It Happened in January

Donald Neff

It was 23 years ago, on Jan. 18, 1974, that Egypt and Israel signed an armistice agreement officially ending their 1973 war. The agreement became known as Sinai I because it was signed in the Sinai peninsula and involved Israel's occupation of that strategic desert. Sinai I had been achieved after a heavily publicized week of shuttling between the two countries by [Jewish] Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who for his efforts was hailed in the U.S. media as the Superman of diplomacy. It was only later that American taxpayers would learn that Sinai I laid the groundwork for the start of unprecedented massive aid to Israel by the United States, which continues to this day.

The aid program to Israel has amounted to the largest voluntary transfer of wealth and technology in history, far more than all American aid given to rehabilitate Western Europe under the Marshall Plan after World War II.

Sinai I was widely hailed in the West as a major diplomatic accomplishment. The Arab world more realistically considered it merely a modest first step in ending Israel's occupation of Arab lands, held since 1967 and some of which remain under Israeli occupation today. Under the pact, Israel agreed to withdraw its forces west of the Suez Canal, thus liberating the Egyptian Third Army, which had remained surrounded by Israeli troops since the October war, and withdraw all its forces back 15 miles from the eastern side of the canal to positions west of the Gidi and Mitla passes. Between the two armies would be stationed a U.N. peace force.

While Kissinger's diplomatic prowess was loudly credited in the United States for Sinai I, it was actually a secret agreement that he signed with Israel that had achieved the breakthrough. This secret commitment foreshadowed what was to become America's huge aid program to Israel. The covert Memorandum of Understanding contained 10 detailed points, the most important being a far-reaching pledge that Washington would be responsive to Israel's defense needs on a "continuing and long-term basis."

The potential massive dimensions of that pledge began to become clear less than two years later when Kissinger, after another highly publicized shuttle between Cairo and Jerusalem, achieved what became known as Sinai II, signed on Sept. 4, 1975. The agreement was especially favorable to Israel, and considerably less so to Egypt. The major article involving Egypt committed that most powerful of Arab countries to abstain from the use of force to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, meaning in the words of scholar Abdel Safty: "Thus, the agreement marked Egypt's military abandonment of its commitment to the right to liberate occupied Arab territories."

For the Arabs, there was the bitter realization that Israel's continued occupation of their territory was against official U.S. policy and the major instruments guiding international civilized behavior since World War II: the U.N. Charter and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Yet it was Israel, not Egypt, that profited far more from Kissinger's diplomacy.

Kissinger made no effort to demand that the occupation end in exchange for the treasury he was about to give Israel. Instead he assured Israel a level of annual aid at around $2 billion for the next five years and opened to Israel a cornucopia of other U.S. assets never imagined by the average U.S. taxpayer. The irony was that the amount of aid was of such magnitude that it allowed Israel to maintain the very occupation that the United States said it opposed.

It goes without enumeration that the staggering amount of money given to Israel would have been of significant impact in helping America address its own domestic problems, especially those in the ghettos of the crumbling cities.

Secret Understandings

Kissinger's series of secret understandings included a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Israel in which he committed the United States to "make every effort to be fully responsive ... on an on-going and long-term basis to Israel's military equipment and other defense requirements, to its energy requirements and to its economic needs." This was made at a time when the U.S. economy itself was reeling under the staggering costs of the oil boycott, which in turn had been imposed as a direct result of Washington's ostentatious support of Israel during the 1973 war.

The memorandum also officially committed American support against threats by a "world power," meaning the nuclear-equipped Soviet Union, and among other things promised:

     *America would guarantee for five years that Israel would be able to obtain all its domestic oil needs, from the United States if necessary.

     *America would pay for construction in Israel of storage facilities capable of storing a one-year's supply of reserve oil needs.

     *America would conclude contingency planning to transport military supplies to Israel during an emergency.

     *America shared Israel's position that any negotiations with Jordan would be for an overall peace settlement, that is, there would be no attempt at step-by-step diplomacy on the West Bank.

     *In a secret addendum to the secret MOU, America promised that the administration would submit every year to Congress a request for both economic and military aid for Israel. It also asserted that the "United States is resolved to continue to maintain Israel's defensive strength through the supply of advanced types of equipment, such as the F-16 aircraft." In addition, America agreed to study the transfer of "high technology and sophisticated items, including the Pershing ground-to-ground missile," which is usually used to deliver atomic warheads.

     *In another secret memorandum, Kissinger committed America not to "recognize or negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization as long as the Palestine Liberation Organization does not recognize Israel's right to exist and does not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338." This language was passed into law by Congress in 1985.

     *The United States would coordinate fully on strategy for any future meetings of the Geneva Conference. Thus, with Israel and the United States refusing to recognize the PLO and with powerful groups within the PLO refusing to accept Resolutions 242 and 338, the stalemate on the West Bank was set in concrete, much to Israel's satisfaction.

     *In a separate secret letter signed by President Ford, the United States promised Israel that it would not put forward any peace proposals without first discussing them with the Israelis. This was a significant concession since it gave Israel, in effect, a direct input to formulation of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

     *In addition, President Ford signed a secret letter promising that the United States "will lend great importance to Israel's position that any peace treaty with Syria must be based on Israel's remaining on the Golan Heights."

For this colossal commitment of U.S. wealth, technology and diplomatic support, Israel agreed to withdraw its forces between 20 to 40 miles east of the Suez Canal. This left well over half of Sinai under continuing Israeli occupation. Israel's major concession was to give up Egypt's oil fields, which lay on the western edge of the Sinai. The withdrawal resulted in Israeli forces being deployed east of the Gidi and Mitla passes, which were turned into observation posts. The United States pledged to set up and pay for stations manned by two hundred Americans to protect both sides from violations. The arrangement replaced U.N. peacekeepers, who Israel opposed as being prejudiced against it even though U.N. reports from the field had proved to be rigorously objective over the decades.

Defense Minister Shimon Peres summed up the benefits to Israel of Sinai II: "The ... agreement [assures] us arms, money, a coordinated policy with Washington and quiet in Sinai ... We gave up a little to get a lot."

Indeed, there is no example in history when one nation granted to another such enormous amounts of wealth and array of commitments as Henry Kissinger's Sinai II agreement. This perhaps helps explain the tantalizing reference to Kissinger in the memoirs of Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister at the time of Sinai II, in which he wrote: "The story of Kissinger's contribution to Israel's security has yet to be told, and for the present suffice it to say that it was of prime importance."

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs -- January/February 1997. Neff's footnotes have been removed from the text that appears above.


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