Aharon Yariv reviews the outbreak and aftermath of the 1973 October War, with specific focus on the Kilometer 101 talks which he conducted with Egyptian General Mohamad al-Gamasy the week after the war ended. From 1964 to 1972, Yariv was head of Israel’s military intelligence. In 1977, he founded the Institute for National Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
When General Yariv’s recollections of the negotiations and those of General al-Gamasy’s are compared, there are very few discrepancies about the contents of what they discussed; both commented on the professionalism of the other and the cordial nature of the talks which continued intermittently for three weeks from October 29 through November 18 or so.
Putting the talks in a broader context, we learn from an interview with Joseph Sisco who served on Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s negotiating team that Sadat went to war in order to generate a diplomatic process to harness the US as the key mediator in diplomacy between Cairo and Jerusalem. Sadat was turning his country away from decades of reliance on Moscow, sensing that a connection to the United States would be in Egypt’s longer term interest; Sadat also believed that only the US had influence with Israel in possibly reaching a negotiated Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula that Israel had secured in the June 1967 War. Sisco reveals the collusion between Israeli Prime Minister Meir, Egyptian President Sadat, and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to evolve an American mediated negotiation process after the war, one that would save the Israeli encircled Egyptian Third Army and hasten the return of Israeli POWs. The Third Army needed water, blankets, and food; above all President Sadat could not afford the Third Army’s destruction by an angry element in Israel’s military elite who were seeking retribution for Egypt’s successful surprise attack on October 6. If elements of the Third Army had been destroyed, Sadat would have lost the public value of his early military successes in the war, and perhaps his position as President. Yariv recollects that he and al-Gamasy negotiated the content outline of what became the January 1974, Israel-Egypt Separation of Forces Agreement, later known as Sinai I. Further Yariv speculates that in his talks, “maybe we could have gotten a peace treaty. Maybe, I am not sure.” He attributes Golda Meir’s reluctance to pursue a more extensive negotiating path at that time because of concern for the outcome of the upcoming December 1973 parliamentary elections. She already knew that her Labor Party was being heavily criticized for poor decisions made surrounding the surprise outbreak of the war and the army’s poor preparedness in fending off the early coordinated Egyptian and Syrian attacks. Though the war had caused so many Egyptian and Israeli casualties, it ended in a manner where both sides could declare a success. Since Meir was also negotiating the return of Israeli POWs held by the Syrians and the Egyptians, any discussion of movement toward a broader negotiation with individual Arab states or Arab states in general was simply unthinkable. Meir had lingering doubts about whether Sadat’s motivations for negotiations were sincere. While Meir remained angry at Kissinger for the delay in US resupply of needed war materials to Israel after the war started, Meir’s ally in keeping the primary focus on Egyptian-Israeli negotiations was Kissinger because he wanted firm control over the unfolding post war diplomacy, including his interest to sideline Moscow from primary participation in talks that he know would last months.
Yariv was interviewed in his fourth-floor office in the Gillman Building on the Tel Aviv University campus. Graciously he read verbatim from his journal notes that he kept during the negotiations. The Kilometer 101 talks began the evening of Saturday, October 29, at that approximate distance from Cairo. They lasted for a bit more than three weeks, with Yariv and al-Gamasy taking time from their Kilometer 101 meetings for occasional consultation and communications with Meir and Sadat respectively. In my interview with al-Gamasy, he also reflected positively about the cordial unfolding of the talks, with differences on substantive issues of content resolved quickly, such as who controlled the roads to the Third Army or how frequent convoys should be dispatched. Without being prompted, each volunteered that there was mutual professional respect between them. When the two generals did not want UN officials who were sometimes attending the talks to be party to their exchanges, Yariv and al-Gamasy stepped outside the tent to hold their talks privately. Apparently, they did that quite frequently.
With permission and compensation provided for usage of the photographs
Additional recollection of the Egyptian view of the talks was provided in a lengthy interview with Omar Sirry an Egyptian foreign ministry official who accompanied al-Gamasy. Harold Saunders, another member of Kissinger’s negotiating team gives essential detail in an interview of how the talks unfolded through President Richard Nixon’s meetings with Golda Meir in late October/early November and after Kissinger’s first meeting with Sadat on November 6 in Cairo. Many sources agree that the Americans, and Kissinger himself he asked Meir to terminate the Yariv/al-Gamasy negotiations so that the US Secretary of State would have the necessary substance for the basis of the January 1974 Separation of forces agreement. Several published items recount in detail the negotiation process that took place from October 1973 – January 1974. Among them are Kissinger’s memoirs, White House Years, 1979 and Mohamed al-Gamasy’s The October War Memoirs of Field Marshal el-Gamasy of Egypt, (1989). Over several decades, I pieced together the contents of a dozen interviews that informed the writing of two book chapters and two articles. Please see Kenneth Stein, Heroic Diplomacy: Kissinger, Sadat, Carter, Begin and the Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, Routledge, 1999, Chapters 3 and 4; and “Evolving a Diplomatic Legacy from the October War: The US, Egyptian, and Israeli Triangle,” in Asaf Siniver (ed.), The October 1973 War Politics, Diplomacy, and Legacy, London: Hurst and Company, 2013, pp. 209-229 and “The Link Between War and Diplomacy: The Kilometer 101 Talks After the October 1973 War,” in Richard B. Parker (ed), The October War: A Retrospective, University Press of Florida, 2001, pp. 361–373. Interview transcripts referred to above and others relating to the October War were conducted primarily in the 1992-1993 period and are found at the Center for Israel Education.
L-R background: Simcha Dinitz, Harold Saunders, Henry Kissinger, Aharon Yariv, Gold Meir and Richard Nixon, November 1973, Washington, DC (Israel Government Press Office)
Ken Stein interview with Major General Aharon Yariv, Tel Aviv University, March 26, 1992
KWS: …very precise questions to ask. But I also understand you`re going to give a presentation next week. So, Amira (Margalith z’l) – Moshe Dayan Center office administrator at the time has promised to give me the transcript to that as well. So, I’m trying to be sure that I don’t miss anything.
KWS: Alright. When were you assigned to the position of negotiating the Kilometer 101 Talks. When…?
AY: On Saturday, it was the 28th of October. (they actually begin on October 29)
KWS: Who contacted you, who from the government said they want you to do this?
AY: We were all coming back from a visit to the Sinai and we were coming back to Tel Aviv and we didn’t know what, and in Tel Aviv Golda told me that I was assigned to be the chief of the delegation.
KWS: And what were you`re instructions?
AY: Very, very uncertain. I asked, What do I say? What time I have to, what do I tell them what do I demand from them? And (Israel) Galili gave me the instructions. The instructions were: exchange, first of all each side wanted to observe the cease-fire. This for this I wanted to observe cease-fire. I don’t know if Dayan wanted this or would agree with the cease-fire but at that meeting yes. Observation of cease-fire, exchange of prisoners of war, and lifting of the Bab al-Mandab blockade.
KWS: Were the bed, food and blankets to the third army.
AY: That was Egyptian demand.
KWS: But you, did you
AY: The whole thing started because the Egyptians demanded a supply column to the third army.
KWS: That’s why the Kilometer 101 Talks began?
AY: What happened was that Mordechai Gazit [Director General of the Prime Minister’s office], Mordechai Gazit said `Why should we not talk directly to them, why should we go through Washington, we should say that we want direct talks.’ And Kissinger said there would not be any direct talks, I know how it is, and then the Egyptians said yes. And that was after we got this message I, we were called back to…
KWS: How did you know that the Egyptians wanted the right talks? How did you know?
AY: Through the Americans.
KWS: So the Americans acted as a postman to find out.
AY: Yes. My acceptance to, strangely enough, the Egyptians agreed, because were very hard pressed. The Third Army was very hard pressed.
KWS: What do you mean by hard pressed?
AY: They were surrounded, and had little supplies, and they were, this is very, they were surrounded, I saw it.
KWS: How much pressure did you have to postpone the talks? Did anyone come to you like Sharon and company? Or Golda?
KWS: By then it was a known quantity…
AY: No, no. She knew, and only a very small circle of people knew anything about it. And it was set for 7:00 P.M. the same evening so there was not much time.
KWS: And of course, who else accompanied you?
AY: I don’t know, it comes to me, I tell you who accompanied me. Here we are, here we are, it comes to me, Dov Tzyion, do you know he is?
AY: Because I knew him from my years and he spoke fluent Arabic. Out of the delegation I wanted someone who spoke fluent Arabic.
KWS: Was Aluf Hareven with you?
KWS: But Dov Tzyion
AY: Dov Tzyion was my right-hand man.
KWS: And Shlomo Gazit was in charge of `Aman’ [Israeli military intelligence] at the time?
AY: Right. Actually, Moshe Dayan wanted Shlomo Gazit [at Kilometer 101].
KWS: Who wanted Shlomo?
AY: Moshe Dayan. Because he was so to speak his man. I was independent.
KWS: What was your title during the war?
AY: Special Assistant of the Chief of Staff.
KWS: You were Major General. And what was your role?
AY: That’s what Sapir told me, I don’t know, but he told me ~I arranged for you to be the Chief of the delegation.
KWS: Sapir said that? [Pinhas Sapir was in Golda Meir’s Cabinet]
AY: Yes, I told him look I don’t trust Dayan’s men and this internal Israeli politics. You know maybe he’s right.
KWS: So, on the 28th, you’re in Tel Aviv, and what…
AY: I was on assignment and we were called back, we didn’t know what…
KWS: You don’t remember what time you were called back about?
AY: I think was about right after, very early afternoon or noon, or one o’clock.
KWS: So you got back to Tel Aviv about two or three?
AY: Yes. I sat down for two hours and ran back. And they send the guy.
KWS: And then the same day, the same night you started.
KWS: Did you find Kilometer 101?
AY: No. He, I mean the book [my diary] I seem to remember Kilometer 101. And they were right because they knew what Kilometer 101 was and we were wrong. We went to Kilometer 105 and they had a hard time finding us and the complications were from the Sinai to Tel Aviv, from Tel Aviv to Washington, from Washington to Cairo. And then back, so it took a long time. Until we arrived on the sport at about 1:00 in the morning.
KWS: At what time?
KWS: So there was a 6 hour delay because you couldn’t find each other.
KWS: You just fought each other but you couldn’t find each other.
AY: And then in the end they had to drive through our lines.
KWS: The talks began literally at 1:00 at night on the 29th.
KWS: And how long did they last? The first session?
AY: I think about 2 hours.
KWS: You hadn’t met al-Gamasy before?
AY: No, I had not. Very quick feeling from the television who he was.
KWS: And what was your initial impression?
AY: My initial impression was that he was a pedantic man, proud man, a proud officer and a proud Egyptian, and a proud Arab.
KWS: He was a proud man.
AY: Hard worker, and his officers knew, his officers said he will do the work.
KWS: how long did the first meeting last, do you remember?
AY: About 2 hours.
KWS: And what was discussed?
AY: What was discussed was first of all, each one made a speech, bullshit, peace, etc., etc.. and then what was discussed was first of all how are we going to supply, how will the supplies reach them? [the Third Army] What kind of supplies or how will we reach them, it was no big problem. And then we brought up the prisoners of the war and we said we want to locate the killed people, the bodies, and Bab al-Mandab.
KWS: Any response?
AY: He said on all of these matters, he said he’d have to refer back to Cairo and he would bring an answer.
KWS: Did you sense that you had more leeway in talking to him in parameters of movements on these issues than he had? Or did you have to do the similar kind of checking all the time, I mean this was…
AY: I tell you, knowing my superiors, I made sure that I don’t say or give anything or affirm anything without prior approval. And we had an advantage because we could speak right from the next tent.
AY: But I made it a point not to say anything, not to give anything, not to propose anything without prior knowledge from the government because it’s a coalition government and they’re always looking for something to attack (one another), they don’t care about me, it they want something from Golda in the coalition.
KWS: And even within the coalition…
AY: And even within the coalition…
KWS: Dayan versus Golda…
Ay: Yes. So I knew that so it wasn’t difficult. But, generally I had no problems once I would say actually you approved it, what do you want?
KWS: What was the setting like?
AY: The setting
KWS: I mean if you had to write a pictorial description of it.
AY: There were four tanks.
KWS: Four tents.
AY: Four tanks. Or two tanks. Two tanks. Or four, I don’t remember. No, no, four tanks. And the camouflage net between them. And we were sitting under our camouflage net, and it was bitter cold. It was very cold that night, it was the end of October and that’s when it is very cold. And one of the officers said to me, “Look at the Egyptian general, he is shivering of fright.” So immediately I said, “No, he is cold.” So, I said “Excuse me gentlemen, could I offer you some jackets or something? They said yes. So, in about next 10 minutes everybody was wearing an Israeli Air Force jacket. We brought hot coffee, etc., so biscuits were served in general…
KWS: And light was from a generator?
AY: Light was from a generator, yes. But, the generator’s not so strong.
KWS: Did anybody keep notes of the meeting?
AY: Every meeting we had full notes. The archives have full notes. I have a diary, but it is not sometimes I cannot understand what I am writing there. I don’t remember exactly or something. I just went over the diary, again for the lecture [given at Tel Aviv University on Monday, March 30, 1992]. Most of the important things I remember. I told my groups but these people are very touchy, you must under no circumstances offend them.
KWS: What would have been offensive?
AY: To say, “we did this and we did that”, “we beat you here”
KWS: No shwitzring, don’t be a “shwitzring.”
AY: Yes, I mean that’s a very strong word. I didn’t have to convince them I won. On the third meeting, he brought an officer. He brought an Israeli officer who was a prisoner of war. I was surprised. It was in the third meeting, he said, “General Yariv I have a surprise for you, I will give you the surprise. This is the surprise I brought Captain Avi Dan. Now, I went to the telephone immediately and asked to have his father meet him at the airport. I remembered his father who was a hero during the War of Independence. Oh, if you think about these talks about the cease-fire, what were the real issues? The real issue was the Third Army. We were surrounding, after the formal cease-fire. They wanted to change their status. The second meeting they walk in they say lets go outside, that was his custom to go outside to talk intimately.
KWS: Because in the tent there was his three or four, your three or four.
AY: Oh, there was the UN. He said you completed the surrounding of the Third Army after the cease-fire. I said that’s not true. You opened fire and broke the cease-fire. But, I said now let us talk frankly. You’re a military man. Will you give up a surrounding army when you go to the negotiations? He never brought up the topic again. And, maybe I said something, but not, in a friendly way, but you must understand I said you’re a military man. Would you give up such a card when you go to negotiations? Then there was the issue of supplies. Then our guys came to me and said, our guys – Dayan and others, you must make sure that you can search their gas balloons. Gas for cooking gas balloons. You must make sure that you can check them because they may smuggle in anti-aircraft missiles. Believe me. So, it was very touchy. And then, I understood. ??? It was not the searching; it was the search could already be done at the talk right in front of their troops. Their troops would see that we were searching and checking everything. I said you tell me where. We can move it away out of sight. These things you must be very careful of.
KWS: But you knew early on you had a really established confidence with him? Or did that come with time?
AY: That came after three or four weeks not right away. The second meeting he started by saying, “Halasna Filastin” [We are finished with Palestine]. But you will have peace.
AY: He said you have to give up all the territories. And, I said what about the other Arab countries, and he said they do not matter the other countries Iraq, Syria
KWS: Did you ever ask him what he meant “finished with the Palestine?”
AY: What he meant was for later, I understood later, was that no matter what Sadat had decided to make peace. Then, but we didn’t understand him.
KWS: Sadat had committed himself to make peace.
AY: Sadat, yes, and we didn’t understand it.
KWS: It’s interesting that someone like al-Gamasy would have known that.
AY: I don’t know that he knew. Then he was chief of operations, the first time we met he was chief of operations.
KWS: But if he said it to you then he must have known that’s what the Rais was thinking.
AY: I think so, he said, “you will have to give back all the territories.”
KWS: Can you lend credence to the notion that Sadat only had limited aspirations, limited military objectives in the 73 war?
You know the way they disposed, the way they fought the war, you know what they didn’t do that there is also now the political evidence. Unless it’s after the fact. You realize what the fait accompli is and then you change your objective. But your sense was that he was sincere?
AY: He was not completely sincere, and I understand now why your I told. I said, “General al-Gamasy, the more and more you have only to lie down. I was sure that they had a problem of national morale.
KWS: By national morale, you mean he himself was personally demoralized by it.
AY: No, they were afraid publicly by it (the encirclement of the Third Army).
KWS: Do you think the public found out?
AY: If they go [? the Israeli encirclement] in a 5000 man in one convoy, yes, [they have a publicity problem].
KWS: Did he ask you to release them segmentally? In small numbers? And of course, you accommodated them?
AY: I had trouble accommodating them.
AY: Because of Moshe Dayan. I said at the meeting for their release where, the UN helped to work it out. He said try and make it as short as possible, but don’t break the whole peace process over it. Golda said try and make it as short [a release time]. I convinced him, convinced al-Gamasy , that was placed out of sight.
KWS: It seems to me that when you reach the impasse with him, you appealed to the sense of military knowledge.
AY: Military knowledge, yes and all this peace talk.
KWS: And the responsibility of it. After the negotiations started, there weren’t any pressures to make life difficult for the Third Army.
AY: First of all I saw spoke to ???, and on the one hand yes they want peace, but on the other hand, they want to get back the Egyptians [the Third Army].
KWS: Who’s they?
AY: The guys, the commander and I think Dayan also. He had a very sharp discussion and it was tough. Opening fire, returning fire, he wanted to give the Egyptians a hard chop.
KWS: A hard one on the head.
AY: yes, because of Dayan and “the surprise.”
KWS: What contained him, Golda? Did Golda contain him?
AY: I don’t know who contained him.
KWS: But given the chance he would have, he never wanted to destroy them, the Third Army.
AY: No, but he wanted to do something so that they would not forget, I think so.
KWS: Hmm. From your knowledge, it was Sadat who was calling the [political] shots?
AY: There’s no doubt, but there is one meeting which will be thought of the meeting I have with al- Gamasy three times, and he said President and the President said nothing. Then he didn’t say anything than he said again, President Nasser told him not so three times in a row, not in exactly a row. No, he was calling the shots. I remember there was a representative at the end, towards the end, from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.
KWS: Anyone from ultimately detailed to your delegation from the prime minister’s office or from the foreign ministry. In other words, you never — it never became a political discussion.
AY: No, they didn’t want it.
KWS: Who didn’t want it?
AY: The politicians, the pressure from the political level.
KWS: What do you mean pressure?
AY: Real pressure. We are demanding negotiations, be handled at the political level. Next time we said it.
KWS: He said it?
KWS: Did you feel any pressures beginning to build from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, that you were making progress too quickly? Did you feel like you were moving to fast?
AY: No, on the contrary, we wanted to move faster on the prisoners.
KWS: On the prisoners. Golda and Dayan were satisfied after a point that these were.
AY: Golda was very satisfied, during the war business and the rights she was very satisfied. She never minded.
KWS: Did she want this to become a political lever?
KWS: But she never raised it with you in that first meeting when she came back to Tel Aviv?
AY: No, of course not.
KWS: But, periodically you got instructions from Tel Aviv on what to say and what the next issue would be.
AY: I would not read them because I did not want to be in the position that if I say something, “who told you to say so”?
KWS: Matti Golan’s book, Secret Conversations of Henry Kissinger, 1976.
AY: Yes, he said that I was severely reprimanded for letting Siilasvvo, the United Nations officer to be the mediator, but that’s bullshit because I talk to General al-Gamasy he said so and so. I said, I’ll go until I don’t need a mediator. And then I found out that afterwards he was very offended by what I said.
KWS: When you and al-Gamasy wanted to decide you stepped out the tent and you talked, just like the picture on the wall?
AY: right. Once, he said I want to talk to you without the “boy.” I said OKAY.
KWS: How far into the talks was this?
AY: Maybe four or six weeks, ?? after we came back from the he was in Washington.
KWS: She was in Washington November 6.
AY: Yes, and we came back on the 10th.
KWS: And then you signed the disengagement agreement.
AY: And then discussed it after the signature, what did he really mean.
KWS: And what did he mean?
AY: Cease-fire and nothing else, technical not political.
KWS: So lets get this straight, first we’re talking about the resupply of the Third Army and your exchange of prisoners of war. Those are top items to both sides.
KWS: Secondly, were talking about the actual return of the prisoners, the physical return.
AY: Then, we wanted the physical return of the Israelis bodies and Israelis who had been held by Egypt since before the war.
KWS: These were two Israelis who were what?
AY: One was a spy, and the other one was a mishugana, (crazy!) who went overboard.
KWS: The next item before you went to Washington was
AY: Before I went to Washington, was a big problem the Road talks leading to Third Army.
KWS: What kind of problem?
AY: The probably of what he wanted or why did he want the road talks? Maybe, he was surrounded and maybe he [al-Gamasy] had to be the dictator whether he can or not,
KWS: Because al-Gamasy and Sadat felt pressure, political pressure?
AY: Yes, he almost lost the war because of the Third Army.
KWS: And he knew as long as the choke was there, Israel had him right where they wanted him.
AY: Exactly, so he got a promise from Kissinger. I do not know exactly what Kissinger promised Sadat. But he got some promise from Kissinger or UN Representative on the roads. Constructive ambiguity. Ambiguity that we shall, we shall ??? A cease-fire agreement, a cease fire agreement was not so easy. We agreed on the prisoners on the fourteenth.
KWS: After you signed this.
AY: Yes, because we signed the cease-fire agreement first and then we were hotly discussing the contents. Sign first and then discuss, that’s how it was (B’emet) (truly).
KWS: You guys both knew in your minds what the contents were, now you just had to sit down and write it out.
AY: Right, right. But it worked. We had prisoners of war issue worked out. We had supplies worked out, we had UN, we had checking and UN took over the supply.
KWS: When you went to Washington, did you meet with Kissinger?
AY: Yes, I was with Golda in Blair House. Not a bad place.
KWS: No, no, I’ve been there I stayed there with Carter once.
AY: Not a bad place.
KWS: No, I mean if you have to go, it’s not a bad way to go. Have you, what did Kissinger say about these talks what were his impressions about them?
AY: I was present, but I didn’t talk to him about the talks. She was there. Golda was very upset, dissatisfied.
KWS: With whom
KWS: on what?
AY: She was mad as she saw him as having left us down in the war for supplies.
KWS: And she was still angry at him?
AY: Yes, there was a point where she said no she did not feel obligated, and then Joe Sisco said something about sitting down and talking it out.
KWS: What did Kissinger want?
AY: He wanted the road for Sadat. In the end it was four o’clock in the morning, something like this, and we reached the point about the road with a country surrounded it subject to infiltration so, what shall I tell, there were problems. And then, the next day he had Nelson Rockefeller calling Golda and he had Haig calling Golda, and he had somebody else calling Golda, everyone pressuring Golda to give in.
KWS: On the roads.
AY: On the roads. That was already a big compromise on her part.
KWS: to what?
AY: To what I said. The UN set up inspection points. It was a loyal country, and only she could take it she wouldn’t give in easily to Kissinger.
KWS: Did Kissinger and Golda get along personally?
AY: Yes, yes.
KWS: Did she respect him? And, she never had a doubt about his feelings toward Israel.
AY: When she came to Washington at that time, she wasn’t sure.
KWS: She had the same feeling when he arrived from Moscow with Resolution 338 in his hand. You know she had the same trepidations, anxiety. Eban told me, Gazit told me, Epi Evron told me, it’s the same
AY: You asked me about the problem. Where was the Foreign Office. I read my diary, time and again I say how can we conduct ourselves without the foreign office. How do we conduct our affairs without the foreign office?
KWS: Epi says the foreign office was not involved at all. And, Gazit told me that also. It was only the Prime Minister’s office.
AY: Yes, yes. Right.
KWS: Besides which Gazit told me no one wanted to let Eban in on anything. And Epi Evron told me yesterday, I understood why everyone understood why. She told me Kissinger was coming in, go down to the airport and greet him and I’ll tell you who I want to meet with him, and I want to meet with him one on one, and I want someone else to meet with him, bla bla bla.. Barely was Eban kept informed with what was going on, and Dinitz tells me the cables have been written to Washington and Eban never saw, and in fact, Epii said, some of those very same cables we doctored them so Eban would read one thing and Dinitz understood really what was going on, because we didn’t want him [Eban] to know everything.
AY: Yes, and that’s how we’ve conducted our policy. I think it was great, but ???
KWS: No, no, no you are absolutely right when you say you don’t find anything in your diary about the foreign office.
AY: I find in my diary the fact that I’m aghast at the way we conducted everything, at the way we conduct policy.
KWS: It’s very personal in its orientation, it always has been, what was Ben Gurion any different.
KWS: There’s a legacy. People don’t delegate authority in this country, because they think they do it best themselves and they don’t trust anybody else. The fact that you all happen to be Jewish is just a coincidence.
AY: Just a coincidence.
KWS: I mean I hate to be blunt about it.
AY: No, no, no it’s right. Unfortunately, its Simcha was at the meeting. Simcha was always there, and he was at Blair House.
KWS: Do you think Kissinger thought he could get to Golda through Simcha?
KWS: The evidence seems to be building in that direction that he felt that Simcha was his ambassador to Golda, in the personal sense.
AY: Yes, yes.
KWS: Where, Kissinger’s over-arching interests to take these discussions beyond the military, and at what point?
Ay: He admits it. I remember a cable from Simcha at the -towards the end of November. What is he doing at Kilometer 101? ??? He’s proposing disengagement. I need disengagement for Geneva.
KWS: Kissinger said that?
AY: Yes, probably said to Simcha.
KWS: After you left Blair house, after you signed the initials but haven’t worked out the details.
AY: No, by that time already most of the details had been worked out. So, this is before the end of November. He said, “listen, Don’t make a disengagement decision now.”
KWS: He told that to Golda.
AY: He told that to the whole government. I got instructions to say goodbye.
KWS: How did that work?
AY: Last time I saw al-Gamasy was the twenty-ninth of November, and I said, we, I have no further proposals for disengagement. I did not say it was Kissinger. I was empowered to propose unofficial personal proposals for disengagement. And, we had counterproposals. We had been discussing during these meetings for example, he proposed al-Gamasy-we proposed that we will go to our side on Africa and they will withdraw to Africa. And we reestablished the old lines. And, we always repeated that, and then also he wanted his proposal was to demand an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank about ten to twenty kilometers to Sinai and thinning of troops on both sides. Then, he said, another proposal he said thirty kilometers on each side an opening of the canal, navigation. And, build up of our cities. Once we are thirty kilometers, then Egypt would start rebuilding the canal cities. Both sides got unofficial approval from the government on the condition that we did not present it as an official position. Because they the Egyptians were also under pressure from Kissinger. To me, otherwise why go to Geneva? And so we said no to them and they said no to our proposal, and everybody understood that negotiations would take place at Geneva.
KWS: But you had agreed in principle at least just to withdraw with Africa as the boundaries.
AY: this we would do.
KWS: But they didn’t want it.
AY: They didn’t want, yes.
KWS: Politically they couldn’t give up but they wanted a war. You knew that.
AY: We didn’t know.
KWS: Come on, Aharon, they just went to war with you guys what were they going to do give up what they won.
AY: We wanted so much, especially Dayan, wanted so much, to have an exchange to show the nation that we did not lose everything in this war.
KWS: I mean if al-Gamasy would come to you and say General, use the same logic —
AY: I agree with you. But listen, we are — it’s a week later so what.
KWS: You figured you could get in diplomacy what you lost in war.
AY: NO, they wanted to discuss this secretly, so what ??? Then, we try to achieve can by what you can this position of Golda and then we had the Third Army.
KWS: I guess it’s unclear to me whether disengagement would have worked anyway, because you seem to now tell me there was little achievement <end of first side of tape>
KWS: I’m not yet in Geneva. There’s one school of thought that says that Kissinger pulled the rug out from underneath you, because he knew he had to have a military disengagement talk at or after Geneva. Then, there’s this school of thought which you now give me which tells me that you guys really haven’t agreed on a disengagement anyway.
AY: Not by that time, not by that time.
KWS: So the fact that they weren’t going
AY: You must remember these people, Golda was traumatized, the war traumatized them. And she felt that she made a mistake. It was a mistake, but she had, I’ll tell you what, she had a cabinet full of generals — Yigal Alon, Moshe Dayan, Chaim Bar-lev, three generals. They’re generals one of them chief of staff, ex.
KWS: So she blamed herself for not mobilizing, but she didn’t blame herself not for pre-empting.
AY: Maybe she, I don’t know. She was a tough lady. Maybe she did blame herself.
KWS: But Kissinger wasn’t displeased by the fact that you guys had reached an impasse.
AY: No. He was very pleased, with it. He pressured us to make sure that we would reach an impasse.
KWS: Did he influence the Israeli Government or Golda by insisting that you press for withdrawal to the status quo before the war?
KWS: Knowing that if there was an impasse, he would get what he wanted. You don’t have any evidence.
AY: No. All I ask as far as I remember, he started to come in about mid-November, later half of November. From this he ??
KWS: So he just as happy because you guys couldn’t see eye to eye. And it’s very good clarifications. Ambassador Eilts said to me on April 11, 1991, “Kissinger pulled the rug out from under the 101 talks.” Is that accurate?
AY: I said that he was not, he was very anxious, he got into the act and he saw that at the time that we were moving toward an agreement.
KWS: Now I understand because Brian Urquhart who worked for Waldheim the time said the same thing to me. He said Kissinger clearly knew that he would not have a successful conference if something didn’t come out of the conference.
AY: You know why they gave us the officer, why did they give [Israeli]? They believed that I represented a group of senior officers in the army who were not the usual blind Arab haters. And therefore they wanted to encourage me.
KWS: Wanted to encourage us, that group.
AY: Encourage that group. And they believed.
KWS: Encourage them to do what?
AY: Encourage them to not to talk about the contacts. A man from the Foreign Office, the Egyptian Foreign Office said to me ” Why are you not going to go magnanimously?” I said, ” Look around, look around you.” And he said to me ” What do you mean?” I said, “We are at Kilometer 101 from Cairo, not from Tel Aviv. And we are a lot. What else do want us to do?” He was lost ?? at the lost ??
He said ” We are ready to pull out, we don’t want to stay here. We are ready to go. So they managed to understand me. But let me tell you the waiting was without UN. And I gave a speech then.
KWS: Were you given permission to give a speech or you did this on your own?
AY: I didn’t ask permission to go and speak to them without UN. No. And I said,. I wanted them to understand that we understand them, their terms of the war. Don’t think that we do not see your problem. But we want security. That was my opinion. I told them, “Don’t think that we don’t see you And we understand an Arab Nation, its place in history. But the politics of today in the modern Arab world. The state, revolution, etc. could they wanted to talk about disengagement.
KWS: How did the Israeli election campaign affect the talks at all?
AY: Not at all. Except the contents [of disengagement talks].
KWS: Did you go to Geneva?
AY: No, I went to ?? A big mistake. I left the army.
KWS: But you weren’t part of the military talks that came out of them.
AY: I was not part of the military talks we reopened at Kilometer 101 after Geneva.
KWS: Then you weren’t part of them. Who headed those talks?
AY: General ?, Chief of Staff.
KWS: What kind of person was General Siilasvvo? Was he intelligent? What was it about him?
AY: (Shakes his head with obvious disdain.)
AY: He was a “yekka.” (slang for someone from a Geman Jewish background)
KWS: He was a yekka? Interesting term.
AY: He was a “yekka.”
KWS: Narrow within borders, limited.
AY: No, I can’t say that he was a “yekka”-?
KWS: Did he get his instructions from the Secretary General?
AY: I do not know. He never got into–but you must say that he was helpful to us. One of the prisoners was in need. And then the second time when we discussed the condition of Suez. How much food should we approve. Now I had the problem. I know how much food do we approve? so I asked the chief suppliers, I asked them what kind of rations would you like.
KWS: Your suppliers?
AY: He said you want our supply records for an air crew. He said ?? This is what I want to do. First of all sources that the Americans sent in. And then what I suppose I proposed air rations.
KWS: Who supplied the rations?
AY: The U.N.
KWS: The U.N. supplies. And where did the U.N. get the supplies from? You don’t know. But it was not Egyptian or Israeli.
AY: No. In the beginning it was Egyptian. We only inspected.
KWS: Who provided the blankets, the blood?
AY: They did. It was decided to let supplies into Suez and the soldiers.
KWS: What happened from the end of November until the beginning of the Geneva Conference? What happened in the negotiations?
KWS: No more talks? Nothing?
AY: Liaison talks.
KWS: But there was still scattered shooting now and then.
AY: Yes, exactly. They had to solve small problem.
KWS: Did any disengagement actually take place before Geneva?
KWS: No separation of forces? It began after the signing of — in January of ’74. Retrospectively would you handle it any differently? Is there anything in these talks that you would have handled differently, you would have done differently? If you had to give yourself a grade, what would you, where were your strengths, where were your weaknesses. What could you have gotten that you didn’t get? What did you get that you thought you could have.
AY: Maybe we could have gotten a peace treaty. Maybe, I am not sure.
KWS: Why do you say that?
AY: If we had been bold. We would have said the talks between us would have led to meetings between Sadat and Golda.
KWS: Did you understand just how desperate the 3rd Army was? You understood.
AY: It was clear.
KWS: But why didn’t the political elite understand what they had? This was an incredible chip in your deck.
AY: It was clear. Therefore, the UN wanted the cease-fire agreement. Here have a 6 point, several of them variations of the 6 points. We are obliged to maintain the cease-fire scrupulously. And negotiations, immediate negotiations between the two parties to settle the problem of the return to the line of the General Secretary’s talk.
KWS: I still don’t understand why Golda and Dayan, and Golda was worried about the POW’s, she didn’t see this larger opportunity. You had Anwar Sadat by the proverbial balls.
KWS: You let Kissinger intervene.
AY: This is where we had major difference.
KWS: But you could give up what translated into a —
AY: A huge political asset.
KWS: And tell me why it wasn’t translated. That’s what I still don’t understand.
AY: Why? I tell you why. First of all, because the leading personalities mainly Golda and Dayan had to carry a heavy chip on their shoulder and everything, they did they tell us. Instinctively had to do something to right then.
KWS: Absolve them of the responsibility for being caught with their pants down. Period.
AY: Right. Very well put. Very well put. So, and as we didn’t have any proper decisions– this is making progress. Actually, on this, I was a military man. They told me what to say and I sat down with a few people and I apologized first. To start by, I created and we decided how to go about it [the talks]. At least I tried. But the political level, it was too lousy therefore there were many things that were not really analyzed.
KWS: You know there are these moments in history that are major right-hand turns. This was a potential right-hand turn.
AY: But everybody was so obliterated (deflated) by this surprise attack, the 6 of October. That was the problem.
KWS: In other words, there was this political reverberation which outlasted the war, outlasted the surrounding of the 3rd Army, and colored people’s attitudes and also blinded them in terms of what people thought could be possible. Not that these people were silly, these were very bright politicians and intelligent, and terrific negotiators.
AY: Absolutely. The way that it was run.
KWS: It was the trauma of the war. It was really an opportunity missed, wasn’t it. Do you think Sadat would have gone further. I mean if you believe what al-Gamasy said, “Halasna Filastin.” (We are finished with Palestine.)
AY: Then I did not believe. I said, we said peace. But now I think, yes. Now, I think yes . Then I said, they are talking about peace. I remember He said, “I remember you saying, no, it is not peace. There will be no peace in our lifetime.” But now I think maybe yes. But we did not think so at that time. Supply the Third Army. How could we ?? the Third Army?
KWS: You were also about to have an election.
AY: Supply 3rd Army. How were we. What was going on in the elections.
KWS: Mordechai Gazit explained to me. I asked him the same question. He said Golda could not have contemplated any political set-up with the way this country was traumatized apart by the war. And it was impossible, even though it made sense. There’s no way she could have talked about a territorial withdrawal on different fronts because that would have been understood by the Israeli public before the elections [or weakness]. Mordechai Gazit said it was impossible for her to contemplate.
AY: Right. The country was ready to wait for the dead. And it did.
KWS: Interesting how the environment and the atmosphere, not the reality, had been created, I mean you’re head for Center for Strategic Studies. And how do you evaluate that?
AY: I want to tell you something. Harkabi (former Israeli General and professor) has the best definition for what happens. It says it’s a school or university funding. Out about the peace of our talks.
KWS: Fascinating, I mean when you think about it. No other time, no other time in Arab Israeli military history could you have demanded and received so much. I don’t know, what did I leave out? What did I not push you on. Communications. Interesting.
AY: No. I think you covered it all.
KWS: The communications issue, just for comparative purposes, in talking to Gidon Rafael about Lausanne. I reminded him that one of the telegrams that Walter Eytan sent back to Sharett from Rhodes was, he said something to the effect that stupid for us to stay here for day in and day out when we waste our time and there’s so much that needs to be done at the Foreign Office, we’re being recognized by all these countries and the only reason that we can succeed here with fewer people than the Egyptians is because we have better communications.
AY: We had secure and sure communications. Pick up the phone and speak to Golda.
KWS: Where were you when the war broke out?
AY: In bed.
KWS: At 2:00 in the afternoon.
AY; No. When the war broke out, I was no longer in bed, but I was in bed and somebody called me at 7:00 AM in the morning. Yossi Sarid? He called me up. We were close. He said, “There are people saying there is a war.” I said, “You’re crazy, let me sleep, I’m tired, the whole time I’m working on elections. And I turned over to go to sleep. Some people are entitled to know. How come I don’t know them? So, I called.
KWS: This is Saturday morning.
AY: Saturday. I called the Prime Minister’s Ministry Secretary.
KWS: Who was that?
AY: He is no longer alive, Mr. Leora. I called him to sum up. He is now dead. I would like to speak to him. He said no, he’s in the office. So, I went to the office of the Prime Minister. So, I thought something was a foot.
KWS: You left the position a year earlier as what?
AY: As Chief of Intelligence.
KWS: Military Intelligence.
AY: So, I go in and the deputy was there. I said to him, “This is war?” And Chief of Intelligence was a deputy of mine, ? a very able man comes in and says Aharon, let me show you something. It says war low probability.
KWS: Low probabilities. (in Hebrew) 7:30, 8:00 in the morning?
AY: No. 12:00. By the time I went and arrived and talked to ??? About 11:00.
KWS: Low probability at 11:00?
AY: Yes. But I met only, some shouts “where is Aharon, has anybody seen Aharon Yariv? And he looks down. Because I was gone to lunch. And he couldn’t look into my eyes. The whole war. He knows she had made a mistake–low
KWS: So what did you do during the war?
AY: During the war I was, I representative of the Chief of Staff I represented him. And anything he asked me to do. For example, he asked me to oversee the spokesmen. So, I was in charge for 3 days of the [military] spokesmen. I had a famous press conference. I said we lost the canal. I took it as real. And because I was born in the communal port. Yariv told the truth. It became a legend. Then I gave my opinion to the paper–what should we do strategically? And I couldn’t make mistakes.
KWS: What did you know about the resupply controversy? Not afterwards, but then?
AY: What we knew then was the pictures that we got were that Kissinger Later, the talks we had, I think the one that held the government was Nixon.
KWS: Not Schlessinger, not Clemens.
AY: Schlessinger, he gave a whole speech, was it Kissinger at the time. So I came to the conclusion. Kissinger says he didn’t know at the time. So, who. Because someone has to mobilize the civil aviation and that was dependent on Kissinger.
KWS: See Dinitz claims it was Clemens, it wasn’t Schlessinger.
AY: Schlessinger was, no, I’m sure about of it. He told me, he said, the opposite.
KWS: Dinitz says, it just wasn’t important to Schlessinger. This didn’t appear on his screen as major importance. That Israel will take care of itself. Leave the detail up to Clemens. Who of course, had very strong pro-Arab attitudes.
KWS: But the resupply started coming about the 13th, 14th, 12th.
AY: When we asked it was cease-fire, nothing.
KWS: Did you ever think, did your intelligence ever tell you that the Soviets were really going to intervene?
KWS: Was it a ??
AY: No, we had the same size weapons as Arab ?? in Israel ????
KWS: Galia Golan, (her book Yom Kippur and After,The Soviet Union), says there was a ship headed. Thought Egypt would snoop through your weapons. Nonsense.
AY: We learned from the Americans that there was a ship. I think it was an explanation for the Americans to justify Def-Con 3 [Nuclear Alert].
KWS: You think it was invented by Kissinger?
AY: I don’t know if it was directly Kissinger, but maybe Kissinger.
KWS: Because he was in Moscow like two days before they went on the nuclear alert He could have very well
AY: But he wanted to frighten off the Russians. The Russians said if there will be ?? matter, the negotiation table…take some appropriate action.
KWS: Appropriate action.
AY: Yes. So how do you justify that? How do you frighten off the Russians by announcing Def-Con 3. Now, Def-Con 3 is the lowest priority. You get the Russians to think twice before they move. But you also use the Russians to frighten us. He said more than once you want, ask him what you want, alright but, you’re asking a lot because they’re asking you to assist in the coming helicopters to resupply the Third Army.
KWS: He said this to you even during the talks?
AY: Yes, in Blair House.
KWS: On November 6.
AY: The talks But known to pressure, Golda told him
KWS: And she wouldn’t be pressured by him.
AY: No. She went to see the CIA director and she asked what do you think the Russians will do? And he said, no, they will not intervene.[KWS: This is two weeks after Def-Con 3].
KWS: Colby and Kissinger didn’t get their act together. Or Kissinger didn’t tell Colby what to say.
AY: Or Colby knew it and still said it.
KWS: That’s even a better story. Wonderful. Good stuff. I look forward to getting the transcript
AY: I’m sorry I didn’t, yes
KWS: Amira will give it to me.
AY: Yes, I have to write it down.
KWS: Well maybe this helped also.
AY: Yes, it did. If you would have seen me before when ? a large part of ??? But by reading my diary and reading the book
KWS: Which book?
AY: Matti Golan’s book.
KWS: It had some good things, it some not so good things.
AY: I realize it and Dan Avidon was a pilot. That Dwor reprimanded. That was wrong. Are you doing this full time?
KWS: Doing what?
AY: The new book.
KWS: Full time? No, I mean I teach, and I direct the Middle East Program. Full time, I’m doing research, too.
On August 13, 1992, while in Tel Aviv again, I met with Yariv and asked the following questions:
KWS: In his book, Negotiating for Peace in the Middle East, Ismail Fahmy claims (p.38) that “the Israelis tried to prevent the Egyptian delegation from reaching kilometer 101” and the Egyptians asked Kissinger to intervene personally with Mrs. Meir, which according to Fahmy, he promised. Is this accurate?
AY: Absolutely not. We had difficulty in finding the post marker for kilometer 101 but did not prevent the Egyptians from getting to 101.
KWS: Fahmy also said in his book, that at his 10/29 meeting with Kissinger he informed the Secretary of State that the Israelis “had already started going back on their promises during the talks at kilometer 101.”
AY: This is not possible, because the talks only started on Saturday night/Sunday morning (27/28th).
KWS: I am not surprised by your answer. Fahmy has several mistakes in his book about timing, when events and conversations occurred, and who said what to whom and when. I’ll give you another example, he claimed that you were a member of the Israeli cabinet while negotiating the 101 talks.
AY: (Laughter) Ariyeh Shalev who was sitting in at the time of this short meeting, said “only in April” (when Yariv became Minister of Information).
KWS: Fahmy claims in his book that the 6 points which you and al-Gamasy agreed to by 11 November 1973, he had prepared?
AY: I do not know for sure who prepared them originally, but Sisco came here after Kissinger’s visit to Cairo, when Kissinger went on to China. Joe brought some of those ideas with him. And then they were negotiated.
AY: I’ll see you at [Jack] Lassner’s conference in Detroit at Wayne State in September