(L-R) Prime Minister Begin and US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski play a game of chess at Camp David.

In writing history, documents and primary texts are reliably accurate, especially when the researcher has corroborative information from multiple sources. Veracity can emerge by crosschecking sources, whereas using a single source can be problematic. However, if all we have is one shard of pottery from the second temple period, we must settle for it in isolation as evidence of how the pottery was constructed, its composition, use, etc. Unless of course, we are fortunate enough to have a text that describes the pottery piece, and we have the piece of pottery as evidence. When oral recollections are used to bolster the written text, subtle shades and emphatic dimensions provide colorful detail to historical writing. Unlike written records, oral evidence provides vignettes, opinions, hues, suppositions, and sentiments almost always absent in a document. However, oral evidence alone can be misleading. It can be polemical and entirely self-serving.

While collecting archival information for my first book, The Land Question in Palestine 1917-1939 (UNC, 1984), I relied almost entirely on Arabic, English, German and Hebrew source materials—documents, diaries, transcripts of important meetings, dispatches, reams of published data, and nary an oral source. In writing my second major monograph, Heroic Diplomacy: Sadat, Kissinger, Carter, Begin and the Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, (Routledge, 1999), I was able to combine memoirs, diaries, scholarly monographs, and autobiographies with minimal amounts of source items accessed through the Freedom of Information Act, and with a wonderfully revealing set of personal recollections from 84 oral interviews.

Up until the early 2000’s, almost all of our understanding of how Arab-Israeli diplomacy transpired emanated from autobiographies or memoirs. Memoirs or autobiographies by major political leaders – Cyrus Vance, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Moshe Dayan, and Ezer Weizman have dominated the historiography of the conflict. Menachem Begin never wrote a memoir that was published; Moshe Dayan’s memoir was only published in English, and Joe Sisco who worked with Kissinger in the early 1970’s wrote his memoir but never published it. Several Egyptian Foreign Ministers, Ismail Fahmy, Muhammad Ibrahim Kamel, and Butros Ghali wrote their memoirs, capturing their respective views of Sadat and level of disagreement in the negotiating process with Israel. Some diplomats and bureaucrats associated with 1970’s diplomacy wrote wonderful lengthy articles and essays. No person contributed more to shaping our views of the 1970’s negotiating process than did Jimmy Carter. As the center of Egyptian-Israeli diplomacy, he captured public and media attention. Critically, after he left office in 1981, his public presentations and writings reinforced an American-centric dominated view that placed the blame on Israel for not achieving more than an Egyptian-Israeli Treaty. He wrote his memoir Keeping Faith (1982). Over the next four decades, he wrote five additional books and a dozen op-ed articles about the stalemate in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. No sitting or former president was more consumed with resolving the conflict than Carter. His memory of who said what to whom, and what transpired was crystal clear when I had my first three-hour meeting with him about the Camp David talks at Sapelo Island Georgia in the summer of 1982. Over the next decade, Carter’s recollections of the details in the negotiations slowly faded. He constantly relied more and more on what he had written in Keeping Faith as his guideposts for subsequent writings. He repackaged that content with different language and with ever so increasingly strident conclusions about Israel’s Menachem Begin for not moving forward with the negotiations. I learned in the mid-1980’s, after dozens of conversations with him, that an essential factor in his views of Israel rested with the deep sense that “if American Jews had not abandoned him in the 1980 presidential election, he would have defeated Ronald Reagan.”

With this and other revelations, I learned firsthand from Carter that memoirs do not include essential information. It was my experience with him from 1982 through the 1990’s—working at the Carter Center of Emory University and in meeting others in Middle Eastern capitals, Washington and elsewhere—that there were intimate stories and fascinating takes on history to be harnessed if interviews could be arranged with those who participated in the diplomacy. From 1985 onward, I made a conscious effort to assemble my own interviews and other oral evidence. My interviews were with Americans, Egyptians, Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Russians, and UN officials who had been associated with the diplomacy of the 1970’s. Substantive content emerged from each interview. Each gave me permission to use the interviews in research and make them available to others. Commentary on who did and did not get along with whom and why inevitably was revealed: Brzezinski-Vance, Golda Meir-Abba Eban, Sadat and his advisers, and the strained but respectful Dayan-Carter relationship. The interviews revealed which high-level bureaucrats in the Carter administration for example were frozen out of a policy ploy to trick Begin into a concession; the interviews all revealed nuance, color, unfolded marvelous stories, and personal assessments. Once a person started talking and had their memories jogged, wonderful recollections resulted. There were some stunning surprises and eye-opening stories.

After giving a public talk at a think tank in Cairo in January 1993, a rather short man in his sixties approached me and asked whether in doing my research on Arab-Israeli negotiations if I wanted to speak to him. I had no idea who approached me. I told him I had to go to Alexandria for the day and would be back at my Cairo hotel at eight in the evening, “could he meet me then?” He was there promptly at eight and after he introduced himself, we sat with the tape recorder going until 12:15 in the morning. He spoke candidly, and he repeatedly asked if I understood all that he was telling me about Anwar Sadat’s communications with Henry Kissinger in February and April 1973. This incredibly candid interview with Hafez Ismail, Sadat’s National Security Adviser was totally unexpected and remarkable for how I came to understand Sadat’s interest in testing the waters for quiet Egyptian-Israeli negotiations prior to the October 1973 War. Ismail told me about Sadat’s views toward the Soviets and how he disparaged them but had to use them in setting the stage for the October 1973 War. When I interviewed David Korn—who served in Tel Aviv for four years in the late 1960’s, worked at the State Department at the Arab-Israeli desk in the early 1970’s and travelled with Roy Atherton and Cy Vance to the Middle East in the 1977-1979 period—he insisted that I include a story in Heroic Diplomacy about Kissinger’s unrestrained ego. Kissinger standing on the sixth floor of the Sheraton in Damascus in December 1973, just prior to meeting President Assad, unabashedly told Korn, “my experience in the Vietnam talks has prepared me to solve Arab-Israeli differences.”

When he characterized Menachem Begin in his memoir, Power and Principle (1983), Carter’s former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski found Israeli Prime Minister Begin to be a difficult negotiator, but in his interview with me, Brzezinski called Begin “duplicitous,” a term not found in the memoir. Hearing the same conclusions from three ideologically different Israelis, Dan Pattir (media adviser to Rabin and Begin), Shlomo Avineri (Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry for Yigal Allon), and Eliyahu Ben-Elisar, (head of Begin’s office), they expressed their firm belief that Carter’s harsh actions and statements against Israel and the Rabin government in early 1977 helped lead to the Israeli Labor Party’s defeat and Menachem Begin’s election victory in May 1977. Nowhere did I find that conclusion in the Brzezinski, Carter or Vance memoirs. In other words, Carter did not pay attention then to the fact that his public remarks might result in a totally unanticipated political outcome in Israel. Carter would later tell any number of interviewers that he simply did not consider that his public statements would have such a telling impact on Israel, or on the American Jewish community. Blending written sources and oral ones together or using multiple oral sources that corroborate a view has made for me, and I hope for the readers of these interviews, a richer understanding of this diplomatic history. For what it is worth, I am certain that in my work, I only used 30% of the revelations in these more than 150 hours of interviews.

Only in 2010 and afterwards, did thousands of pages of diplomatic records from the 1970s Arab-Israeli negotiations become available: from the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series on the Near East and the conflict, and through Hebrew documents opened at the Israel State Archives (ISA). Anyone who wishes to have access to FRUS or to the ISA material, need only go online. The reality was that by 2010 many of the players in the diplomacy had passed away; all I had from many of them were the transcripts of their oral interviews. Now there were documents to blend with their personal recollections.

What will appear in this section of the website will be some of the 84 interviews that I conducted in writing Heroic Diplomacy. There are an abundance of other materials listed here that include conference proceedings and other interviews housed at institutions and libraries. Three are worth noting here: in 1997, “Sadat and His Legacy Egypt and the World,” was assembled and released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In 2003, “Camp David 25th Anniversary Retrospective” was sponsored by The Woodrow Wilson Center.  And of enormous value are the interviews of hundreds of former US diplomats completed by the the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. These US ambassadors and other State Department officials, unlike most  government officials who worked at the National Security Council, provided interviews that read like play-by-play excursions into the day-to-day decision-making processes, successes and failures of Arab-Israeli diplomacy.

Finally, let me thank the many people who helped assemble the transcript collection over three decades. I am deeply grateful to many of my staff at Emory College and at the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel (ISMI). Special appreciation is extended to Diane Rieger who initiated the first transcriptions, and later Heather Waters, Eli Sperling, Jacob Zack, Michele Freesman and the dozens of our undergraduate student interns who transcribed, read, and copy-edited the transcripts with me. Each student intern exercised great patience in making sense of unknown names, foreign places and sometimes less than easily intelligible accents. The transcripts provided all of us rich content for discussions, source material for Master’s and Honor’s theses, and an occasional lecture. Until now, none of the transcript collection was available for general use. In using the transcripts, all we ask is that one cite the person interviewed, the date of the interview, the full collection name, and the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) where it was found. I hope you enjoy the interviews as much as I have benefitted from them over the years.

Ken Stein, July 2022

Transcript of Secret Talks between Egyptian National Security Adviser Hafez Ismail and US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger

October 6, 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the outbreak of the October 1973 War. From that war, Egyptian President Sadat welcomed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s engagement to fashion separation of forces agreements with Israel.

Hamilton Jordan, Memorandum to President Jimmy Carter, “Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics: The Role of the American Jewish Community in the Middle East,” June 1977

During their first months in office, the deterioration of the American Jewish community's political support for the Carter administration was so severe that Hamilton Jordan, his chief political strategist, suggested a detailed plan to stop the slide. His suggestions were not acted upon; anti-Israeli actions continued, with them adversely impacting Jewish support for Carter's 1980 re-election campaign.

Dayan-Tuhami Meeting Minutes: The Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations

Israeli and Egyptian representatives meet secretly in Morocco to test intentions for direct talks between their leaders, with details of the meetings unknown to the United States.

The Peace Treaty with Egypt: Achievements and Setbacks, Conference, Tel Aviv University

The Shiloah Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University, March-17-18, 1981, Reprinted with permission. Participants included researchers, academics, politicians, and business people.

Peter Evan Bass, The Anti-Politics of Presidential Leadership: Jimmy Carter and American Jews

Peter Bass's Princeton University Senior thesis is the most comprehensive work on a critical topic that befuddled and dominated Carter's entire presidency. Historical context evolves from tepid Jewish support for Carter in the 1976 campaign through ever widening gaps between his administration, Israel and the Jewish community. Carter wanted Middle East policy his way as shaped by Brzezinski. All Israeli leaders chafed at being told what to do, and frequently in public about territorial compromises "they had to make." American Jews who voted reluctantly for him in 1976, did not do so in the 1980. Carter carried that sting with him for the rest of his life. Bass's work is superb; thanks are given to him for giving us permission to provide his thesis here.

Ken Stein interview with Ambassador Hermann Frederick Eilts, Boston, Massachusetts

Hermann Eilts played a pivotal role in representing the U.S. to Egypt and vice versa in the vital 1973-1980 period when Egypt embraced Washington and turned away from Moscow, and made peace with Israel. Eilts knew Egyptian President Sadat as well as any American official in the period. He provides rich detail and vivid insights into Sadat's often mercurial decision-making.

Ken Stein Interview with Simcha Dinitz, Jerusalem, Israel

Ken Stein Interview with Simcha Dinitz, Jerusalem Israel, March 20, 1992 (20 March 1992) Summary of Simcha Dinitz’s Interview about the 1973 October War Simcha Dinitz was Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, 1973-1979 and later held other public policy positions, including chairman of the Jewish Agency. He served Israel during the October 1973 War […]

Ken Stein Interview with Ambassador Ephraim Evron, March 24, 1992 and November 15, 1992, Ramat Aviv, Israel

A life-long Israeli civil servant, Epi Evron was deeply engaged with Kissinger, Sadat, Meir, Rabin, Carter, Begin and others, as Egyptian-Israeli negotiations unfolded in the 1970s. One will find crisp in his interview insightful assessments of personalities, decision-making processes, and colorful vignettes.

Ken Stein interview with Ambassador Gideon Rafael, Jerusalem, Israel 

Gideon Rafael’s contributions to Israeli diplomacy spanned four decades. His recollections are from the 1930s, the end of the 1947-1949 war, unfolding events before the June 1967 war, and his clear criticisms of his government's insufficient response to Sadat’s negotiating overtures to Israel prior to the 1973 War. His life long conclusion: he had hoped that diplomacy would have worked better than it actually did.

Ken Stein Interview with Dr. Harold Saunders, Washington, D.C.

From 1961 until the early 1980s, Harold Saunders was a key US State Department bureaucrat, an enormously capable word-smith. He had his hand in drafting the 1974-1975 ARab-Israeli Disengagement Agreements, Camp David Accords and E-I Treaty. His memory for detail enabled consequential decision-makers to understand the historical context of events and ideas such as 'land for peace,' 'territorial integrity,' 'legitimate rights,' and a myriad of diplomatic promises made spanning multiple presidencies.

Ken Stein Interviews with Ambassador Michael Sterner, Washington, DC

In the 1970s, US State Department Ambassador Michael Sterner was privy to Sadat's preference for step-by-step diplomacy PRIOR to the 1973 October War. He is critical of the Carter administration for being too satisfied with only a bilateral Egyptian-Israeli Agreement.

Ken Stein Interview with Peter Rodman, Washington, DC

Ken Stein Interview with Peter Rodman, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1992 (June 10, 1992) (Permission to publish this interview granted by Peter Rodman, June 1992) Peter Rodman Member of United States National Security Council Staff and Special Assistant to Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, August 1969 to January 1977; staff member on virtually all of […]

Ken Stein Interview with Ambassador Roy Atherton, Washington, DC

Ken Stein Interview with Ambassador Roy Atherton, Washington, D.C., July 16, 1992 (16 July 1992) Alfred Roy Atherton, Jr., participated in U.S-Soviet Middle East negotiations and formulation of Rogers Plan, 1969; Kissinger-Ismail secret meeting in Paris, 1973; mission to Moscow in October 1973 to negotiate UNSC 338; Kissinger Middle East shuttle diplomacy team, 1973-1975;  Assistant […]

Ken Stein Interviews with Dan Pattir, Media Advisor to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel

From 1974 – 1981, Dan Pattir served as advisor on media and public affairs for Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin. He was intimate with the negotiating details and personal relationships that unfolded between Egypt and Israel in that period, attending multiple visits to Washington, the 1978 Camp David talks and subsequent Egyptian - Israeli Treaty negotiations. He concluded that the Carter administration, no matter how hard it earnestly tried, it failed to grasp that neither Egypt nor Israel, were going to allow other Arab states, the Palestinian issue or the US administration ultimately to interfere with their dearly sought bilateral agreement.

Ken Stein interview with Ambassador Moshe Sasson, Jerusalem, Israel

Moshe Sasson spanned four decades in his service to Israel, from the Haganah's Arab Department of Intelligence in the 1940s to being Israel's Ambassador to Egypt in the 1980s. He recollects analytically and in detail his conversations with Arab leaders at Lausanne as well as personal impressions of Moshe Dayan and Anwar Sadat. A tour de force.

Ken Stein Interview with David Korn, Washington, D.C.

(29 October 1992) After learning Hebrew, David Korn rose to become chief of the political section while at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv (1968 to mid-1971). Later, he was office director for northern Arab affairs (1972 to 1975), policy planning in 1977, officer director for Arab-Israeli affairs (1978-1981).  In the interview, David Korn shared […]

Ken Stein Interviews with Tahsin Bashir, Cairo, Egypt

Tahsin Bashir served as spokesman for Egypt and for the Arab League in many capacities from 1963 to 1978. He knew Anwar Sadat intimately, revealing that Sadat kept his own counsel using others to test political and diplomatic options. His long term goal was to reorient Egypt away from Moscow and obtain Sinai's return. Sadat cleverly managed others including Kissinger, Carter, and his advisors.

Ken Stein Interviews with Hanan Bar-On, Jerusalem, Israel

In the 1975-1979 period, Hanan Bar-On served in Israel's embassy in Washington and then for seven years as Director General of the Foreign Ministry. His insights highlight the building strain that evolved between Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin. From an Israeli view point, he recalls how unpredictable Zbigniew Brzezinski behaved toward the Israelis, how flexible Moshe Dayan was in seeking compromises, and how the Leeds Castle, England Foreign Minister's talks in July 1978, established the contours for the successful Camp David negotiations two months later. He sheds important light on the context of the four Egyptian-Israeli agreements: Sinai I (1974), Sinai II Disengagement (1975), the Camp David Accords (1978) and the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty (1979).

Ken Stein Interview with Dr. Eliyahu Ben Elissar, Jerusalem, Israel, November 13, 1992

As a long time confidant of Menachem Begin and involved in the Herut Party, Eliyahu Ben-Elissar was Israel’s first Ambassador to Egypt. He was a staunch supporter of keeping the area of the West Bank – Judea and Samaria under Israeli control. Later he became Israel’s ambassador to France and then the United States.

Ken Stein Interview with former Jordanian Prime Minister Zaid Rifai, Amman, Jordan

Jordanian Prime Minister Ziad Rifai lucidly explains Jordan's role (inclusion and exclusion) in regional politics from prior to the 1973 October War to the late 1980s. His insights of Kissinger's diplomacy and Arafat's unfounded fear of being absorbed by Jordan are as worthy as they are insightful.

Ken Stein Interview with Patrick Theros, Atlanta, GA

From the vantage points of Amman and Damascus in the 1970s and 1980s, Theros heard the sharp political opinions deeply felt about the United States, and the profound anger voiced by Arafat, Jordan's King Hussein and Syria's President Assad for each other.

Ken Stein Interview with Naftali Lau-Lavie, Jerusalem Israel

For years, Naftali Lau-Lavie worked closely with Moshe Dayan. His remarks here focus on Dayan as Menachem Begin's Foreign Minister (1977-1979). He provides sumptuous detail on Dayan's thinking and interactions with the Carter administration as it tried to force a Palestiinian/PLO state on Israel in seeking a comprehensive Middle East Peace.

November 1993, Camp David Negotiations- Discussion with Hermann Eilts, Samuel Lewis, William Quandt, Hal Saunders, Dan Kurtzer and Ken Stein, Hempstead, NY

“Camp David Negotiations,” in Jimmy Carter: Foreign Policy and Post-Presidential Years, Herbert D. Rosenbaum and Alexej Ugrinsky (eds.) Hofstra University Conference, Greenwood Press, 1994, pp. 149–187. Scroll to the end for detailed biographies of the five speakers. Discussants Hermann F. Eilts, Samuel W. Lewis, William B. Quandt, Harold H. Saunders, Daniel C. Kurtzer and Kenneth […]

Ken Stein Interview with Nicolas A. Veliotes, Washington, DC.

With a keen memory to detail, Nicholas Veliotes engaged an array of American and Middle Eastern political leaders. This interview is laced with charming and enthusiastic candor as he served in American diplomatic positions from 1973-1986 in Tel Aviv, Washington, Amman, and Cairo. He was present when sensitive US policies were debated and operationalized. His assessments of Kissinger, Sadat, Meir, Nixon, King Hussein, Brzezinski, Carter, Vance, and a whole panoply of Israeli officials bubble with content; the vignettes he shares about Nixon and Brzezinski are priceless. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Veliotes along with Morris Draper, Hermann Eilts, American Consul Generals in Jerusalem and other US officials failed in repeated attempts to secure PLO leader Yasir Arafat’s participation in the diplomatic process.

Ken Stein Interview with Rabbi Avi Weiss, Riverdale, New York

As a political activist, Weiss recollects with keen candor the incidents in 1978-1980 where he personally confronted President Jimmy Carter for what he viewed as his definitive anti-Israeli comments and actions.

Ken Stein Interview with Mark Siegel, Washington, DC

As a Democratic Party operative, Mark Siegel astutely helped Jimmy Carter win the 1976 election. He assisted in delegate selection, on the platform committee, and kept Eugene MaCarthy’s name off the New York state ballot. In the White House, as the administration’s liaison to the Jewish community, he abruptly resigned for being lied to by the administration. He explains Brzezinski/Carter disappointment with Sadat’s historic 1977 trip to Jerusalem because it channeled Arab-Israeli negotiations into a bi-lateral pathway. With that, the Brzezinski/Carter fear was realized. Any hope of Palestinian self-determination and Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank/Gaza Strip would be endlessly postponed in favor of Egyptian-Israeli national interests. He is frank in his descriptions and epititude of those who worked in the Carter White House.