeli Nuclear Threat. Assuming that Israel has or is soon to acquire nuclear weapons, their threatened use against such targets as Arab forces, cities, ports, holy places, and the Aswan High Dam could serve to deter future armed attacks. Such an avowed Israeli policy would occasion world-wide opposition. The US would, therefore, find it extremely difficult to associate itself with such an Israeli policy. Meanwhile, the Arabs might be willing to attack, despite the deterrent threat. They might assume that (1) Israel will not carry out the threat, (2) they could succeed even if the Israelis used nuclear weapons, perhaps with the aid of other unconventional means of their own such as chemical or biological weapons, or (3) they would reap important benefits from the resultant international reaction should Israel carry out its threat. Any deterrent effect of such an Israeli threat would, of course, be diminished should the Arab states themselves acquire nuclear weapons. (p. 732)

Page 1001, footnote 2:

Schlesinger discussed the use of military force to secure Middle East oil during bilateral meetings on energy issues with members of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group, November 5–8. (Telegram 4914 from The Hague, November 8; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files) According to a U.K. account of a November 15 meeting between Schlesinger and Ambassador Cromer, Schlesinger again stated that the U.S. Government seriously contemplated using military force to secure oil fields in the Middle East, including launching airborne troops to seize fields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi, but only as a “last resort.”

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