Omar Sirry was a German-born career foreign service officer who served as Deputy Chief of Operations in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. On October 27, 1973, three weeks after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, he was summoned by Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy to accompany General el-Gamasy, the Egyptian Chief of Staff during the 1973 War to negotiations with Israelis. Later Sirry met with Kissinger and other Americans in Aswan in January 1974 as negotiations as the first Egyptian Israeli Disengagement agreement unfolded. Sirry confirms that Sadat was very careful to obtain what he and the Egyptians wanted out of the October 1973 War. Sadat made it clear to Gamasy, taken from Gemasy memoirs, that “Egypt was NOT making peace with Israel, but making peace with the United States.” In a broader context of what would happen in during the Carter administration four years later, Sadat ‘guided’ the US to the conclusions he and Egypt sought, namely Israeli withdrawal from Sinai guided by American negotiations. Of course, Sadat had Menachem Begin who realized how important removing Egypt as an active military adversary. For many who read this introduction, this view of Sadat being the quintessential diplomatic catalyst, runs counter to the American iconic view that it was the Americans that led and guided Egyptian Israeli negotiations. Several Egyptians including Tahsin Bashir and Ashraf Ghorbal confirm that Sadat constantly had his foot on the negotiating accelerator.
At the onset of these talks after the October 1973 War, the Egyptians and Israelis initially went to a different location and did not meet the first night they were supposed to meet. When they did meet several days later, these talks were the first direct negotiations to be held between Israel, represented chiefly by the retired head of military intelligence Aharon Yariv, and an Arab General, state without a mediator present. They had made at Rhodes with Ralph Bunche as a mediator; this was for Sirry a key moment in our diplomatic history.
Sirry provides intimate details of this first meeting. He also provided insights into members of the Egyptian foreign ministry including Ismail Fahmy, whom he described as frequently ‘arrogant,’ yet always truthful with Sadat. Sirry confirmed the deep disagreement that existed in the foreign ministry between Ashraf Ghorbal and Fahmy and that Fahmy sought to control the flow of foreign policy information to Sadat. Sirry reminded me that Egypt is not run by institutions but run by individuals, at this time of course it was Sadat, described later by Israeli diplomate who served in Egypt as ‘modern Pharonism.’ Sirry said he was deeply impressed with Sadat who combined current tactics of disengagement and recruiting Kissinger’s full and sole engagement as the key mediator. Sirry made the point that ‘Sadat did not react to events, but that he took initiatives. He asserts that the Egyptians had no intention in the October 1973 War to go beyond their limited territorial incursion into Sinai in the War. Sirry said, that “ Sadat was often an ‘actor’ to make his points” to people like Kissinger.
At these post war military talks, Egyptian and Israeli generals each made short introductory remarks; Yariv commended the Egyptian Army for its earlier advancements and insisted that both sides work toward making peace. Sirry was highly impressed by Yariv’s personality, his high character, openness, and his ability to lower any apprehension that the Egyptians had in anticipating meeting Israeli representative at the end of the war. Sirry, estimates that as the talks continued Gamasy and Yariv developed large amounts of mutual respect. Sirry recalled that quite frequently Yariv excused himself from our meetings and called Jerusalem for instructions; ‘Yariv was on a short leash,’ yet most flexible. The meeting took place on a cold morning in Israeli-controlled territory.
Over almost a three-week period, the two sides agreed to an exchange of prisoners and a process for military disengagement between the two armies in the Sinai. However, the talks were eventually ended abruptly, short of a signing a military disengagement agreement; Secretary of State Kissinger insisted that Israeli Prime Minister Meir suspend the talks, lest Yariv and Gemasy reach an agreement in advance of Kissinger choreographing an Egyptian-Israeli agreement that was ‘larger’ than separation of their forces. Sirry and the Egyptian delegation at the Kilometer 101 talks, did not realize that Kissinger was responsible for pulling the rug out from under the two weeks of negotiations by the generals; they blamed the Israelis for walking out of the talks. Kissinger had successfully arranged after his first meeting with Sadat in Cairo on November 6 for the remainder of the month for their suspension. Kissinger was successful at convening the December 1973 Geneva Conference, whose detail was worked out by Yariv and Gemasy that was partially intended to exclude Moscow as a ‘player’ in the October War’s diplomatic aftermath.
Ken Stein, July 5, 2023
Ken Stein Interview with Omar Sirry, Cairo, Egypt, January 5, 1993
KWS: You know, I’m in the midst of writing a book on Arab-Israeli diplomacy, the history of it. People I’ve interviewed include a lot of these folks. Here in Egypt, I’ve spoken to Tahseen Bashir, Ismail Fahmy, I’ve seen General Gamasy, Zachariah Hussein, who was at the Blair House talks. I’ve had a lengthy chat with Usama al-Baz. Some of these people I have to go back to again because you can’t do this all in two hours sometimes. And their memory is terrific. And then on the Israeli side, just with Epi Evron and Aharon Yariv and Mordechai Gazit. And same thing with the Americans. A lot of times what I’ve learned is it’s not the foreign ministers who know as much, as it is the people who were just below. The people who wrote the memorandum, the people who were there day to day and therefore I’ve come to you for whatever recollections I may.
OS: I take it you have read the books also.
KWS: Yes sir. All of the autobiographies, all of Kissinger’s and Vance’s and Brzezinski’s…
OS: And Ismail Fahmy’s?
KWS: Ismail Fahmy’s book and Muhammed Kamel did one on the Camp David Accords. Gamasy did one on the ’73 War in Arabic, which I’ve read. I do read Arabic, but not only haltingly (Gemasy’s book, The October War was published in English in 1993.
OS: Oh, very good. Excellent.
KWS: I mean, don’t ask me to read Nagib Mahfuz in the original, but things to do with politics and history that I understand, the vocabulary repeats itself. And same thing with the
Hebrew sources. Dayan, and Weizman…
OS: What are you looking for exactly? What has not already been said?
KWS: Well, I’m particularly interested in the period from ’73 to ’92. I’m interested in the process more than I’m interested in the substance. Most of the time autobiographies are very self-serving.
KWS: And most of the time they require enormous amounts of skepticism on the reader’s part because people have a tendency to forget their mistakes. They promote themselves. It’s what a
historian has to do, you have to sift out.
OS: You said it.
KWS: You have to sift out. So the oral interviews permits me an opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff. In simple terms, the B.S. from what really happened. I’ve learned that Kissinger’s memoirs are not always complete in telling the whole story
OS: Neither are those from our side.
KWS: Right. I mean, Fahmy’s is full of holes. A great deal of it is invented.
OS: Well, he has written it from memory.
OS: Because documents he didn’t manage to…
KWS: Whereas if you read Dayan’s, Dayan’s recollection of what happened between the election of Begin and through the signing of the peace treaty, it’s almost impeccably accurate, and anyone will say it. Any Egyptian will say it, Jordanians will say it, because he uses the documents to do it.
OS: How long will you be here?
KWS: I’ll be here now until Friday, but I’ll be back again for another session or two with many more people. I’m going to work on this through the summer, I’ve already started writing. I’ve written about 250 pages.
OS: Because I want to say something that I do not want to put on record.
KWS: It won’t be on record anyway.
OS: All right. I started reading Fahmy’s book. I was his chief of staff. And I never got beyond page 10 or 15 and I stopped.
KWS: I can understand why full well. I understand why.
OS: So, he’s a friend and I love him. I like the man. I admire him. But he and Kissinger had an ego that went really beyond what you could imagine. And so I stopped reading it. But for your sake, I’m prepared to read it, really to make the effort and show you where things were not…
KWS: I would be prepared to come back and listen to that if…
OS: Yes, it’s all right. I mean, no problem. I can do that.
KWS: I have very specific questions.
OS: You go ahead, ask them. I hope my memory serves me.
KWS: No, and I understand. The smart person is the one who says, “I don’t know.”
OS: Yes, yes.
KWS: Tell me when you went to the Egyptian foreign ministry, the
service in the foreign ministry, and under what capacity?
OS: When did I join?
KWS: Yes sir.
OS: I joined it from the bottom of the ladder. I joined the foreign ministry before ’52, and I joined the diplomatic service just after ’52.
KWS: And you were in what position just prior to and immediately after the ’73 War?
OS: During the ’73 War, I was deputy head of the international organizations department. This is the department that deals with UN affairs. And during the war, I was deputy chief of the operations room in the foreign ministry. In the last days when there was a ceasefire ordered by the Security Council. I was suddenly summoned by the acting foreign minister and told…we had worked together, Ismail Fahmy and me, we have worked together several times before…and told to get a toothbrush and a pajama and be ready. And this is how I got involved in this peace process. When I asked him to be ready for what, he hesitated to tell me. He says: “You will go to headquarters and meet a man called General Gamasy.” I’ve never heard of him before. “And you will be his political advisor.” I said “On what issues? Why a toothbrush and why a pajama?” And then he said, “You are going to go to the city of Suez.” And I answered, “But the city of Suez is totally surrounded.” Already it was surrounded by Israeli troops. I’m telling you this in some detail because it shows you the psychological attitude that was prevailing after so many years of war, fighting, opposing the Israelis. And so, he finally came out and said, “You are going to talk to the Israelis.”
KWS: Do you remember when you got this phone call? Like the 23rd, 24th of October? The first ceasefire was the 22nd, Resolution 338 was the evening of the 23rd.
OS: Well, it was the end of October. The next day we left for Paris to meet Kissinger. Ismail Fahmy, myself and Dr. Abdullah. So, I can’t tell you the date but if I look at…
KWS: So, you went to Paris rather than to Suez?
OS: No, no. I went to the first meeting with Yariv, the very first one.
KWS: Kilometer 101.
OS: No. It was not 101. And we stayed the whole night. I mean, it was a meeting that started at perhaps…
KWS: One o’clock.
OS: Yes, in the morning. Well, my reaction to Ismail Fahmy was “Hooray!” And he was really astonished at that. I said “Hooray!” Exactly in these words, I used the word hooray! He looked at me, astonished, and he said, “Hooray what?” I said, “we are finally talking.” You see, and I got orders to put on something that was not civilian. I got instructions not to say that I was the Foreign Minister’s representative or diplomat. Because the talks were purely military and they did not want to inject a political element in these talks.
KWS: So you wore military fatigues or whatever.
OS: No, I had a military… who doesn’t have a military outfit in Egypt? And a khaki pullover and so on. That is how I got into it. And I had with me Fawzi al-Ibrashi. Is he on your list?
KWS: I will see him this afternoon.
OS: Yes. And Fawzi was willing to go with me. I stayed at one meeting only, the first. Fawzi continued and Fawzi’s a legal mind so he must know more of what happened. We went twice. We took… it was a military convoy. I remember quite clearly. There were two cars, two main cars in which Gamasy and an aide to Gamasy, and Fawzi and myself, there were a lot of commandos, who needed to protect us and all that sort of thing. And we set out in the afternoon and we meet Siilasvuo on the way and he said something to the effect that the Israelis are not at the point. There is nobody there at the point of the meeting. They have agreed on a certain point of meeting, (but) there’s no one there.
KWS: Siilasvuo’s book says he wasn’t even aware that you guys were going to meet.
OS: It might not have been Siilasvuo, it might have been somebody else.
KWS: No, Siilasvuo said he met Gamasy on the road and he asked Gamasy, “where are you going?” He said: “I’m going to meet the Israelis.” And Siilasvuo said, “well, no one told me.”
OS: Well, it might be because after the talk with Siilasvuo, we returned back. So why did we return back? Because Siilasvuo had told us something to the effect that no Israeli was at the spot agreed upon directly between, I suppose, Kissinger and I don’t know who. I mean, you had a CIA man in the embassy here. Perhaps he knew about these things. He was the contact man. But we returned. You see, after this meeting with Siilasvuo coming from Suez with his convoy, we returned home.
KWS: That’s exactly what Siilasvuo said.
OS: Yes, but I mean, why would we return home after meeting? Siilasvuo, he must have told us something. And I remember, I think I remember this clearly.
KWS: And Gamasy said the same thing.
OS: Yes. So we returned home and we were put on what you Americans would call, “alert.” I mean, to be prepared to move at any time. And then we got instructions again around midnight, and I went to headquarters and we took the road again. And I had told to Gamasy: “Look here, we are going to negotiate so there is no need to have the commandos and all this stuff. We are on the Egyptian side and we are supposed to be safe there.”
KWS: And you had never met Gamasy before?
OS: No, no. But I was very much impressed with the man. I’m very proud to have an Egyptian like that.
KWS: He’s an incredible individual.
OS: He is. He is. Well, he has been shabbily treated.
OS: I’m very upset about it personally because at a time in life, everybody is going to be shabbily treated. But then I see what my services are like that in comparison to Gamasy’s services. Gamasy has served the country very, very, very admirably. So, we went back. And this time, we had U.N. drivers. Austrians. Two Austrians, two cars. I don’t know if we met them. I can’t remember if we took them from Cairo or if we met them at a certain point and we changed into these cars. But there were two cars, U.N. cars with Austrian soldiers. And we did not even realize the significance of what we were doing. We just did it. The extraordinary part of it was that we did not meet in no man’s land. We met behind the Israeli lines. That means we had to cross, in pitch darkness, the Egyptian lines. In pitch darkness, we had to enter into the desert which was mined. And Gamasy put us, the civilians, in the second car and instructed the driver of the second car to drive exactly on the tracks of the first car. And I remember very vividly, looking at the first car, expecting it to blow up any moment. Thank G-d it didn’t. So, we crossed no man’s land and then we came upon the first Israeli soldier I have ever seen in my life. And there were officers there. Of course, on the way we were very apprehensive. Apprehensive. How would the Israelis behave? Well, you have been in Egypt and we are basically a very courteous people. We are very polite and courteous and the Egyptian is not a man who would hurt you, unnecessarily. He would never tell you something that he knows would embarrass you, hurt you. He would not give you bad news. He’s a kind man, the Egyptian. So, we were very apprehensive because the Israelis are not quite that. They can be very obnoxious; they can be very superior; and, well, I tell you, it was apprehension. What is going to happen? How are we going to behave if this is the case? Fortunately, for the peace process, the Israelis chose very well. Yariv. And we went there and there were two tanks and there was something over the two tanks.
KWS: A tarpaulin
OS: Yes. And I was very much angered, quite frankly, at the sight of the Israeli flag on Egyptian soil. Gamasy pretends that I said something to the effect that this flag has to be replaced by U.N.
flag. I do not recall that. I do not at all recall that. But that’s what he said. It was later on, when it was in no man’s land, because I explained to Gamasy then that when there are talks like this that are in no man’s land, between the lines, not behind the Israeli line, that the man did not know. And nobody believed me before and I could have told him, “please let us have.” But then the situation on the ground was very fluid. Nobody really knew where the Egyptian line ended and the Israeli line started. It was still very fluid. And as we were seated, there was shooting, fighting going on around us. We heard machine guns, guns, we saw rockets going up, I mean not rockets but flares going up, so it was not the end of it. And no man’s land, there was dead people there
still not buried. I mean it was…
KWS: The gruesome reality of war was right there. It was very vivid.
OS: When you see that, you ask yourself: “Why? Why?” This is totally nonsense. Why? So Yariv was absolutely the right man. Israelis couldn’t have chosen better. And he made a little
Statement. There were salutes, salutations and General Gamasy did not say “I am General Gamasy.” He gave his first name. And they were very eager, the Israelis, to find out who we were. Very, very eager. But we all gave only our first names. You see.
KWS: Were you instructed to do that?
OS: Well, Gamasy instructed me to do that. It’s apprehension. And we didn’t know what it would lead to.
KWS: So there was Gamasy, Ibrashi…
OS: So it was Gamasy and one of his officers, a very good man. And then there was me and Ibrashi, three or four others, in the first meeting. I don’t know about the others. All right? That was the first meeting. Yariv made a statement to the effect that we both have fought very well and now it is time to do the same thing for peace. And we must do it also very well. So that statement…
KWS: Broke the ice.
OS: No, it did not break the ice. But it brought, somehow, our apprehensions to a lower level.
KWS: Let’s say they reassured you.
OS: Yes, reassured you that in front of us was not a man who would be taking a superior attitude because we would have refused it. We would not have taken it. We would not. We would just not have taken it.
KWS: Now, this is one meeting you had with Yariv. You, of course, have historical perspective to look back on it, but you said you were impressed with him.
OS: Yes, well that is my job. I’m a diplomat.
KWS: But what characteristics did he show to you that suggested that you could be reassured, that your anxiety could drop? Other than making the right statement?
OS: Well, you see… it is not what you say that is important to me. It is who you are that are saying this… that gives value to what you are saying. And we diplomats must know who you are in order to evaluate what you are saying. And Yariv, with these words, his speech, he lowered immediately this level of apprehension which we had. And throughout the talks, we wrote our report. I don’t have a copy of it. I cannot remember what we put in it. Throughout the thing, he was a good listener. And he presented his country’s, or his high commands, because it was
military, in a very sophisticated and kind matter. He wasn’t shoving it down our throats. But there were talks going on, you see. And I think that later on, Yariv and Gamasy hit it off very
well. I mean, I think they became very close, as human beings also, in all these things.
KWS: Was the UN there the first time?
OS: No. They were only there two times. And they were sleeping in their cars. They just didn’t realize the importance historically.
KWS: The Austrian drivers?
OS: The two Austrian drivers? They were UN troops. Oh no, the UN was not there…no one, no one was there during the talks. That was strange. Is that interesting to you?
OS: No, no. Here I can stop.
KWS: No, because you’re doing exactly what I want. What you essentially said is this is the first bilateral talks that took place between the Arabs and Israelis, face to face without any mediators present. Now there may have been private Arab Israeli talks, like the Hussein talks with various Israelis over the years.
OS: Yes, but they were not negotiations.
KWS: That’s right. Is it fair to say, in my memory… and I’ve only been at this for 15 years in studying the Arab Israeli conflict…in my memory, it is the first time that Egyptians and Israelis met face to face.
OS: No, we met at Rhodes.
KWS: Yes, but you met at Rhodes under the auspices of Ralph Bunch. This was face to face without a mediator.
OS: Yes, there you are right. That is the first part. It’s historical. I’m very proud to have been part of it, if only for a moment in history. Very proud.
KWS: No, I’m delighted by the detail.
OS: And then we had… Yariv had a problem. And he had to get up every now and then a bit too often and phone home to his command and come back with instructions. And we Egyptians found that strange. Because he was kept on a short leash.
KWS: Do you think he phoned for instructions or he phoned to report?
OS: Well, I don’t know. He phoned to report and he also phoned for instructions because you can report at the end if you don’t need instructions. And the officer who was with Gamasy, looked at him and said: “What’s the matter with you? Don’t they trust you?”
KWS: Said that to Yariv?
OS: To Yariv, because we can take decisions. So Yariv, he was a gentleman, I mean there is no doubt about it, said: “Well, I envy you,” something to that effect. It was the right… it was a pleasant answer. “I envy that you have this free hand.” And that was that. And then suddenly something occurred…well, the Israelis were photographing us as if we were people from Mars. I don’t know why they were doing it. I think they also realized it was a historical moment. And I might think that they did it also to find in their files who we are, to identify us. I have nothing against them. But then, in one of these phone calls, we had a coffee break. And although I’m Egyptian, I have never been in the desert at 2 or 3 in the morning, in October. It was frightfully cold. You don’t know. You can’t imagine. And I couldn’t even take notes, my hand was shivering so one of them put a jacket on my shoulders, which I appreciated very much, because he saw I was freezing.
KWS: Yariv tells me they were Israeli air force jackets.
OS: I don’t know. I mean, I just don’t know. I mean, all I know is that I got warm and I was grateful. Because after all, this is the enemy. And I would not have asked him for anything, but I was freezing. Somebody put a jacket on my shoulder. And then during our coffee break, with cakes, a soldier said something to the effect of, “our mothers do for us.” And I said: “Yes, that’s exactly what our mothers do for the Egyptian soldiers too. I mean, there is no difference in any army.” And then somebody came to me and said, “but who are you?” That was an interesting scene. “Who are you?” Pinpointing me. I was under instruction not to say. So I said: “Why this question? Who do you think I am?” And he looked at me and said: “I think you are the Russian commissar in the Egyptian armed forces.” This made me raving mad. And I forgot the peace process and I took him against the tank and said: “Now you see this. You want an alibi because you cannot believe that we Egyptians did what we did. That our army did what it did. So you want to belittle us and say that we are the Russians in the army that have done all this for us. I am an Egyptian. I am a Muslim. I’m an Egyptian. I have an Egyptian father and an Egyptian mother. And I resent that. I strongly resent that.” So the man immediately drew back.
KWS: This is one of Yariv’s associates?
OS: Associates. He became, later on, the military attaché, I think. He actually remembered that scene when he saw me and said, “you are…”
KWS: The military attaché?
OS: (I saw him again) here in Cairo later on. And then he said something extremely nice again.
KWS: Dov Zion perhaps?
OS: I don’t know the name. You see, I’m not involved enough from then. But in any case, he said: “Look here, I know how you fought and I tell you one thing: I will never want to fight again against the Egyptian army.”
KWS: He said that?
OS: He said that, that “we have had our lesson. We have learned our lesson.” I mean, they thought it would be something like in ’67. They found out it was not ’67. I can’t remember the name.
KWS: This is a picture of Siilasvuo, Yariv, and that’s Dov Zion.
OS: That could be. I don’t know. I can’t remember. I would not even remember. I remember Siilasvuo because I saw him often. Yariv I would know also, perhaps. That is Jonah, is it not?
KWS: Yes, James Jonah.
OS: So, we spoke, we spoke, we spoke, and then we separated.
KWS: Let me just show you one more. This is later on…
OS: No, that’s later on.
KWS: That’s November 11th.
OS: This is the officer that was with us on the first week.
KWS: That’s right. And that’s Jonah…
OS: This is Jonah and Fawzi. And there was I think another Egyptian, perhaps. You have to ask Fawzi.
KWS: I believe that’s Yariv.
OS: May I have a look? Yes, it could be. Its opposite it’s like this. But that is elegant. The other one was between two tanks, I mean it was… So we went home and I…
KWS: What were your instructions? What were you supposed to accomplish? What did Fahmy say to you?
KWS: I mean, Gamasy was the one who was sort of running the show and you were…
OS: Look, I’ll tell you something for your general information. This country is not run by institutions. It’s not like the United States.
KWS: Of course.
OS: It is run by individuals and highly capable individuals with very strong personalities, with very strong views, and with a very strong sense of stubbornness, if you will. Our presidents are more powerful than your presidents. Not that they have a bigger army or better economy. But when they say something, it is being carried out. Your president has to account to the press, to the Congress, to this, to that, to public opinion.
KWS: Moshe Sasson described it as modern pharaonism.
OS: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So, we, all of us, are a jack of all trades. But good jacks of all trades, you know. Not normal jacks of all trades. And I remember one day Ismail Fahmy sending me off and I said: “Your instructions?” And he looked at me and said: “Instructions? You need instructions? Don’t you know what you are to do? If I knew that you would ask for instructions, I would not have sent you.” So this is the type of…
KWS: But when you came back to Cairo?
OS: I came back and I sat with the officer and Fawzi Ibrashi. And we wrote our report on this meeting. That took us, I think, up to six in the morning. And when we agreed on this report, I left it with the officer because, I mean, it was Gamasy who was the head of the mission and not the foreign ministry. And I went home to sleep. Don’t ask me what was in this report because I just can’t remember. But then a strange thing happened. And this is perhaps also interesting to you. Then I woke, somebody woke me up at about 8:30 in the morning, shortly after 8. And he says: “The President wants to see you. You have to go to the Tara Palace,” where the President was staying during the war. “Immediately. You have to be there at 9 o’clock.” I said: “But I’m not shaven and I will not have time if you want me at 9 o’clock.” He said “You go as you are.” So I went. And Ismail Fahmy has this meeting, but he hasn’t got all the personalities at this meeting. It was the President, it was the Vice-President, it was the Minister for Defense, the Security Advisor was there…
KWS: Hafez Ismail.
OS: Hafez Ismail was there. Then there was another gentleman. Ismail Fahmy was there as acting Foreign Minister. Gamasy was there of course, yes. And I was there. I never knew what the hell I was doing there.
KWS: But Fawzi wasn’t there?
OS: Fawzi was not there, no. And it was, as you just mentioned… it was Pharaonic. What do you call it?
KWS: Modern pharaonism.
OS: Modern pharaonism. Sadat talked, analyzed the situation and others were listening. There was no input from the others. When Sadat speaks, everybody listens. And then suddenly he looked at Ismail Fahmy and he said: “You are going to take the plane today and go off to America.” He said something to the effect of he knew that Kissinger did not want to meet an Egyptian envoy at that moment. Golda Meir was in Washington. “But you should go.”
KWS: She was actually on her way.
OS: On her way, that could be. But somehow Kissinger did not want to have somebody so Sadat forced his hand.
KWS: At least that’s what Sadat said to you.
OS: Sadat said in front of us. Not to me, I mean, in front of us.
KWS: Do you know that, in fact, Kissinger wanted Fahmy to come to Washington?
OS: No, no.
KWS: But even though there’s modern pharaonism doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the truth.
OS: Never mind, I mean, these politicians. I have worked next to them and I could write books but I will then lose every case in the court. You know, libel and all that. Anyway, Fahmy was slightly reluctant to do that.
KWS: So he left on the 28th of October.
OS: That could be, yes. It was the end of October. So then the meeting took place on the night of the 27th to the 28th.
KWS: That’s 12:30 a.m. on October 28th, 12:30 to 1:30 is about when, you said, you weren’t at Kilometer 101.
OS: No, that was later. They changed the place.
KWS: I see. The story that I heard was that the Israelis and the Egyptians had different maps, and the point where they were to meet, you know when you say Kilometer 101, and the Israelis would be here and the Egyptians would be there. Yariv said we made a mistake. He said: “After we fought the Egyptians for three weeks, we went to Kilometer 106 and we couldn’t find them.” He said: “We were there at 7:30 or 8:00 at night.” So then there was a communication difficulty because of the time difference between Washington and Egypt. He said “We communicated fairly quickly with Washington, but the Egyptians had more difficulty.”
OS: Yes, we had to do it via the embassy.
KWS: Exactly. He said: “As a consequence of after having fought these people for so long and being so close, we were 5 kilometers apart but it took us 5 hours to meet.” Now Yariv explained the difficulty of the first moments. So there’s confirmation…
OS: Yes, yes. But I don’t think it was…101 was in no man’s land. Was it not?
KWS: That’s correct.
OS: Yes, but that was not in no man’s land. That was behind the Israeli lines.
KWS: That’s what Yariv said too.
OS: Yes. And then suddenly, Sadat started to give instructions, to say to Ismail Fahmy exactly what he wanted.
KWS: From his trip.
OS: No, from this trip. And I automatically took out my note block and my pencil and started writing. And I have this paper somewhere at home. And I saw it about three years ago and I read it and I was deeply impressed with Sadat because it was very clear what he wanted. And more or less, he carried it out over time. But that was his strategic thinking. Strategic and tactical thinking. I wrote it down and I got instructions from Ismail Fahmy to accompany him. But before I had to translate that into English, ??? says: “He dictated it, it’s wrong.”
KWS: What were those instructions?
OS: They are in Ismail Fahmy’s book.
KWS: Are they accurate?
OS: It’s going to take time for me, but if you want, I’m going to get out all the old boxes I have in my home and look at this paper, because it is the copy of the original that I have typed out myself. I hope to G-d I still have it. There is one point…what I admired in Sadat is this one point and I didn’t catch in Arabic. So, I either omitted it or I wrote it wrongly. So I re-sent this to Sadat from Paris for reconfirmation that this is what he said. And he sent it back, putting that point in order. You see, Sadat…there was a great difference between him and Nasser and Mubarak. Nasser and Mubarak were people who reacted to events. Sadat took initiative. And I admired that. He risked his hand and he eventually lost it. But my… what a man. You must have sat with
him, you must have seen him, you must have been around him, really to believe what you see. He was out of the usual. There is no doubt in my mind about that. And so we went and met, and then there are the meetings with Kissinger. You know more about that than I do because I never sat in on the meetings.
KWS: You mean Fahmy had these meetings one on one without a notetaker? In Washington?
OS: He took with him Nabil al-Araby but he didn’t take our man at the mission with him. And then he came home and he dictated this. And he didn’t take notes. But that is one of the things that are… I don’t know if you are aware of this but whenever Fahmy goes to Washington, he negotiates with Kissinger. He discusses, shall you put it this way. He discusses with Kissinger. But whenever Kissinger came over, he talked to Sadat solo. And it pained me to see the Foreign Minister of Egypt sitting with me. All right, my place is not inside. But not your place. You see, it pained me. It was very embarrassing. And that went on throughout every single meeting
with Sadat and Kissinger. Ismail Fahmy was not there.
KWS: And that created resentment in Ismail.
OS: Well, if you have the ambition to be a Foreign Minister, you have to swallow a great deal in this country. Then came the very famous scene, which I shall never, ever forget. It was in Aswan, at the end of the first disengagement talks. And Kissinger was shocking. And of course, Sadat was an accomplished actor. You have to be an actor if you want to be a politician. But he was really accomplished. A good scene when Kissinger came the second time, his voice booming out “Hello Henry.” And you could feel Henry…
OS: Melting. I used to stand there and here this “Hello Henry.” And I used to say to myself: “Oh my God. How can you resist, I mean, even a Kissinger was…” I mean, I’m speaking very practically. So, what happened? Kissinger met with Sadat. It was the third, fourth meeting… I can’t remember. And then suddenly a phone call from Sadat’s residence in Aswan. The two delegations are going to meet. Suddenly now it’s institutionalized.
KWS: Who made the phone call?
OS: To Fahmy. The two delegations are going to meet. So it was Kissinger…
TAPE CUTS OFF HERE. END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE.
BEGINNING OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO.
KWS: I’m a historian, Omar. Nothing is too small for a historian because if you take all the little small pieces, they create an edifice and ultimately a building. So believe me, it’s all important.
OS: So, I sat in on this meeting for no other reason than that the Americans I think had 7 people on their side, so we had to have 7 people on our side. No, I don’t think there are pictures there.
KWS: Well, there’s only one picture of the signing on…
OS: No, no, no, there was no picture-taking there. So as I told you, I was included just to fill up the numbers. If there were 8 Americans, there had to be 8 Egyptians. So, I sat in. And Kissinger informed us of what is the result of the shuttle and what has been agreed upon. And he started by telling us what the Egyptian side is getting. And it was more or less what the Egyptian side wanted. And having said what we Egyptians would get out of it, he started to proceed now with what the Egyptians would have to pay for it, what the Israelis are going to get for it. And here he said that, I think the army, the Egyptian armed forces will have to reduce to so much, so many tanks, so many guns and anti-aircraft rockets. And the aircraft system has to be withdrawn. I don’t know how many kilometers. Upon this, Gamasy suddenly says “Impossible! No! How? This is Egyptian land controlled by the Egyptian armed forces, at the price of blood of sacrifice. How can I withdraw my army like this? What am I going to tell my army?!”
KWS: In front of Sadat and everyone.
OS: No, Sadat was not there. Sadat sent Kissinger to meet with the delegation.
KWS: I see. So at that point, Sadat was already…
OS: Had already agreed.
KWS: But he was using the Americans to deliver the message.
OS: To deliver the message and make it formal, institutionally, because on the Egyptian side, there was the Foreign Office and the military was represented separately. You see?
KWS: He did the same thing later with Carter. He used Carter to represent Egypt’s interests to the Israelis and to the Americans.
OS: Perhaps. But that was the interesting part because the Minister for Defense did not want to come.
KWS: Who was it then?
OS: Ismail… Not Hafez Ismail but this Marshall. He did not want to come. He sent Gamasy. And then Gamasy was really, very highly emotional. He even had tears in his eyes.
KWS: That’s what Gamasy told me. He said that he had to excuse himself from the tent.
OS: And he left the tent. And I said to myself “Oh my God.” Because I was purely a spectator. I had nothing to do there. I said: “Oh my God. This man represents the army. And he’s a fine
Officer. And if the army says no, what could happen?” Ismail Fahmy takes it upon himself to attempt to renegotiate… trying to get more troops…
KWS: More tanks.
OS: More tanks, more guns, anything.
KWS: Gamasy had understood 230 tanks and Sadat had agreed to 20.
OS: Yes. For Gamasy it was a blow. A blow.
KWS: I interviewed him here in November and that was his word. He said: “It was an emotional blow for me.”
OS: Yes. And it was… Gamasy is out of the room, Ismail Fahmy renegotiates. This was a very risky business because, first of all, he should have known that the President has already negotiated. Secondly, Kissinger would not be going back to the Israelis and talking about the figures. Thirdly, if at all Kissinger had in his pocket to turn 20 tanks into 30 tanks, that
would be a blow to Sadat. And that was not very bright. And he tried and tried and tried and tried and Kissinger was not to be moved. He had the okay of the Israelis in his pocket and he had the okay of the President in his pocket. And all that was needed to end the whole affair was to go back to Israel and tell the President. That was all that was needed.
KWS: So this meeting was really pro-forma.
OS: Absolutely. Absolutely. And then, Gamasy comes back. What a man. What a man. Have you seen him?
OS: A soldier, he was younger then and in uniform. And he apologized and he said something to the effect that: “I am a military man and my job is to obey my political leadership. And
of course I will obey my political leadership.” And then he explained that if that is the decision again, it will be carried out but he will have to do it this way, you know. Take 1,000 soldiers out, putting 500 back, taking 1,000 out and by this rotation (laughter)…because he wouldn’t have to face the officers. And the Egyptian army was highly motivated at that time and very proud of its performance. It was not an easy thing to do. And so we were there and suddenly a call from Sadat. “Where is Henry?” So he was told at the hotel that Henry was negotiating with the Egyptians. “Negotiating? Negotiating? But there is nothing to negotiate. I have negotiated.”
KWS: How do you know that was the essence of the conversation, of the phone call?
OS: Because we heard it. I mean, the Egyptian messenger came and told us this.
KWS: So the messenger is reading this message, Fahmy’s sitting in the room.
OS: Well, he told Fahmy in Arabic, that the President said: “What are you negotiating about?” It was in Arabic, it was not a conversation that, unless there was an Arabist on the other side… And I found that extremely amusing because I can understand Sadat. I could not understand Fahmy. And so abruptly, the meeting ended. No doubt, the Pharaoh has spoken. The meeting ended, the famous caravan, the convoy, left to the President. A kiss here, a kiss there. You know, you should see this in the military really. Kissinger takes off and that was that.
KWS: Let me ask you some specific questions about the period just prior to the war, the period from Kissinger’s visit here on November 6th and 7th to the end of Kilometer 1; the preparations
for Geneva and coming out of Geneva into Sinai I. There are some interesting links which I’m trying to create as to what followed what and who was responsible. In your own mind, as a member of Egyptian foreign service, why do you suppose…you use the term “Sadat was a man who took initiatives”…why do you suppose he took the initiative to throw out the Soviets in ’72 and start a war here in ’73 without either informing the Americans or asking something from the Americans in return? He did, by the way, the same thing in his trip to Jerusalem in ’77. He was not afraid to take an initiative without asking for something in advance. In fact, he almost did it as if “I’m going to do this and intentionally not ask for something.” The Americans were extraordinarily perplexed. Michael Sterner was extraordinarily perplexed. Most Americans who followed Egypt were. “Why did Sadat cut the Soviets out and never tell us and never ask anything from us?” No military aid, no foreign aid. Why did he go to war? Did he go to war really to get our attention? As a member of the foreign service. You said something very telling to me. You said “Fahmy called me. He said get my pajama and toothbrush,” and you said “Hooray, we’re finally going to negotiate.” Did you understand why Sadat went to war in 1973? At that moment, did you understand that he went to war in order to engage in diplomacy?
KWS: And how did you come to understand that?
OS: At first, my reaction to Sadat, prior to the war, was very negative because he made several insinuations that he would fight but nothing came.
KWS: ’72 was the year of decision.
OS: Decision. And then he made a speech, speaking about a cloud that came and I don’t know what…
KWS: The fog over…
OS: The fog. And this was very badly received in Egypt. They thought that this man was a clown. A political clown. And we, even at the Foreign Ministry… I mean, I was a counselor and then I was a minister for ???. At our level, we just ignored what was going on. Nobody told us. At the level of the foreign minister, he knew. But I did not. I assure you. And shortly before the war, there was a reception and I met the British military attaché. And I, as an Egyptian, not as a diplomat… I complained bitterly about this stalemate, this no peace, no war. What is the army doing? And then he surprised me. And this is one of the question marks I have, is that he told me, “I want to tell you one thing. The Egyptian army that you have from the Suez canal is an army that is totally different from any army you had before. It bears no resemblance with the soldiers you see in Egypt, in Cairo, dilapidated.” You know this picture. And he says that every officer, every non-commissioned officer, every man, every pilot can stand up to the Israelis. I went home perplexed, totally perplexed…
KWS: This is in ’72?
OS: This is in ’73. About one month or something, over one month before the October war. There was a reception, I don’t know why there was a reception but I was totally perplexed. But when the war started, and I was told that the Egyptians have crossed the Suez Canal, my first reaction was “impossible!” It was true. Unbelievable that we would do this. And the apprehension set in, because the Israelis had been very cleverly building up a psychological defense line. It was not the Suez Canal; it was not the Bar-Lev line but it was this psychological defense line they had built up. And it was a defense line which to them, even, became impregnable, because then they started thinking the Egyptians would never dare. They fell into their own trap. It’s when they attacked the Egyptians and I was immediately posted to the operations room. And the first reports came in, I remembered. But they are running, the Israelis are running. That was the first report. Everything was according to plan. Everything went, unexpectedly, extremely well. I remembered, suddenly, what the British military attaché, told me. And I said to myself, if the British military attaché knew about this, then he must have told his own defense ministry about it. And if he has told his defense ministry about it, they must have informed Washington. Don’t they do that? So, I mean, didn’t America know that we had a superb army sitting there, didn’t America know? And then I thought that I remembered there was a hint that this army was not there just to sit on the canal. You see? So my question is here, and you must ask this question yourself, how far were Americans informed about the quality of the training of the Egyptian army? Why were they training like this? What they were doing? What
they were planning? Did the Americans expect the Egyptian army really to cross? Or were they totally blinded by whatever information they got from the Israeli side?
KWS: If not totally, then certainly close to total.
OS: This to me is up to today a mystery. A military attaché tells me we have a superb army and this information goes into somewhere in the bureaucracy and sneaks down and nobody realizes it.
KWS: But did you understand that he was going to war in order to enter negotiations?
OS: Yes, yes. He never intended to go to reach the Israelis at the border. I think even the passes, they were afraid.
KWS: Gamasy said they had plans to go to the passes.
OS: Yes, they had plans but stopped. They stopped because they did not dare to leave the umbrella.
KWS: The missile umbrella.
OS: The missile umbrella, yeah. And Gamasy must have told you, he’s better informed than I, that when the Russians resumed sending us arms, they were arms that we could not use. I mean, they were not arms that we could use in the fighting. They were other things. So they did not dare, in retrospect. They should have. They could have. And of course the attack, the big tank battle that occurred, Gamasy must have told you about the big tank battle that occurred, it was a battle that was waged for political reasons. To lessen the pressure on the Syrian front. But we went into it without planning for it properly. This is what I was told then. I don’t know what Gamasy told you. He is the man who knows. And we had losses there. We had big losses there. But we think that if the Americans would not have sent ammunition and help to the Israelis, they would have been in bad shape. They would have been in bad shape. I understand they ran out of ammunition or were about to run out of ammunition.
KWS: Not exactly true. The Israelis told a story to Schlesinger and to Bill Clements that they were about to run out. What happened was that the Israelis had ammunition that had left the warehouses that were on the way to the front, but the Israelis took the American military attaché to the warehouses to show that the warehouses were empty.
OS: Typical Israelis.
KWS: So the point I make is that the Israelis could have held out for another week to ten days without any resupply. Maybe they could have mounted a counter attack. Had the war lasted, however, longer than 20 days, they then would have been in a severe…
OS: But why did Dayan collapse?
KWS: Dayan was deeply distressed that personally, he and the other generals had given Golda the wrong advice. Three of them had wanted to preempt. Dayan did not. And he realized, by the third or fourth day of the war, what devastation had occurred. To give you some idea of the depth of Dayan’s personal feeling about this… for the next three years, on the anniversary of the October War, Dayan was never inside Israel, he was always outside of the country. He never wanted to be interviewed. He didn’t want to talk about it. Up until ’77 was the first October anniversary in which he was… he actually wasn’t in Israel, he was negotiating with Vance in New York on the US-Israeli working paper, after the declaration. But there was devastation in
the minds of the Israeli general staff as a result of the Egyptian success. And this has come to me from the military leadership in Israel; Ariel Shalev, who was head of military intelligence; Yariv himself and the political people; Mordechai Gazit, who was Golda’s director general; and Epi Evron, who was in the foreign ministry at the time. Kissinger and Saunders and Atherton… when they came on their way back from Moscow for the first time, noticed how deeply ashen and drained these Israelis were as a result of the war.
OS: The whole scenery collapsed. Because they thought that if we are 300 kilometers away from the Israeli border we are safe. They were not.
KWS: The notion of strategic depth was rearranged as a result of the ’73 war. Let me go back…
OS: But, I answer your question about why Sadat threw the Russians out. I cannot give you the answer, but I can only give you a logical guess. He was deeply irritated by the Russian attitude. And we Egyptians before that had the English High Commissioner who was dictating us, everything.
KWS: Miles Lampson.
OS: Miles Lampson. And that was strongly resented. You must know this story of Sadat trying to get into a base, a Russian base…
OS: And he was stopped by the Russians. So I think that played a role. Then another negative role played by the Russians was that they were really… yes they gave us arms, yes they trained us, but they would never have allowed us to go to war. You see, they played a political game with us. They could have, perhaps, stopped us, or they could have given intelligence to the Americans as to what we were up to. In any case, Sadat, when he threw them out and he didn’t ask for anything in return, I think that is something that is typical Sadat. For instance, take the example of the return of prisoners of war. I cannot remember one Egyptian, I mean one of these counselors who were prepared to let the prisoners of war be exchanged unless something was given in return. You see, Sadat let the prisoners of war go. And he was often accused by Ismail Fahmy, in his private conversations with us, that had I been left to play this, I would have gotten something out of it.
KWS: Wasn’t it, in fact, Ismail Fahmy who said to Sadat: “Before we go to Geneva, we have to have a further Israeli withdrawal and we don’t need…”
OS: That could be. That could be! Ismail Fahmy was very, he was a very…. he was a bulldozer if you want.
KWS: You tell me if these words describe him. Haughty or arrogant?
OS: Well, we usually call him arrogant.
KWS: That’s not incorrect. Tahseen Bashir used the word arrogant.
OS: Yes. Tahseen knows. I know. Unfortunately, this is uh…
KWS: Did he have any influence on Sadat at all, before the war or during or after the war?
OS: Well, before the war, he was appointed to Bonn. And as he was going to Bonn, he was appointed Minister of Tourism. But he was not appointed Minister of Tourism to look after tourism. He was given this position but he was sending notes, analytical notes to Sadat. Political notes, strategic…
KWS: But he must have been impressed with Fahmy, no matter how stubborn the man.
OS: He has been impressed because there were two men in the running.
KWS: Ashraf and Ismail.
OS: Ashraf and Ismail. And Ismail made it.
KWS: And Ismail never forgot to remind Ashraf about who was Foreign Minister and who was Ambassador.
OS: Exactly. And Ashraf, when the news was brought out that Ismail Fahmy has become Foreign Minister to him, he was devastated. Because he thought he would make the running. And Ashraf died. I mean, he wanted to be foreign minister. But somehow, Sadat was taken in because Ismail Fahmy was a bright fellow. He was intelligent. And he could dictate strategic notes just like that. I mean, he was really very good.
KWS: Did Ashraf have that ability?
KWS: And maybe that’s why Sadat took him.
OS: Ismail Fahmy…when Sadat rings him up at 10 in the morning and says: “Give me your analysis on this and this and this situation.” The analysis would be on Sadat’s desk within 2 to 3 hours.
KWS: And was it accurate?
OS: Well, it’s an analysis. Yes, yes, I can vouch for that. I remember I was always admiring Fahmy that he was truthful with Sadat. Truthful. He never hid anything from Sadat. He spoke his mind with Sadat. He was not a manipulator and he was not an intriguer.
KWS: But he certainly was capable of keeping people out of any access to Sadat.
OS: That’s the rules of the game.
KWS: So when you define manipulation, you’re not including that. You’re assuming that’s part of the game.
OS: No, no. That’s part of the game. Because he’s the Foreign Minister and things have to run through him.
KWS: O.K.. I just want to be sure I understand the terms.
OS: No, no, no. I mean, I have been with his mind from 9 in the morning sometimes up to… I didn’t see my children grow in that period. It was that interesting, that fascinating. And I have sat in when he spoke to the President and he never ever lied to him. Never! And he stood up to him and spoke his mind. And Sadat appreciated that. Any great man would appreciate that. I don’t want to be surrounded by nincompoops and…
KWS: Who else spoke up besides Fahmy? Was there any at that time, between ’73 and ’77?
OS: I don’t know about the others. Ismail was a gentleman…
KWS: But he left. He went off to Moscow.
OS: Yes, but Hafez Ismail was not of the same category as Fahmy. I mean today, if you ask anybody in the Foreign Ministry, he remembers the days of Ismail Fahmy. When we were all working our asses off. Because even if Sadat was the man who took the strategic decisions, Ismail Fahmy played a role.
KWS: But he played a role in implementing the decisions or in making them?
OS: He played definitely a role in implementing the decisions and he had tactical freedom to do so.
KWS: And the way you talk… it always appears that he wanted to get more than what Sadat wanted.
OS: Yes, well he liked to appear as the fellow who was influencing Sadat, you see. Perhaps he could influence Sadat on things. That I don’t doubt. But I think that Sadat was allowing this to happen as long as it was not the big target he had set for himself.
KWS: It wasn’t going to impede him getting to the target.
OS: To the target for himself. And all this. So everything other was to Sadat, secondary. It was secondary to exchange prisoners of war. After all, it will be to our advantage to have our boys coming home too. It was secondary to Sadat that we have opened an Israeli embassy in Cairo while our territories were still occupied. That was something that would make Ismail Fahmy fume. But Sadat left it because he knew it was a question of time and why don’t I do this gesture? I will. And there is a peace treaty and they will have to leave. And they left. You see there is a
difference of a man who was able to look very, very far ahead. Very far ahead. And in the book of Ismail Fahmy… when you read it, I’m sorry, but it’s not truthful to the extent that he says that of almost all these things, “Sadat did right to appoint me Foreign Minister.” But as long as I have been at this, his mind was always full of praise for the President. Always full of praise. Even when this famous note that I’m going to look for and will hopefully find it and get to you next time… even when Sadat ordered Gamasy to hand this over to Yariv, the same note, with our strategic plan, and we were in Washington and Kissinger was angry about that. I was angry. I was upset about that because it was taking the carpet out from under our feet. Ismail Fahmy was very calm about it. He never uttered a word against Sadat. In his book…no, the only clash, I mean I was then Ambassador in Austria and I felt…
KWS: When? When were you ambassador?
KWS: From ’75 until?
OS: Until ’78, I had the good fortune again here. I was fortunate to…
KWS: So you were in Austria when Sadat met with Carter?
OS: I was with…
KWS: Carter or Ford?
OS: Ford. I was in Austria when he met also with the leader of the Labour party, Peres. And all this was arranged through Austria and I had a very good relationship with Kreisky. When I was in Austria, I started to feel… you must have antennas always, you know? I started to feel that there was something not totally right in the relationship between Ismail and the president. Up to this day I cannot put my finger on it. And when Ismail resigned… after he resigned, I saw him. He told me that he was sorry that he had let me go. He ordered me to Austria. And he said to Kreisky that it was the biggest mistake in his life that he let me go because I was at least honest with him, you know. When Sadat went to Jerusalem, some of my dear colleagues started to taunt him and say: “Ha! What are you going to do, the big Ismail Fahmy?” It was not the right thing and I told him “If I had been your Chief of Staff, then you would have gone to Austria. I would have tied you on your chair and not allowed you to return.” Because we are friends, besides him being the minister and I am…we were friends, very close friends. And I told him “Ismail, our goal as diplomats is to make peace.” And if the man chooses to risk his neck, yes, you should go to Jerusalem.
KWS: What influence do you think you had over him over the long haul?
OS: Yousee Ismail, you had to play it right with him. It is not that you can’t talk to him at all. You have to plant ideas in his mind and leave them to…
OS: Incubate for 2 or 3 days and then he would come out and say… oh, you recognize that it is your idea but you don’t speak. You always allow him to say that it was his idea. He used to write letters and tell me “You don’t change a comma.” I said: “Of course not. They are perfect.” And it would take me hours to edit. And then I would give it back to him and he says “Have you changed anything?” I say “No, certainly not. Why should I change anything? Look at it.” He knows that I have changed, and I know he knows, but that was Ismail Fahmy. These are the bright stars in the sky. But I loved him. I really liked the man.
KWS: Did you learn from him?
OS: Yes, I learned from him.
KWS: What was his best quality?
OS: Initiative…forcefulness…he’s not afraid. He was a good Egyptian. He thought he could get better terms.
KWS: Was he a good Arab?
KWS: What does that mean, no?
OS: Well, it means that as many Egyptians, he thought that Arabs are dragging us down.
KWS: And yet it was Fahmy that was the one that was constantly speaking to Sadat about separate peace. “You can’t go this alone. What about the others?”
OS: Yes. But Fahmy was totally embarrassed when he went to Jerusalem because he had just come back from a meeting with the Arabs and he had rallied them. But the way Ismail Fahmy would rally them is by sheer aggressivity. He would talk to the Arabs the way you should talk to the Arabs.
KWS: In other words, his arrogance was also arrogance which he expressed to his Arab brethren.
OS: Of course. You should see him with the Syrian, who was the vice prime minister now, who was Kaddem. That was something to behold.
OS: Because he wouldn’t let Kaddem get away with any…the Syrians are intellectual manipulators. He would not allow them to get away with it. He would immediately, in the meeting, ask for the floor and put up straight.
KWS: What about Fahmy’s attitude towards the Palestinians?
OS: It was good. Because he knew that…
KWS: But it never overshadowed his “Egyptinness.”
KWS: Omar, let me be blunt about this. I see Sadat’s dilemma from the ’73 war as making Egypt’s primary goal the return of Sinai, by whatever means.
OS: The whole of Sinai.
KWS: All of Sinai. And being caught in the dilemma between that number one priority and not paying just lip service to the Arabs…not paying lip service to the Palestinians, truly wanting to get what he could for them. But at every critical turning point, if it came to Egypt’s needs, priorities, or the rest, Sadat always went in the direction of Egypt first. And Fahmy, by what you now tell me, Fahmy also was of that opinion but maybe less extreme in that attitude than was Sadat. Sadat really was Egyptian first.
OS: Everybody is Egyptian first. I mean the English are the English first and then Europeans. This is not something that you should not describe as being extraordinary. An Egyptian is not going to lose his identity because he is an Arab also. You see? I think that Sadat generally wanted to get, of course, Sinai. But he fought very hard to get something also for the Arabs. And I remember sitting with Hermann Eilts in Vienna, begging him: “Herman, I am not going to be there, I’m not going and I am absolutely upset about this. Please Herman, please make sure that your side keeps informing the Arabs of what is going on. Don’t spring a surprise on them.” And Herman agreed with me on that. But somehow when you are there in the nitty gritty of these negotiations, it slips your mind. And Carter assured Sadat that he would deliver for the Arabs. This is what Hermann Eilts told me. And there were little things that happened.
KWS: Carter assured Sadat.
OS: Carter assured Sadat, yes. Carter assured Sadat. And then there was the other thing about stopping to build new settlements. And Carter told Sadat that Begin has assured him that as long as the negotiations would go on, they would stop, they would not build. So our people pressed Sadat to get it in writing from Carter. And Sadat, the gentleman, said: “But if an American president tells me this, I cannot very well go to the American president and tell him, ‘Give me that in writing.’ I have to believe the man.” And it is on these two accounts that the American side failed. And that is according to Herman Eilts to me.
KWS: Failed on the settlements and failed to deliver the Arabs.
OS: And failed to deliver the Arabs. And that was the direction. The Arabs were, of course…I remember the Arab Ambassadors were quite pleased with what we had done.
KWS: When was this?
OS: After first Camp David.
KWS: Now where were you after ’78? You left…
KWS: And you went from Austria to Bonn, as Ambassador?
OS: From Vienna to Bonn.
KWS: As ambassador.
OS: Yes. Because the Ambassador in Bonn was dominated by the Foreign Minister. Mohammed ???. And he wanted only me to be in Bonn, obviously. Born in Berlin, educated in a German school, who do you send to Bonn if you have a man like me? You see. And the Arab ambassadors in Bonn were extremely happy and pleased. Not the Iraqi. But all the rest of them, without exception, they were certain that the Arab countries would follow.
KWS: The Arabs would follow what, Omar?
OS: Sadat. The Arab ambassadors were certain about it. They would follow Sadat to… they would not do anything against him, they would accept what he has done, and they would take advantage of it. He would be the first man who has done the psychological step and they could then follow. And you know in MENA house we had even the Palestinian flag on the negotiating table. The Israelis here, the Egyptians there, and the Palestinian flag. But the Palestinians never
appeared. It was the only instance when the Israelis accepted the Palestinian flag. But the Palestinians did not appear. And ??? had told me at the airport in Bonn, that I don’t know if he was king then, I think he was Crown Prince then, can’t remember now. He told me: “Please tell Sadat that I am with him to the end.” And I sent that dispatch, I remember. “With him to the end.” They helped him. They went to Baghdad, and Saddam Hussein, as you know him, has done his…. Look, the Arabs would have never been able today to sit with, to try and talk to the Israelis if you did not beat the hell out of Saddam in the Kuwait war.
KWS: No, that’s clear.
OS: Never would they have done that!
KWS: Why is that? That force is the only answer? I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Umm, you stayed with Fahmy through ’75?
OS: Yes, May ’75.
KWS: May ’75, so you were here when Kissinger tried to get Sinai II but you left before Sinai II was delivered.
OS: Was delivered, yes.
KWS: Now after you left the first meeting at Kilometer 101…it wasn’t Kilometer 101. It was on the Israeli side. You came back to Cairo. Your capacity… you did what between then and Geneva?
OS: Suddenly, Ismail Fahmy appointed me Chief of Staff.
END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO.
BEGINNING OF TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE.
KWS: As chef du cabinet in November of 1973, do you remember the evolution of the Six Points agreement, that was signed by Yariv and Gamasy on November 11th and 12th? Do you remember anything about that? Do you remember anything about Kissinger’s visit here on
November 6th and 7th?
KWS: What do you remember about that visit, other than the 4 and a half hours they were alone and everyone sat in the garden and watched.
OS: I don’t know anything about what happened substantially, but didn’t Kissinger come out with a Six Point…
KWS: The question is where were those six points devised? Were they devised in Washington between Fahmy, Kissinger and Golda, or were they devised between Yariv and Gamasy in 101? And I don’t have a clear answer on that.
OS: Ismail Fahmy pretends that he devised it.
KWS: Yes, I know and Yariv says that’s not the case.
OS: I don’t think it was the case. I think this was devised in Cairo. I think so but I have nothing to prove it. What does Yariv say?
KWS: Yariv says that most of it was negotiated between them after Yariv came back from Washington. He went with Golda to Washington on November 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, and Golda demanded the POW lists from the Egyptians. That was the number one item on her agenda and
the Egyptians virtually taunted her with it by not delivering it immediately. Gamasy said to me: “We knew how badly she wanted it so we didn’t give it to her.”
OS: Yes, correct.
KWS: He then went on to say that on the 5th and the 6th, before Kissinger arrived, they had worked out pretty much the separation of forces, not yet the disengagement but the separation
of forces. And some of the ideas he brought back with him from Washington and they were then mingled together and provided in text form to the Americans. And that is essentially what Kissinger had. Kissinger did not participate in any shuttle diplomacy between October 29th and 30th, when Fahmy was there and November 6th…what was Fahmy and Golda there and Yariv and Gamasy here. So the conclusion I reach is that it was a combination of discussions and meetings that brought this thing about. It wasn’t Fahmy alone and it wasn’t Yariv and Gamasy alone.
OS: No, no. Everybody had his input in there and it then came out to this paper. But no one can claim full responsibility or take full credit for it.
KWS: That’s how it’s shaping up. Now, from November 11th and 12th onwards, actually Sadat and Kissinger talk about, they actually sign it at Kilometer 101. Then from the 12th onwards, until about the 28th and 29th of November, Yariv and Gamasy continue to meet. They continue to talk and Herzl Shafir meeting with General Magdoob, Brigadier General Hawadi (?), and they talked about bodies and they talked about blood and they talk about blankets and they talk about food. Dayan gets the message that Gamasy is talking about rebuilding the Suez and Dayan says: “Well, if they’re talking about repopulating it, then they’re serious. He’s not going to go to war anymore.”
OS: Yes, it’s gotten back to me now, right.
KWS: Okay, what I’m interested in is how far along did you know that Gamasy and Yariv were moving after their Six Points? In other words, what was Kissinger’s attitude toward Yariv and Gamasy’s continuation of discussion and talks, as you recall?
OS: Now I don’t know about that. I would guess that he would have preferred to have everything in his hands.
KWS: Well I can be more blunt. Hermann Eilts told me directly, he said: “Henry Kissinger pulled the rug out of the 101 talks because Gamasy and Yariv had reached the point where they had agreed on disengagement and Kissinger needed something for Geneva.” And he intentionally told the Israelis…
OS: Yes, but nothing came out of Geneva.
KWS: Other than the military talks, which ultimately became the disengagement agreement.
OS: Which ultimately became something on the Syrian front.
KWS: Now, the period in November is very important.
OS: This UN thing was a big show.
KWS: At Geneva
OS: Because it was the only show, I mean it started and…
KWS: Were you at Geneva?
KWS: Tell me about it.
OS: Well, it was a big… it was one of those UN things.
KWS: (Laughing) What a statement.
OS: Yes, I think if you go there, then you would expect that it continues under the auspices of the UN. I think you went there because the Arabs wanted to go there. The Egyptians and the Syrians wanted to go there. They always felt very uncomfortable facing Israel without a witness who could say: “Oh, those awful Israelis and those tricky Israelis.” This is ingrained in us. And
this is why we wanted the United Nations, as a witness. To see what is going on…
KWS: If I may recall your comments to me about 20 minutes ago. When I said to you that the Israelis said that they were out of ammunition but they really weren’t, you said to me, “Typical
OS: Yes, yes. That sort of thing, we would not be able to do that. Not because we are nice people but because we are naive. I mean, the Israelis can do that. It’s perhaps their instinct of survival that has made them think like this. As long as everybody looks after his interests his own way. But this is why we want the United Nations. And I think that the Syrians wanted the umbrella of the United Nations to sell that locally. They needed it, you know, the United Nations, we are members of the United Nations, Israelis are members of the United Nations. After all, the Israeli delegation does not sit too far away from the Iraqi. So, I mean that is a good alibi, if you
want. And that was the whole show. There were six tables I think. Not even a round table, but everybody had his desk. And then there was this famous thing, how do we sit? And nobody wanted to sit next to the Israeli delegation. Poor Abba Eban. I mean, he said: “What kind of people are we? Are we sick? Do we have any malady that could be contagious or something?” And I think he must have thought of that as being rather infantile. I mean, you sit in the room, you sit in the room. What is the bloody importance?
KWS: Yes, but Fahmy was vehement about anyone coming around with a camera. Fahmy told me… he said “I told my delegation not to be compromised by being in a position next to an Israeli where someone could take a picture of them.” That’s what he told me.
OS: Well, how can you do that?
KWS: I’m not asking why, I’m just telling you that…
OS: Did he really tell you this because I do not recall that.
KWS: Yes he did, he even says it in his book.
OS: Well, I told you, I stopped reading it.
KWS: But the point of it is there was a sense…
OS: I can’t remember this.
KWS: Yes, he was emphatic to me about it. He said: “We didn’t want to give any legitimacy to the Israelis as long as they occupied Egyptian territory.” And that included being seen with them in public.
OS: What does that mean?! I mean Gamasy is sitting and talking!
KWS: I’m just telling you what Fahmy told me. I mean, you know him better than I do. When you went to Geneva, what did you know, as the chef du cabinet, of what Egypt’s objectives were? Did you have any idea what the objectives were?
OS: I think mainly it was to prepare public opinion for the things to come. Can you understand that?
OS: Under the auspices of the United Nations.
KWS: Well providing an umbrella also made it easy.
OS: To make everything easy and to give satisfaction to us because we have kept saying that we only do it via the United Nations and that sort of thing.
KWS: But you’re a UN man.
OS: Well, not quite.
KWS: International organizations, excuse me. And there are certain strains within the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, one of which is the international, which includes the UN, and the other is the
inter-Arab. And they seem to be 2 very powerful strains of development, in terms of personnel as they evolved in the Foreign Ministry. Mahmoud Karem worked for Abdul Meguid who worked at the UN. Mahmoud Karem is an international UN man.
KWS: You can say that about certain people.
OS: You can say about Usama and about Tahseen Bashir. They are Arabic.
KWS: Right. And you can say Boutros is. He may be some place in between.
OS: He’s American. (laughing)
KWS: Yes. Funny. (laughing)
OS: But it’s his decision. He makes no vote about it.
KWS: No. Abdul Ra’uf.
OS: He’s Arabic.
KWS: Amr Mousa, probably leans towards the international. But what’s curious to me is that it was Fahmy who brought in Usama. He brought in el-Reedy and he brought in Amr Mousa about the same time.
OS: Yes, but not on purpose. You see, at that time we used to call our colleagues that were very Arabic, we called them Nasserites. Because it was Nasser who was the first one to raise this lack of unity of the Arab world. But then again, he did it when Egypt was really strong. I mean it was not only strong, it was also strong financially and it was also strong militarily and economically. Nasser ruined Egypt. But today, there are so many poles in the Arab world, with Egypt perhaps being culturally powerful, militarily powerful, financially weak. And you have the Saudis and the Gulf states who are financially strong and have strategic goods, which are important to the West. So you have in the Arab world now not one pole under Nasser, but you have many
poles. You see? And you have to play it in a different way. So Reedy was really an Arabist; he was a Nasserite. I mean, he was, how shall we put it, influenced by the Nasserite period. He is not a Nasserite. I’m sure that he doesn’t…today in retrospect he says that Nasser was not good for Egypt. But he was influenced by him. Usama, definitely. Amr Mousa, I don’t know. But it’s always to the extent that it would also serve Egyptian interests. You don’t remember that it is really in our interests to solve this Palestinian issue. It’s a thorn in the flesh of everybody, including the Israelis. And they are playing it very bad, very bad.
KWS: Tell me about Sadat’s attitude after the ’73 war toward the UN and towards the Soviets.
OS: He didn’t like the Soviets. He didn’t like the Soviets, and Ismail Fahmy had a hell of a time going to Moscow. Gromyko was perfectly obnoxious with him. And I admire the trip of Ismail Fahmy in Moscow.
KWS: He went to Moscow in February.
OS: Yes, he went to Moscow more than once. It was always a trip that I didn’t cherish.
KWS: But you went.
OS: I had to go, I was his chef du cabinet. I didn’t cherish. The Russians were feeling very strongly that they were loosing ground in Egypt, in the Middle East. They were beginning to feel their own weakness: that whatever they do, it was marginal. They could not deliver the goods in a way the Americans would. And they were upset about that. But Ismail Fahmy managed to get arms from them.
KWS: It appears that Fahmy was more vocally defensive of the Palestinian issue than was Sadat.
KWS: It appears almost as if Sadat intentionally let Fahmy be the antenna or the spokesperson for that issue. He would see Farouk Khaddumi) or KHalid al-Hassan here in Cairo privately, or Arafat, but it seems, in terms of public relations, to be something Fahmy didn’t mind doing.
OS: No. Fahmy loved to do that. On the contrary.
KWS: On January 29th, 1974, Fahmy said Egypt was willing to sign a peace treaty
with Israel if Israel would withdraw from land captured in ’67 and ‘recognize the national rights of the Palestinians’.” These were not words that Sadat uttered after the ’73 war.
OS: Yes, but Fahmy would not have spoken them without knowledge of Sadat. I want to make this very clear.
KWS: Right. And yet, he wanted to be sure that Sadat was the ventriloquist. But Fahmy was the voice.
OS: If you want. Or Fahmy would have had this idea and told Sadat: “Let me put it this way.” And Sadat would have said: “yes, go ahead.” But it was never alone. Egyptian foreign policy, I mean comes out of the presidency.
KWS: But Fahmy understood what his guidelines were. He didn’t have to clear a quotation like that.
OS: No, no. He understood. He understood what his guidelines were. He was perpetually on the telephone with Sadat. Perpetually. As an anecdote if I may tell you this, Sadat
used to go… he was a country squire, if you want.
KWS: A country squire. Good term.
OS: Yes. He had his rest houses scattered all over Egypt. And he would go and he loved to see movies in the evening: a Western movie and an Arabic movie.
KWS: His love for movies kept him from being there for the coup.
OS: If you want. But that was on design.
OS: And during this movie watching, his mind would work. And at 1 or 2 in the morning he would have a wonderful idea or some idea, or some something. And he would not wait for the next morning. No. He would immediately wake up Ismail Fahmy and talk about this with him at 1 or 2 in the morning.
KWS: So I suggest you got phone calls around 3 or 4.
OS: No, no, I did not. But the next day when I used to see Ismail coming with heavy eyes, I said “The President called you this evening?”
OS: They were very close, very close. Really they were very close and it was a very nice relationship. But somehow at the end, something went wrong. I don’t know what. I was not there anymore.
KWS: What was Sadat’s relationship before the war, after it, and during it, with King Hussein of Jordan? Very little is written. Very little is said about it. I mean, after all, he didn’t participate in the war.
OS: I must think back. I don’t know. I don’t know if there was a particularly close relationship.
KWS: Herman Eilts said he didn’t particularly like King Hussein.
OS: That could very well be. I don’t know. But, I want to tell you this. Have you met King Hussein?
KWS: Yes, on several occasions. And I will see him next Saturday.
OS: Good. I met him twice. I talked to him twice, and he left a very bad impression with me. I must understand why. I mean, a small country, small army, squeezed in between powerful Israel and powerful Syria, with powerful Iraq and then there is powerful Egypt. Perhaps the man has no alternative but to play this sort of policy. And he managed to play it rather intelligently, if you want. Until he fell flat on his nose. He fell flat on his nose twice. Once with Nasser in the ’67 war, and then with Saddam Hussein. I don’t think that King Hussein was a very honest politician. Perhaps in his situation you cannot be. You have too many powerful neighbors.
KWS: You have to use your wits to survive.
OS: You have to use your wits to survive. And I think that it is this characteristic. When I spoke to him twice I immediately had this sort of reaction. Be very careful with this man. You see? I’m not blaming Hussein for being like this, you understand me correctly. But as an Egyptian, I could not understand how Hussein could have taken Mubarak in the way he did, with Iraq(?) and Yemen and all this union business. I could not understand it. That was one of the major foreign policy mistakes that Mubarak made. I mean, that’s not there, but just as a reaction to you raising Hussein.
KWS: Foreign policy mistake in what sense?
OS: In the sense that he got us into the union with Iraq and Jordan and…
KWS: Ah, the Arab Cooperation Council, whatever it’s called. You think he really got suckered in.
OS: I think so. Everybody knows so. There is no word lost on it today. Everybody wants to forget that.
KWS: What about the relationship between Sadat and Syria.
OS: Sadat and Syria, it must have been extremely good because they fought together.
KWS: Yes, but did he ever… I mean, the impression I get is that Sadat was never satisfied, of course, with Sinai I. But in order show the rest of the Arab world that he was not going it alone, he insisted that Henry go out and get with the Syrians or the Jordanians. And that was the real tough nut to crack, was to try and do it. The Syrians only did it because it was in their interest to get the Israeli guns away from Damascus and to get something tangible back.
OS: Yes, and we worked very hard on it because in the end, Kissinger was about to give up. And I asked him one day, point blank, I said to him, “you have negotiated with so many different
nationalities. Vietnamese, Israeli, Egyptian, who are the worst and who are the most agreeable ones?” And he said the worst are the Israelis and the Syrians. They are paranoid, both of them. And the best, he considers the Egyptians because they have a feeling of security. They are not insecure in their skin. But the Syrians and the Israelis are. It was very tiring for him. Very,
very, very tiring.
KWS: But did you ever hear Sadat or Fahmy say anything negative about either Hussein or Assad?
OS: No. Fahmy met often with the Foreign Minister of Jordan.
OS: Rifai, yes. And they were kissing and hugging. And all these kisses and this hugging business. I think Ismail Fahmy, if he played the Arab card, it was to use it. Do you understand?
KWS: I understand. To use it for Egypt’s purposes.
OS: Yes. To use it for Egypt’s purposes.
KWS: Were you involved at all in the decision… I mean after the Alexandria Summit of July or August of ’74, there was this increasing controversy between Hussein and the PLO about who would represent the Palestinians, and then we get to Rabat. Where did the decision come within the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, or with Sadat, to back the Rabat resolution, which was really the
Jordanians claim, in direct contradiction to what Sadat had promised at Alexandria.
OS: Yes, could be. I don’t know where it came from but it must have come from Sadat. It is not possible that it would not come out of Sadat. Not possible. The Jordanians were very unhappy when we declared that there was only one legitimate…
KWS: Sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
OS: The Jordanians fought it valiantly, but nothing doing. Nothing doing. So the decision had been taken at the highest level.
KWS: Fahmy claims that he was very influential in having Sadat make that decision.
OS: That could be.
KWS: But you have no personal knowledge of it.
OS: No. On the Palestinian issue, it was Usama.
KWS: Usama also served under Fahmy?
OS: Usama served under Fahmy and me. He was my second.
KWS: He was your second?
OS: Yes. And he became chef du cabinet after I left.
KWS: And how would you characterize Usama’s relationship with Sadat, early on?
OS: It was not a good one. Sadat didn’t trust him, and he said so. Sadat wanted to write his memoirs and he asked Ismail Fahmy for somebody who…you see, Usama’s a good speech writer.
OS: And he has an ease with this thing so Ismail Fahmy suggested to Sadat, Usama el-Baz. He said: “Oh no. Be very careful of this character.”
KWS: Who said that?
OS: Sadat, because Usama is not a professional diplomat, at all. He has never served in any embassy.
KWS: He’s a lawyer.
OS: And he likes to play…the grey eminence…you know, the one behind the scene, who had no
responsibility but who whispers in your ear, that sort of thing. And he made a career by having a good nose for the man who would be not in power, but whose star was coming up, was rising. And he knew when to jump to the next star. So he kept jumping. And he was with Hassanein Heikal, and he very quickly understood that Hasssanein Heikel’s star was seeking. So somebody spoke to Ismail Fahmy and he appointed him, without even consulting me. And I was appalled by this. But then my work was very much defined…
KWS: This was in early ’74?
OS: That was in ’73. And a few months later, Hassanein Heikal was out. And Usama is known for that. He’s like a barometer, a political barometer. And then Ismail Fahmy, if you want as an
anecdote again, he put Usama on the part of Hosni Mubarak. But it was more with the idea of knowing exactly what Hosni Mubarak was doing as a Vice President. Flying around, going to…
KWS: So Usama knows who the Vice President of Egypt is going to be.
OS: Who the President’s going to be.
KWS: No, he knows… Well, now he knows, he should know who the Vice President is going to be.
OS: Well, there is no vice president.
KWS: Well, that’s what I’m saying. He should know. (laughing)
OS: So, it’s opportunistic. You have that everywhere.
KWS: But he’s very talented, isn’t he?
OS: He has certain talents. Certain talents, yes.
KWS: How would you characterize them?
OS: Well, as long as he works in the dark, he’s very talented. But in the open, no.
KWS: He seems to carry the inter-Arab portfolio, the Palestinian portfolio…
OS: The inter-Arab portfolio is now carried, more or less, by the Minister for Information. But Amr Mousa is not unlike Ismail Fahmy. He does not very much allow Usama to fly on his own. He controls. Understand what I mean?
KWS: There was a period of time when Usama did a lot by himself, though. When Ibrahim Kamel and those fellows…
OS: But that was supposedly ???, who should never have been nominated. I mean, he’s a very nice man; he’s a good Ambassador. I was a good ambassador, but I would not be a good foreign minister. I mean, it doesn’t speak against him. And in Leeds Castle, it was Muhammad Kamel who says, “Now I leave the floor to Usama, I leave the floor to this, I leave the floor,” but he was not speaking much.
KWS: How did Fahmy get along with Eilts?
OS: Very well, as long as I was around.
KWS: (Laughing) And why is that?
OS: That’s what Eilts told me.
OS: I don’t know. When I left, Eilts complained. I was in on every meeting, on every single meeting with Hermann. Hermann is absolutely to me the epitome of a great, great diplomat. And I was always wondering why the United States would send such a man of so many outstanding qualities to Bangladesh.
KWS: No one said we’re smart.
OS: He stood up to Kissinger.
KWS: Yes, on several occasions.
OS: Yes. And as soon as I left, Hermann came and saw me. He told me this. You ask Hermann about it. But Ismail Fahmy can become abrasive. Perhaps my presence was influential in not doing these things. There was, one day, a staff meeting in the Foreign Ministry and he spoke to the directors. “Oh my God. Oh my God!” And then at the end, he was very pleased with himself, taking a cigar and going to his office. And I told him: “You are a very lucky man.” He said: “Why?” I said: “If I would be one of these directors, I would have answered you.” Oh, he loved it. He said: “If you were one of the directors, I wouldn’t have said what I had said.”
KWS: And Hafez Ismail’s relationship with Fahmy?
OS: Not too good. Because of the position of Hafez Ismail next to the President.
KWS: And he was essentially the conduit to the Americans before Fahmy came along?
OS: Yes. And I think Fahmy had a quarrel with Kissinger on this issue. “You either go there or you come to me.”
KWS: Well, that’s why he was able to recruit Hermann as his ally. Because Hermann didn’t want the back channel used anymore. He wanted the State Department.
OS: Yes. All that was made very clear to Kissinger.
KWS: Did you have any dealings with April Glaspie when she was here?
OS: Yes. I like her very much. There were two girls. April Glasspie and somebody else.
KWS: Hermann said she was an extraordinarily good political officer.
OS: Absolutely. Absolutely. She’s a victim.
KWS: Have you spoken to her recently?
OS: I haven’t seen her. I’ve never seen her again. But I can assure you she is a victim. Has Herman told you about the story about the two different cables. One has been published and
the other not.
KWS: Yes. I knew that from Dan Kurtzer who’s my friend in the States. We don’t talk about it, but I know it. Omar, first of all, thank you. And if you can find the materials you have at
OS: I will look into it.
KWS: That’s the kind of document, even in Arabic…
OS: No, it’s in English I think.
KWS: That would be ideal for a book. Because what it is, is it’s Sadat’s strategy at a particular point. And it would really make a difference.
OS: Yes, and we do a great effort and sift through all my papers. I really hope to find it because I remember I kept it, I read it and I was, in retrospect, overwhelmed by what I read.
KWS: That’s wonderful.
OS: It’s one of those rare things that… I hope I find it.
KWS: O.K.. Look, two more things. First, I need a home address for you.
OS: My address? I write it down for you.
KWS: And the second is while we talk, there’s a reasonably good chance, I would even say a possibility, that come the end of October of this year, of ’93, we will try to organize a meeting in
Atlanta, Georgia at the Carter Center, 20 years after the ’73 war. And we will have 2 segments to it. This is all by way of asking you to come. We’ll pay for your way; we’ll provide an honorarium; we’ll put you up…
OS: Would I be useful?
KWS: That’s the point, let me be the judge. The point simply is Yariv has decided he’ll come, Mordechai Gazit will come, Epi Evron said he will come, Sisco has been asked and said he will
come, I asked General Gamasy when I was here in November, and he said he will come.
OS: He should come. He should go.
KWS: I would like you. I will ask Fawzi this afternoon.
OS: Look, from the Egyptian side, from the Israeli side you are bringing the big guns. You must bring big guns from the Egyptian side.
KWS: Yes, I understand.
OS: I’m not a big gun!
KWS: But how many big guns do I have left?
OS: Ismail Fahmy is not well.
KWS: No, he won’t. I asked him if he would come. I mean, I did the right thing and I asked him. He said “Absolutely not. I will not go to the United States, I will not participate in any meeting.”
OS: He can’t. Health wise.
KWS: But I had to ask him. Ashraf said he will come. Hermann has been asked. The purpose is to have a sort of a retrospective. It’s to be something similar to what we did here. To have you and April sit in a room together. You know: “I remember this, I remember that, this is the way it happened.” It may be oral history. I don’t know. And to invite people in the United States who are
historians and political scientists and who believe that the ’73 war was a turning point. And deal with the period essentially from the war through the disengagement. In other words, a look back. And I think it will be an exciting event. The reason I say that with a certain amount of confidence, most recently I was chairman of a panel that was held at Hofstra University on Long Island. Every 3 years they do a conference on American presidents. The last one they did was on the Carter years. And then they did one on Reagan. I was asked to convene the one on Camp David. I was asked if I could have permission to invite the people that I wanted to and the answer was yes. I had Hermann and Sam talk about Israel and Egypt.
OS: Sam who?
KWS: Lewis. And I had Saunders and Quandt talk about the State Department and the White House. The discussant was Dan Kurtzer and I was the chair. It was 2 and a half hours of absolute joy. These four men had not been in a room together since Camp David. And the recollections that they brought…of course, there’s a great love and affection that they had for one another because they worked with one another, so there wasn’t a tension of egos battling. I would suspect that if I did the same thing, I know, after having talked to Yariv and Gamasy, after speaking with you, and Mordechai Gur, and Epi Evron, who is one of the gentlest human beings on the face of the earth, to expect the same kind of warmth and reminiscence. And if it adds something to history, terrific. But if all it does is…
OS: But I don’t know what I told you.
KWS: You let me be the judge please.
OS: You want me to repeat all this again?
KWS: There may be other things that you won’t be repeating. In any case, don’t turn down an offer that hasn’t been made. Okay? Good. Now, I have two home numbers: *******?
OS: Yes, that’s a home number.
KWS: And *******. No?
OS: No, no, no. Just the first one.
KWS: How old are your children?
OS: My children. Well, my daughter is elderly. She is about 30 years old.
KWS: Elderly? I’m 46. What does that make me? (laughing)
OS: Well, Egyptians, when we speak, we say she’s 30, rather than she’s old. She considers herself old and she hides her age. And the boy is in Geneva. He is a diplomat.
KWS: He’s in the service.
OS: Yes, he’s also in the services. Third generation in diplomatic services.
KWS: And your father?
OS: Was also a diplomat.
KWS: He served Fouad? Farouk?
KWS: In what capacity?
OS: He was a minister potentially. There were no ambassadors then. In Athens, in Belgrade. He was at the embassy in Berlin when I was born. He was in Prague. He was in Cairo. In those
days, embassies existed in Europe. There was one in North America. In the United States and in the commonwealth, we didn’t have anything. We had an embassy in Iran. There was an Emperor. We had one in Addis Ababa, but there was also an emperor. But the whole Arab world was… we had one in Saudi Arabia, but the whole Arab world was not independent in those days. It was a very small Foreign Ministry. And then, suddenly, after the second World War, it exploded. The colonies became free. Africa, Latin America, and now again we have problems because we cannot afford them financially. To have an embassy in Slovakia and an embassy with the
Czechs and an embassy in Armenia…. We can’t afford it! It costs half a million dollars at least every embassy, even if it’s very small.
TAPE CUTS OFF HERE. END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE.