Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Without Malice and Without Hypocrisy": Israel's Reaction to the Death of Egyptian President Gamal Abd el-Nasser, 28 September 1970

45 years ago next week, at 21:50 on the evening of September 28, the voice of Vice-President Anwar Sadat told listeners to Cairo Radio of the death of President Nasser. Nasser died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Cairo, after mediating a ceasefire at the "Black September" crisis in Jordan in a summit attended by both King Hussein and Yasser Arafat. He was only 52, and the news stunned the people of Egypt and the entire Arab world. The journalist Mohamed Heikal, who was with him when he died, described the shock and disbelief of his colleagues and the people of Cairo who poured out of their homes and made their way to the broadcasting station to find out if the news was true. Millions flocked to the city for his funeral, which took place on 1 October, and turned into a mass demonstration of support for Nasser during which the authorities lost control of the crowds (see video clip).

Nasser's funeral procession, 1 October 1970
Photograph: Wikimedia
A State Department report the day before described the crowds which had gathered at Nasser’s house and in the streets as being in a state of public mourning. The armed forces, according to the press, had been placed on alert, although the government was apparently preoccupied with the immediate problems of the succession and preparations for the funeral. A long list of world leaders were expected to attend. The report noted that "although most Israelis have long held that Nasser’s departure from scene would be a boon to Israel, there is some ambivalence in initial reaction. While stressing Nasser’s hostility to Israel, many newspapers and individuals recognize he was a powerful stabilizing force whose passing opens the prospect of greater instability and uncertainty." (See Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), volume 24,no. 333).

After he nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 and the Anglo-French attempt to topple him failed, Nasser became  an anti-colonial hero in the eyes of  the Arab world and many of the developing countries (the "Third World"). However, in the 1960s Egypt became embroiled in an unsuccessful war in Yemen and was defeated in the Six Day War of 1967. Because of his threats to destroy Israel, many Israelis saw him as a latter-day Hitler. In 1969, Nasser started the War of Attrition on the Suez Canal. Shortly before his death, he agreed to the caesefire plan of US Secretary of State William Rogers, about which we wrote here in August. 

Here we present a collection of documents in Hebrew, including two specially declassified government meetings, on the reaction to Nasser's death in the territories occupied in 1967 and among the Arab citizens of Israel and the question of succession in Egypt (see our Hebrew blog). We also describe the reaction of Israel's president Zalman Shazar, whose words of sympathy for the feelings of the Arab citizens aroused public protest, but also expressions of support.
Golda Meir and Zalman Shazar,  March 1969
Photograph: Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office

The Government Meetings on 29 September and 4 October:  Israel Should React "Without Malice or Hypocrisy" (Files A55/5, A55/6)

At the beginning of the meeting on 29 September, Army Intelligence Chief Aharon Yariv surveyed the situation in Egypt (this section has not been declassified). Afterwards, Defence Minister Moshe Dayan put the death of Nasser in the context of the ceasefire with Egypt and the crisis in Jordan. The dramatic changes in Egypt and Jordan might encourage Israel to adopt an attitude of "wait and see", but Dayan felt that it should take the initiative to ensure that the ceasefire would continue.

The ministers, already worried about the effect of "Black September" on the territories, focused on reaction there and among the Arab citizens of Israel. Minister of Police Shlomo Hillel noted the disturbances in East Jerusalem, where all the shops had been closed down and roads were blocked. However the demonstrations were dispersed without difficulty by the police. He described the public in the West Bank and Gaza as a "flock without anyone to turn to," with genuine feelings of shock and grief. There were also some minor incidents among the Israeli Arabs. Hillel was concerned about the day of Nasser's funeral, which coincided with the Jewish New Year, and possible incidents near the Western Wall.

Some of the ministers were willing to allow Arabs from the territories and Israel to go to Cairo for the funeral. Prime Minister Golda Meir favoured allowing expressions of mourning so long as they did not lead to violence, and Minister of Communications and Transport Shimon Peres said the government should show generosity. Golda reported that President Zalman Shazar wanted to make a radio statement on Nasser's death. Tourism Minister Moshe Kol said there was no reason for generosity towards Nasser: his policies were a failure and, while driving out the British and the French, he had let in the Russians. Nasser could have been a great leader but had wasted his efforts on trying to destroy Israel. However, a new ruler in Egypt might take a different line, and Kol agreed with Dayan that Israel should take the initiative. Several ministers favoured an official statement by Shazar or Golda, but Interior Minister Yosef Burg said they should approach the question "without malice and without hypocrisy." Surely the Jewish community of Shushan would not have sent a telegram of sympathy to the family of Haman (who had plotted to destroy the Jews). 

In the end, the government agreed with Golda that neither they nor Shazar should issue any announcement. On 1 October, speaking at Kibbutz Revivim, Golda said that Nasser had not brought any achievements to his people, only war, and she had never understood the claim of the Americans that Egypt could have had a worse leader.

On 4 October, Hillel and Dayan again reported on Arab reactions to the government meeting (along with a long list of other items). Hillel said that he had approved a request by the Chamber of Commerce in East Jerusalem to organize prayers and a procession on the day of the funeral, after they had promised to prevent all political demonstrations. To his surprise, they had kept their word. The Communists in Nazareth had also organized a procession which was preceded by a violent demonstration, arrests and a warning to the organizers. In Acre (a mixed town with tension between Jews and Arabs) there was a violent incident. According to Dayan, there were processions in most West Bank towns which he saw as a demonstration of strength and independence by the Palestinians.

On 8 October, the Foreign Ministry issued a summary of events between 24 September and 8 October, much of it devoted to reaction to Nasser's death in Egypt, the Arab world and Israel. It included a special supplement on Anwar Sadat, who was chosen by the ruling party, the Arab Socialist Union, as its candidate for president on 5 October. The document, which contained some factual errors, portrayed Sadat as deeply loyal to Nasser, "the button on Nasser's jacket," but also noted that some thought him an opportunist. He was described as having "a low intellectual capacity, narrow minded and lacking in independent political ideas". It claimed that Sadat smoked hashish and had two wives, he was a "hawk' on Israel and a right winger in his social views (See file A7062/5).
Nasser and the speaker of the National Assembly Anwar Sadat, 1964
Photograph: Wikimedia
Most observers, inside and outside Egypt, underestimated Sadat and saw him as a stop-gap candidate. For example Henry Kissinger's report to President Nixon "Why Sadat?" explained that “as a member of Nasser’s original revolutionary group, and because Nasser named him Vice President in December 1969, Sadat brings an aura of legitimacy and continuity to the succession and to the presidency. He lacks, however, Nasser’s charisma and as a perennial figurehead in the government ... he also lacks widespread respect and authority. Sadat’s greatest claim to leadership would seem to rest on his extreme nationalism, his long record of loyal, if unspectacular service to Nasser and to the apparent fact that he is acceptable to both pro-Soviet and more moderate factions. (See FRUS Vol. 24, editorial note, pp. 554-555)

Shazar's Intervention

Shazar had shown himself in the past as a humanist sensitive to the feelings of others, even ideological opponents or enemies. He wanted to show respect to the grief of the Israeli Arabs but the government had stopped him. On 20 October 1970, Shazar held the traditional reception during the Succot (Tabernacles) holiday in his Succah at the president's residence. He made a statement to a group of leaders of the Arab community which was also broadcast by Israel Radio:

"I don't know if I will be very popular if I say this: I cannot forget that a short while ago there was a very great loss in the Arab world and the Muslim world, which caused a great deal of grief to a large number of people. If I knew that my sympathy in their grief would be accepted by the Egyptian people and the Arab people with understanding, and would not be seen as something hypocritical, I would have expressed my sympathy on the day of the funeral."

Many Israelis protested against Shazar's words, among them citizens who wrote letters to the president (See File PRES 170/7). Elan Frank, then a boy of 14 ,who later became a helicopter pilot in the IAF and a producer of documentary films, was one of them. He compared Shazar's words to a statement by the Allies that they sympathized with the loss of the German people after the suicide of Hitler. Hagai Ginsburg from the religious kibbutz Kvutzat Yavne wrote of his pain at the action of the president, who had not sent him a letter of sympathy when his brother Azariah was killed by a mine in the Golan Heights in August 1970. (We thank Elan Frank and Hagai Ginsburg for permission to use their letters.)

Caricaturist "Dosh" in the Jerusalem Post newspaper showed an Arab delegation coming to the President's Office to mark the end of the period of mourning for Nasser.
Courtesy of Michael Gardosh
In Israel, the president is largely a ceremonial figure who has few official responsibilities.  The journalist Yoel Marcus argued in an article in Ha'aretz newspaper on 26 October that Shazar had exceeded his authority as defined in the "Basic Law: The Presidency." Over 4,000 Israelis had died in the wars between Egypt and Israel under Nasser's rule, and Shazar should not have expressed himself on the subject without advance permission from the government. Professor Meir Plessner, who taught Oriental Studies at the Hebrew University, sent a letter to the editor of Ha'aretz with a copy to Shazar, justifying the president and defending his right to act beyond the letter of the law.

Controversial journalist and Knesset member Uri Avnery also went out of his way to praise Shazar for his stand and regretted not supporting him for a second term as president in 1968. Avnery wrote in his HaOlam Hazeh magazine on 28 October that Shazar did not praise Nasser, but showed "understanding of the feelings of the other side, of the masses of a people which is still in a state of war with us at this moment."

In January 1971, the Israel Information Centre published a booklet on Nasser, which included an interview with Professor Shimon Shamir (later Israeli ambassador in Cairo). Shamir argued that Nasserism as a movement had reached the end of the road. Nasser's espousal of Arab nationalism and Third World activism had brought only failure to Egypt.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Turning Point to Peace: The First Rabin Government and the Sinai II Agreement, Part 2

Part 2: From Crisis to Resolution and Signing of the Agreement, April-September 1975

For Part 1. see here

For the Hebrew documents, see our blog here

"Reassessment", Israel's Reaction and the Return to the Talks

Ford carried out his threat and announced a complete reassessment of US policy. No new contracts with Israel would be signed and supply of missiles and F-15 planes was held up. Kissinger had promised not to blame Israel for the failure, and he and Ford were careful not to criticize Israel in public. But Dinitz complained to the assistant secretary, Lawrence Eagleburger, that the secretary was giving briefings to journalists on the Israeli government’s intransigence. He said that Israel would have no choice but to defend itself (see File MFA6859/8)). Kissinger’s meeting with a group of pro-Arab experts in Middle East policy, some of them linked to the oil companies, infuriated many American Jews. Kissinger’s emotional involvement in the success of the talks was made clear in his private conversation with Dinitz on 8 April (in the same file), when he said "I treated you [the Israelis] with more trust than I did my colleagues….. I spoke with the three ministers on Friday night as if they were my own brothers." He often claimed that, as a Jew, he could never take any action which would endanger Israel and would resign rather than do so. Yet Jewish critics accused him of irrationality and self-hatred in his reaction to Israel's stand.

The rift with Israel widened further when sections of journalist Matti Golan's book on Kissinger's "Secret Conversations" appeared in the US, although Rabin used the military censorship to prevent publication in Israel. The book showed Kissinger's management of the Yom Kippur war and the disengagement talks as duplicitous and manipulative. Kissinger complained to Mordecai Shalev, the Israeli minister in Washington (see telegram to Allon, File MFA6859/10). He believed that Peres had leaked documents to Golan, and from then on he communicated exclusively with Rabin.

Allon and Eban in turn make the pilgrimage to an angry Kissinger, April 1975
Cartoon by Dosh, courtesy of Miki Gardosh

A series of generals and politicians, among them Allon and ex-Foreign minister Abba Eban, arrived in the US to explain Israel’s stand. The campaign reached its height in a letter addressed to the president signed by 76 senators from both parties, calling on him to make clear that America would not abandon its ally (see Dinitz report, File MFA6859/10). When Ford decided to run in 1976, he realized that he could not afford to coerce Israel. The pressure by the Administration had not caused it to change its stand.

The senators' letter to Ford

Although Congressional and public support for Israel was solid, Dinitz urged the government to take the initiative. The American public did not care who was responsible for the failure of the talks, but it did want to prevent another war in the Middle East. On 28 April he sent a memorandum (in File MFA6859/9) warning against leaving a vacuum in the diplomatic field. If Israel did not make concessions, it would be forced to enter serious talks on an overall settlement. If there was no dialogue with the Americans, they would be free to ignore Israel’s views.  

Breaking off the talks led Rabin's popularity to soar, but also made it difficult to make concessions. Even the Likud supported the decision, and Begin claimed that Egypt’s refusal to agree to end the state of war proved that it still threatened Israel’s existence. However Rabin said that he would prefer an agreement to favorable polls, and Allon tried to restart the talks. The Americans again demanded withdrawal from the passes and a corridor to Abu Rudeis. Allon replied that if Egypt changed its stand, Israel would reconsider. Considering the alternative for a settlement – renewing the Geneva conference with the Soviets – all three parties, including Egypt (see File A271/9) realized that an interim agreement was still the best option.

USS "Little Rock" leads the re-opening of the Suez Canal
Photograph: US Navy

A unilateral move by Sadat broke the stalemate. On 5 June he reopened the Canal in a flotilla led by a US warship. After a warning from a UN official, James Jonah, that Gamasy was nervous about opening the Canal with the IDF so close, and he might reinforce Egyptian troops on the eastern bank (see file A271/9) Rabin made a gesture. He announced a reduction in Israeli troops, armour and guns near the Canal and promised not to deploy missiles in a zone 40 kilometres from it. 
 At a meeting with Ford in Salzburg, Austria,  Kissinger pressed Sadat for concessions. Sadat made a key suggestion: that Americans should man both warning stations in the passes. Their presence would protect Israel against a surprise attack. He also agreed to sign an agreement for three years, and the Americans promised there would be further progress in the peace process in 1977, after the elections.
 Rabin came to Washington to meet Ford, Kissinger presented the idea of US presence in Um Hashiba as an American one. Rabin gladly accepted. It was now his turn to make concessions. He convinced Kissinger that Israel needed the eastern end of the passes for military reasons, not political ones (see file MFA5978/9). But when he showed Kissinger a map with Israeli positions 10 kilometres inside the passes, another crisis threatened. It seemed that again he had misled the president. On 13 June Ford telephoned Rabin and told him that Israel had not moved far enough: "I must say to you , Mr Prime Minister, it is very disappointing. We have developed a very fine rapport...but your present position, I can't justify it to myself or in my saying it to the American people". He urged Rabin to reach a line with Kissinger that could be presented to Sadat.

Rabin, Ford and Kissinger in the Oval Office, 11 June 1975.
 Photograph: Yaacov Sa'ar, Government Press Office 

In Jerusalem Rabin told his colleagues that Ford claimed that he preferred an overall solution at but in fact he was "dying" to reach an interim agreement (see File A7025/5). After Sadat rejected the Israeli position, an angry letter from Ford demanded that Israel make "fundamental decisions". He did not regard standing still as a viable choice (see File A7025/13). The president's demand could not be ignored and even Peres realized that a compromise was inevitable. They agreed on a line that could be presented to Sadat as withdrawal, but would allow Israel to retain its positions based on the eastern slopes of the passes. Peres proposed that US and Soviet forces should hold a square of territory outside the passes but controlling the entrances. Dinitz was sent to present this idea (without the Soviet element) to Kissinger, who was on holiday in the Virgin Islands. If this line was not acceptable  Kissinger himself should propose one. Rabin would not fight to convince the government to adopt a new line unless he knew that the US would approve it. (see Peres' briefing for Dinitz, File A7069/9 and Dinitz' report, File MFA5978/8). Kissinger and Ford would not agree to send US forces to Sinai but they accepted more warning stations. According to Kissinger these were of no military value and the main aim was to allow Peres to present a facesaving formula.

Rabin met with Kissinger in Germany and they settled on the line and a map. A parallel road to Abu Rodeis would be built under Egyptian control. Kissinger would tell Egypt this was the most he could get from Israel. Now Israel also demanded US undertakings and aid in a "package deal" (see File MFA5978/8).

The final shuttle and signing the agreement

 After Israeli and American teams had drawn up a draft of the agreement in Washington, Kissinger arrived for a shuttle, to settle the final details. He was met by right-wing demonstrators who blocked roads and laid siege to the Knesset. By now neither side wanted to endanger what it had achieved for a few kilometres in Sinai, and they accepted arrangements that would have seemed unbelievable earlier. Israelis would operate the warning station under nominal American management. When it proved impossible to build two roads to Abu Rudeis, Israel and Egypt agreed to use the same road on different days. Peres was won over and helped to mobilize public support for the agreement. Sharon became  Rabin's adviser and helped to draw up the lines.

Opponents of the agreement said that the US was buying the government's support for withdrawal.
A "Kissinger dollar" given out at the demonstrations. Private collection

During their arguments in Washington Rabin's obstinacy led Kissinger to call him dishonorable and a "chisler". But it helped him to improve the agreement, which gave Israel major advantages in return for a minor withdrawal.  Kissinger tried to withdraw the US offer for more warning stations claiming that Ford and Sadat were agaisnt them. But ifn fact Sadat had proposed the idea, and Ford told Kissinger before he left that , if needed, he would put the proposal through Congress.Peres insisted that Israel could not trust the UN. If there was a  US station in Sinai in 1967 perhaps the war would have been avoided (see meeting with Kissinger on 22 August, File MFA7032/4)/

In the meeting on 28 August (see File MFA7032/5) Rabin claimed that the Israeli team felt they had gone too far with their concessions, and they had received a "quid pro quo" from America in terms of arms, money and political support, but not from Egypt. Kissinger said that even in a peace treay Israel would give up territory for promises. This was the most that Egypt could give at this stage. The final text on non-use of force was very close to non-belligerency. It was initialled by Rabin and Sadat on 1 September and, after approval by the Knesset, was signed in Geneva by Israeli and Egyptian officals and military representatives on 4 September. The Soviets boycotted the signing and protested sharply against the American presence in Sinai.

The agreement was accompanied by a memorandum of understanding with the US, which was accompanied by a letter from Ford giving qualified support for Israel's position that it should remain on the Golan Heights in talks with Syria. The memorandum also affirmed US refusal to negotiate with the PLO, until it recognized Israel. Another clause said that the agreement would not be linked to progress in talks with other states. Egypt also received secret but vague promises that the negotiations would continue.The US promised at least $2b in aid and arms and guaranteed Israel's oil supply. These incentives, with the proposal for direct US involvement, helped to persuade the rest of the government, the Knesset, and the public, and Rabin himself to take the risk.

The Interim Agreement convinced Sadat that he could achieve his goals through negotiation. He was bitterly attacked in the Arab world, but after a while the attacks subsided. They actually helped to persuade the Israeli public of the importance of the agreement. As Rabin told a group of political correspondents on September 10 (see File A7024/6), they showed the major revolution in Arab thinking involved in giving up the use of force. Sadat was compelling the Arab world to accept Israel. 

Another important achievement was the basis for trust and co-operation created by the talks between the generals and defense establishments on both sides. When Begin came to power in 1977 a new US president was pressing for an overall settlement. Begin was determined to return to Israel's traditional aims – direct talks and a full peace agreement. Nevertheless, his success built on the foundations laid by Rabin and his ministers – the "first peacetime government since 1967 that had proved that it could decide on and deliver territorial concessions".

Rabin and Kissinger shake hands after the initialling of the interim agreement, 1 September 1975

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with the US, 1 September 1975.
Photographs:Moshe Milner, Government Press Office 

Turning Point to Peace: The First Rabin Government and the Sinai II Agreement, September 1975: Part 1

In his memoirs Yitzhak Rabin wrote that President Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem and the peace treaty signed in 1979 "would never have happened were it not for the course his government adopted in signing the Interim Agreement with Egypt", also known as Sinai II. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of the agreement, signed on 4 September 1975 and now almost forgotten. We think it’s time for a new look at the background to this document, one of Rabin's most important achievements in his first term as prime minister.

Yitzhak Rabin, 1 September 1975
Photograph: Ya'acov Sa'ar, Government Press Office
In June 1974 Rabin had replaced Golda Meir who was forced to resign as a result of the interim Agranat Report on the Yom Kippur war. He was seen as a weak prime minister, the butt of the “Nikui Rosh” satire show. Rabin’s rivalry with Shimon Peres, who stood against him in the party leadership election and lost by a small margin, overshadowed his term of office. He was forced to give Peres the Defence Ministry, where Peres followed a hawkish line and supported the Gush Emunim movement which set up unauthorized settlements. Nevertheless Rabin succeeded in his main aim – rebuilding the IDF after the losses of the war with American help. To get this aid he agreed to carry out another step in Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s “step by step” diplomacy, which had already resulted in the separation of forces agreements with Egypt and with Syria, about which we have already written. Kissinger wanted to encourage President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to move into the Western camp, and Sadat wanted another Israeli withdrawal in Sinai. Rabin was strongly pro-American, but he also valued another agreement with Egypt for its own sake. A move which took Egypt out of the conflict with Israel, even without a formal signature on a peace treaty, would break up the alliance with Syria.

Henry Kissinger and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, November 1973
Photograph: Central Intelligence Agency website 

In this publication in two parts, we present a collection of documents, illustrations and maps on the Sinai II agreement , among them some of the minutes of Kissinger’s meetings with Rabin and the Israeli negotiating team, most of them in English. You can see the Hebrew documents mentioned here on our Hebrew blog. The ISA documents give a fuller and more accurate picture of the Israeli stand than the version in Kissinger's memoirs or US documentary collections like Volume 26 of the Foreign Relations of the United States series. The first part focuses on the shaping of the  government’s policy in the indirect talks with Egypt and on Kissinger’s disastrous shuttle in March 1975. The second part describes how the US Administration blamed Israeli obduracy for the failure and carried out a “reassessment” of its policy in the Middle East, Israel’s reaction, the renewal of the talks, and the compromises on all sides which brought about the agreement.

The documents show the personal and the political motives underlying the diplomatic moves:  how Rabin ensured Israel’s security interests and how he and Kissinger found ways to overcome their suspicion of Sadat, who had made many dramatic switches in policy in the past, such as the sudden expulsion of the Soviet advisers in 1972, or indeed the Yom Kippur surprise attack. Many Israelis who still believed Sadat wanted to destroy Israel opposed giving up strategic assets such as the Mitle and Gidi passes in Sinai, with the electronic warning station in Um Hashiba. Nonetheless the government managed to put through the agreement with the help of US guarantees, and its success helped to prepare the way for the peace treaty of 1979.

Part I: June 1974-March 1975, Nine Months of Preliminary Talks and an Unsuccessful Shuttle
Educating Rabin
At the beginning of March 1975 Rabin told the editorial team of Israel’s popular evening newspaper, “Yediot Achronot” that a government which did not seek any chance to achieve peace was evading its moral and political responsibility. Egypt,  the leading Arab state, was the key to peace. “There has been no war between the Arab states and Israel unless Egypt was directly involved in it. The war will not end unless Egypt decides to stop it.” Unlike his foreign minister, Yigal Allon, Rabin did not see the Palestinians as a bridge to peace.

At that time Kissinger was about to arrive in the Middle East for a decisive shuttle between Jerusalem and Cairo. Rabin surveyed the lengthy contacts which led up to the shuttle from the   end of May 1974 on. According to the US documents Sadat and Kissinger met after the disengagement agreement with Syria.Sadat asked if Rabin had "guts like Mrs. Meir". Kissinger said that Rabin did not have "guts" and was more of an intellectual, but he could be "worked on" to move in the right direction. Kissinger told the Israelis about this talk, emphasizing that Sadat was urging him to get things moving. But Rabin was in no hurry to go ahead until the arms and aid promised to Israel after the Syrian agreement had been delivered.
Rabin replaces Golda as Prime Minister, caricature by Shmuel Katz, 1974
The Presidents' and Prime Ministers' Memorial Council, Prime Minister's Office
Courtesy of the Katz family
In September 1974 he reached a deal with President Gerald Ford, who replaced President Nixon on his resignation, that Israel would receive most of the promised aid by 1 April 1975 if it agreed in principle to an interim agreement with Egypt. This deal prevented pressure to renew the Geneva Conference with the Arab states, which had met in December 1973, where an overall agreement would be on the table. 

In the summer of 1974 both Egypt and Jordan were eager for negotiations with Israel. Rabin did not want talks with Jordan, since he planned to bring the National Religious party into his government, which had a majority of 1. The NRP leadership opposed all negotiations on the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). In any case, Rabin did not believe that King Hussein would be the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel. In October 1974 Kissinger visited Egypt for talks with Sadat on the shape of the next agreement. Sadat wanted to move the IDF away from the Suez Canal so it could be opened to shipping. Egypt badly needed the revenue from the Canal  and the oilfield of Abu Rudeis. In return for withdrawal, Israel demanded political concessions from Egypt, specifically termination of the state of war. After Kissinger had rejected this demand, Allon had submitted a list of elements of non-belligerency (in File MFA6858/3) instead. Kissinger now agreed to support them and Sadat agreed to direct talks with Israel, in which he demanded withdrawal from the passes and Abu Rudeis.

Henry Kissinger and Rabin on the balcony of the State Department, 11 September 1974
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office

Defining Israel's Stand: Major or Minor Withdrawal?

Meanwhile the Israeli leadership debated whether to offer a major withdrawal for non-belligerency, or a minor withdrawal for less. Peres'  stance reflected his experience after the 1956 Sinai campaign, when withdrawal was forced on Israel by the US. The assurances given then had proven ineffective in 1967. However, Rabin was supported by the chief of staff, Mordecai “Motta” Gur. Gur called for direct talks with Egypt and unilateral withdrawal, putting a wide buffer zone between the two armies. In 1956 he had commanded a paratrooper unit trapped inside the Mitle Pass. He believed that in case of war, Israel should fight in the open in central Sinai. This would give it time to mobilize and force the Egyptians out of their missile umbrella. He supported withdrawal to the El-Arish–Sharm el-Sheikh defense line, even without non-belligerency. There was also a legal problem: a declaration ending the state of war was normally the first clause in a peace agreement and on its own had no legal meaning. If Egypt agreed, it would be recognizing the legality of Israel's occupation of the rest of Sinai.
Chief of staff Motta Gur and Ariel Sharon standing above the Mitle pass, February 1976
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Governement Press Office 
The Israeli government decided to offer a withdrawal of only 30–50 kilometers without the passes. During Kissinger’s visit, he and Rabin agreed to start negotiations in November and to hold direct talks on steps which would effectively “take Egypt out of the war" (Rabin's talk with Kissinger, File A7045/1). However the timetable was disrupted as a result of the Rabat conference of Arab states, where the Soviet backed PLO was recognized as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile Kissinger told Sadat unofficially about the Israeli proposal and they agreed it was not good enough. Israel must give up the passes and the oilfield. The gap between the two sides seemed wide, but Kissinger had acquired a reputation as a diplomatic wizard who was able to do the impossible. There were encouraging signs that Egypt did want peace – the rebuilding of the Canal cities and the return of 700,000 civilians. Like Golda Meir before him, Rabin used a visit to Teheran to see the Shah as an opportunity to pass a message to Sadat. After he had received hints that Egypt was interested in a separate agreement, without Syria or other Arab states, Rabin asked the Shah to find out if Egypt would agree to direct talks. It seems that the answer was negative (see Rabin's message, File A7028/2).

During the winter of 1974-1975 Allon visited the US twice and put forward Israel’s demands. These included a solution to the problem of oil supply after withdrawal from Abu Rudeis, at a time of rising oil prices and political instability. Unlike the disengagement agreement, which had to be renewed every few months, Allon proposed an open ended agreement to be renewed indefinitely. Israel would resume negotiations on peace after 4-5 years. Ford asked for a definite commitment to leave the passes and the oilfields. Allon replied that Israel’s concessions would depend on Egypt’s stand.

 Kissinger decided to speak to Sadat himself, since each side was waiting for the other to spell out their stand. In February 1975 he planned an exploratory visit. He asked the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Simcha Dinitz for Rabin and Allon’s maximum concessions and their minimum demands from Egypt. Allon instructed Dinitz not to reply, and Kissinger complained he was not being taken into their confidence and was “being set up as a patsy” for the failure of the talks (see telegram to Allon, File MFA6859/2) .

Before Kissinger arrived Rabin told the ABC network that Israel might leave the passes and the oilfield  – in return for a declaration ending the state of war. This was intended as a trial balloon for the public and the Egyptians, but it laid Rabin open to an attack by Opposition leader Menachem Begin and made concessions more difficult later. Kissinger even accused Rabin in a private talk (see File MFA5976/15) of trying to sabotage the US strategy. Sadat might be treacherous, but his treachery could not be overcome by means of a legal formula or the paper guarantees Israel demanded. In the end, the Israeli leaders would have to decide whether to take a risk. 
When Kissinger met the negotiating team of Peres and Allon (see record of the meeting in File A7104/6), Peres too accused Sadat of trying to drive a wedge between Israel and the US. However progress was made on other issues. In Cairo Kissinger was given a list of extreme demands by the foreign minister, Ismail Fahmi, but Sadat agreed to undertake not to attack Israel if it did not attack Syria. Kissinger believed that on his next visit the Israelis would agree to a larger withdrawal if the Egyptian proposal was reasonable. However he was worried about the weakness of the Rabin government, and even more about Syrian and Soviet opposition.
The shuttle which failed
In his memoirs, Kissinger described this trip as “one shuttle too many” and blamed the failure on Peres’ intransigence. The ISA documents show a more complex picture: Rabin too was ambivalent about the agreement. The shuttle took place in a discouraging atmosphere. Kissinger’s mood was grim as the settlement  with North Vietnam, for which he received a Nobel peace prize, fell apart. A North Vietnamese offensive threatened the pro-Western regimes in South Vietnam and Cambodia, and Congress refused to vote money to save them. Ford was seen as a weak president who might not be elected in 1976. In Egypt, the Army, the mainstay of the regime, was restive and the economic situation continued to worsen. The Egyptian press suggested that Peres would make difficulties in order to prevent progress until the election year. The PLO carried out a terrorist attack on the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv, and Ford wrote to Rabin warning him of an attempt to disrupt the talks.
Defence Minister Peres visiitng the scene after the storming of the Savoy Hotel and an explosion caused by the terrorists
6 March 1975. Photograph: Yaacov Sa'ar, Government Press Office 

On 5 March Rabin gave the interview we already mentioned (in File A7025/5)), hoping to persuade the journalists and the public that an agreement with Egypt was in Israel’s interest and not just a response to US pressure. Rabin described the conditions he had set: a formal statement by Egypt implying progress towards peace and renouncing the use of force; practical steps such as demilitarization of  evacuated territory and supervision by an outside body and a fixed duration for the agreement. He admitted that Israel would have to take risks and that Sadat might be deceiving it, but in these matters “there is no insurance policy ….. and one can’t hide behind mother’s apron”.

Rabin was asked if he believed in Kissinger’s good intentions. He replied that the question was irrelevant: Kissinger was the secretary of state and not the Israeli foreign minister. With all his faults, he had done much for Israel. If he were not Jewish, he would be treated with more respect.

On 9 March  Kissinger arrived in Jerusalem and described his talks with Sadat and General Gamasy, a veteran of the war and the previous talks who was now Minister of War. Gamasy, like Gur, proposed moving the IDF away from the canal and a wide buffer zone. But he also wanted an Egyptian advance east of the passes, while Israel demanded that any evacuated territory be demilitarized. The army’s support was vital for Sadat. Eventually Israel agreed that Egypt could advance to the present Israeli line at the western end of the passes, which would be held by a UN force, The two sides inched closer, but each was reluctant to make concessions until the other had spelled out its own. Israel refused to give Egypt a line or map and Egypt would not make political concessions until it did.
Maps of the Sinai I and Sinai II agreements,
Source: Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1975, Library of Congress

The Americans urged Rabin to make Sadat a generous offer since he was not interested in details. An offer he saw as insulting would bring an extreme reaction, but if he felt there was a basis for an agreement he would be flexible. Rabin sent a message to Sadat carried by Kissinger saying that he was trying to understand Sadat’s considerations, but he had to convince his own public that withdrawal was a step to peace. In a meeting with the Israeli team (see File MFA6859/5)  on 14 March Kissinger gave them Sadat’s reply (in the Ford Presidential Library): "The main thing I want Yitzhak Rabin to know is the spirit behind the phrases. My spirit is that we will never have use of power again.” Both parties should declare that they “consider that this conflict will not be solved by military force or power and they will solve it by peaceful means only."

Although progress was made on a declaration renouncing the use of force, Egypt’s demand to 
advance into the passes and Israel’s insistence on retaining the Um Hasheiba station were the main obstacles to an agreement. Rabin faced serious opposition, as ex-generals declared that the IDF must remain near the Canal and Ariel Sharon declared evacuation of the passes a national disaster. Meanwhile Sadat and Fahmi made declarations that not one Israeli soldier should remain in Sinai, and there were troop buildups, and even mobilization of the reserves. Rabin’s popularity rating was 30%, while Peres had 70%. Israeli officials too made extreme statements  (File A271/8).

According to his memoirs, on March 19 Gur warned the government against enshrining the status quo and presented his support for a unilateral withdrawal, since Egypt would end the state of war only if Israel withdrew from all Sinai:
"You cannot get a declaration of non-belligerency from another people while you are on its territory … But we can create a situation where it is not worthwhile for them to go to war, because we will be very strong, and we will be very strong only if we have close long-term relations with the United States … to get this we have to understand and to assist American interests. One can't ask the United States for 1.5 billion dollars a year and insist on every worthless millimeter in Sinai."
 The government did agree to withdraw – but only to the middle of the passes. Israel suggested that both sides have a warning station there. Abu Rudeis would become an Egyptian civilian enclave. Nevertheless the Egyptians refused to allow Israel to keep the Um Hasheiba station. Fearing Egypt’s reaction if Israel rejected its latest proposals, Kissinger decided to use the president's influence. He told Ford that Israel was still demanding non-belligerency and asked him to send Rabin a stern message threatening a "reassessment" of relations with America. After the government meeting he warned that the talks were about to break down and told Rabin and the ministers of the threat. Rabin, who guessed that Kissinger had drafted it, was not impressed (see meeting with the US team on 20 March, File MFA6859/6) .

Sadat still demanded complete evacuation of the passes and control of the road to Abu Rudeis, but Rabin would not recommend that the government accept his demands. An official letter from Ford arrived (in File MFA6859/7), and Kissinger called Dinitz to stop him from passing it on (Dinitz' notes are in File MFA6859/6). However Rabin had already read it to his colleagues and it only strengthened their determination to resist. Although he knew that none of the Israelis apart from Peres thought that retaining the passes was worth confrontation with the US, Kissinger decided to end the talks. After he had visited Masada he compared Rabin and his ministers to the zealots of the Revolt, with their  tragic and misguided heroism. The US would not pressure Israel, but the pressure was inherent in the reality of the situation.

That evening he announced the suspension of the talks. His aides felt that they had been cut short. One of them told David Turgeman of the Israeli embassy that they had discussed symbolic issues and not real ones (report on talk with Robert Oakley, File MFA6859/8 ).  Some of them even wrote to Kissinger and proposed that the US should make suggestions and propose a new line. But Kissinger was eager to return to Washington. He needed a quick agreement to counter the debacle in South East Asia and to show the Arabs he could deliver. He suspected that Israel wanted to spin out the negotiations until 1976 and thought both sides needed shock treatment.

In Washington he told the president that Israel had misled him and praised Sadat’s concessions. Israel was counting on its supporters to withstand the US pressure. In his reply to Ford (File MFA 5977/2) Rabin emphasized Egypt’s intransigence and Israel’s concessions. Israel was still willing to continue its efforts for peace. A day earlier, on 29 March, Sadat made a speech signaling that the negotiations were not over (see report in File A271/9). He announced that Egypt would open the Suez Canal on 5 June, the anniversary of the Six Day War, and renew the mandate of the UN force in Sinai for 3 months. He also announced the return of the bodies of 39 missing soldiers, which Israel had been demanding since the Yom Kippur war. Four months later the parties came back to the negotiating table.  
Defence Minister Peres, the Chief of Staff and the commander of the Southern Front salute during the transfer of the coffins of the Yom  Kippur War dead by the Egyptians, 5 April 1975
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office,