(20 March 1992)
Summary of Simcha Dinitz’s Interview about the 1973 October War
Simcha Dinitz was Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, 1973-1979 and later held other public policy positions, including chairman of the Jewish Agency. He served Israel during the October 1973 War and he was also served in the Israeli delegation to the 1978 Camp David talks. This interview focuses mostly on the October 1973 War period, resupply delay in the US; the diplomatic aftermath from the war; the unfolding of the Geneva conference where Henry Kissinger (HK) welded together a process that greatly limited Moscow’s influence. Dinitz recounts that Kissinger’s early strategy was to have a situation emerge from the war which “was not to devastate Egypt, but to have an Egypt that would be prepared for peace. It was not to have a victorious Egypt. It was not to have an Egypt that Russian arms win over American arms.” We learn from other US government sources that Nixon and Kissinger during the war also wanted to limit Israel’s success so it would not be emboldened not to negotiate at the end of the war. Dinitz said, “it was clear, and I don’t think it was a wrong strategy, because — he said in no way did he want Egypt to have any advantages of the war. Dinitz noted that, “we [the Israelis] want them to surrender. We want them to leave the equipment, we want them to go back to Egypt with — empty-handed, not with their equipment and not with a war, so this is clear that they have lost the war. In fact, we were interested that this should be the case, and he was not against it, but there was a combination if we were going in that [diplomatic] direction. A combination of two things here: one, the general policy of no devastation, no humiliation, no decimation of the Egyptian regime. Not that he had such high regard for Sadat. He had higher regard during the war than he had during the diplomacy that preceded the war,…”
Dinitz noted that Kissinger, wasn’t crazy with the idea of an international conferences and was not crazy in putting the Russians in. Kissinger was very suspicious of the Russians all the time. He played the confidant, but that was the game.” Golda’s view was not to have the Soviets involved in any talks.”
Dinitz’s view of Kissinger as a mediator, ‘he was a great genius in negotiations and what-have-you. But he was a great believer that he, given all the ingredients, can produce the best solution rather than… If you are a cook, okay, and you can — say you give me the powder, you give me the sugar, you give me the plumbs, I will make the best cake. But if you are going to distribute it and give the plumbs to somebody else” then the result will not be ideal or what could be accomplished; Kissinger remarked to Dinitz, “I was there to be the architect of the peace, not only the manipulator of the war. As for the UN role, Dinitz said, “We never liked the UN you know. We never liked it to have a dominant role. It was a big discussion of what role at all should be; for the UN Secretary General’s role: how much of a doll, or dummy we can make out of him —“
Dinitz’s view on Sadat’s impact of the war in retrospective, “the Yom Kippur War, will enter into history as the war before the peace. I said it very early, and that’s not important, the face. The importance is for the reasons, and the reasons are because it had two ingredients, not one. The first ingredient to begin, of the sudden, surprise attack which was so successful militarily, from the point of view of the Egyptians. They put 100,000 people across the canal. That restored the lost confidence that the Arabs had and restored their pride. The war added a missing ingredient in any negotiations so that the Arabs could now negotiate with the Jews because for them they were now somebody who won. So, that was the first element.
The second element was that they lost the war and with all the surprise element, and with all the oil weapons hype, and the unification of the Arab world, and the Soviet identification with them. The end of the war when we were 100 kilometers from Cairo and 40 kilometers from Damascus, and wars are judged by the way they end, not by the way they start. So therefore, the second ingredient was that with all this, we [Egypt] could not overcome Israel by force. That means that on the one hand, we have the ingredients to allow us to negotiate, (B) we have the reason to negotiate because we cannot subdue Israel by force, and that is what brought the change in Sadat.”
“On the Geneva conference, Dinitz made the point succinctly, “In Washington [as Ambassador] , we didn’t appreciate Geneva very much. We felt that it was like a disease that you have to go through. I mean, there are certain things you have to do.”
Finally, there was Dinitz’s view of what could be achieved after the initial negotiations with Egypt “I believed after the war, that for the first time we would have a chance to make peace with Egypt alone, provided we don’t sever (his) link with the suitable Arabs. That was my assessment because Egypt was in the war alone, actually, except for Syria, and the relations with Syria, but I mean not with Jordan, nor Iraq, nor Saudi Arabia. And Syria gets her own share because she is having her own agreement, with disengagement agreement. And Egypt for the first time, I felt, is moving in a direction that it does not have to subserve its policy to the Palestinians.” And if you look at Sadat’s writing of this period, and you find it in is pronouncements that when he talks about the Palestinians, enough, because we have shed the blood of our Egyptians, while you are sitting in the cabaret. For what? For Arafat — for taking money from everybody, and you are an ideological revolutionary, but I am shedding the blood, so I owe you nothing; all you — so get out of my way.”
Ken Stein Interview with Simcha Dinitz, Jerusalem, Israel, 20 March 1992
KWS: I’m not interested in the contemporary stuff at all — the period around the 1973 October War: before, during and afterwards.
SD: You don’t expect that I remember all these, eh?
KWS: But I’m going to jog your memory. I’m just interested in your presence in Washington during the Kissinger-Schlesinger fiasco, the airlift, planning for Geneva, etc. You became Ambassador for Israel to Washington when?
SD: 1973, March 1973 and I left in December ’78.
KWS: What position did you have before then in the foreign ministry?
SD: I was director general of the prime minister’s office.
KWS: Of the prime minister’s office. And, when you left as ambassador in ’78?
SD: Since 1958, I’m a member of the foreign ministry. In the foreign ministry I’ve performed many functions within the department. The foreign ministry also loans many people to the prime minister’s office for top positions. Usually, the political advisors to the prime minister, usually, is the foreign ministry person, and that’s what I was. When I left for Washington, my last position was a political advisor to Prime Minister Golda Meir and director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, but on loan from the foreign ministry.
KWS: And when you were ambassador who was director general of the Prime Minister’s Office?
SD: Mordechai Gazit.
KWS: Mordechai Gazit, I just wanted to be sure that I got it right.
SD: He succeeded me in that job, also from the foreign ministry.
KWS: How would you describe how foreign policy decisions were made after you were in Washington? Were they made primarily by Golda? Were they made primarily between Golda and the foreign minister? Was it made by consensus?
SD: Foreign policy decisions that affected the future of Israel and its security were always made, and will always be made, by the prime minister of Israel in conjunction with the foreign minister and in conjunction with the cabinet. So, if we are going to demand a lowering of tax on oranges in the Common Market that would be a foreign policy issue that the foreign ministry would deal with. But, if we are discussing to get loan guarantees or not to get loan guarantees today, or a supply of arms for Israel, or concessions in regard with interim agreements between Egypt and Israel, always it would be a matter handled by the prime minister in conjunction with the foreign ministry.
KWS: But there are people whose opinions are held in greater esteem and with more authority than others even though you have a coterie of individuals who make policy. When you were in Washington, did she listen to Gazit more than Eban, or to Dinitz? I mean, how did this work?
SD: When I was in Washington, the prime minister was Golda Meir, the foreign minister was Abba Eban, the Cabinet had a number of people who were very close to Golda Meir in terms of advice she would listen to. She had a number of generals in the Cabinet; she had Moshe Dayan in the Cabinet, she had Yigal Alon in the Cabinet. She had at time also [Yigal] Yadin, but …
KWS: Was she burdened by too much advice?
SD: No, a person is not burdened by too much advice; she chooses to take it. It’s not for everybody. If she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t take it. A head of state has at least the ability to refuse advice. So, I think that Golda always had an inner cabinet, or what sometimes was called a kitchen cabinet. And, on matters of defense or foreign policy preparing for cabinet meetings, and cabinet decision was usually a consultation that preceded it. And, in these informal consultations, there was usually the minister of defense, a foreign minister when he was in the country, [Israel] Galili, the minister [in the cabinet] without portfolio who had a great influence on Golda because she valued very much his judgement especially his objective analysis of situations, and, of course, the director general was always present in these meetings. So, I mean, what shall I say, who had most influence on Golda, — who made the ultimate decision? Golda made it. Who had most influence on Golda were the people who were around her at that time and that was the Galili, Moshe Dayan on military matters, and her own staff.
KWS: Did you ever find yourself, with a strong personality like Eban, finding yourself reporting to Golda rather than to Eban?
SD: That’s so many articles are written about this stupidity. On all sides the battle didn’t start with me. I mean, the battle started between Rabin and Eban when Rabin was appointed the ambassador to Washington by Golda Meir. Eban was very much afraid that Rabin was an outside man to the higher [foreign policy] system. As once Chief of Staff of the Israel army and appointed by Golda, [he] would report directly to Golda Meir and bypass Eban, and there was some of it. But Eban made his own mistakes because Eban did not understand that the ambassador in Washington is not another official of the foreign ministry. Because Washington is not just dealing with the foreign relations of Israel, Washington is dealing with defense relations of Israel, the foreign relations, the economic relations, the Jewish relations… it is a prime minister in a nutshell.
SD: Microcosm, that’s right. The whole being of Israel is represented [by the Ambassador to Washington] and that is why it is necessary that we have a military attaché, an economic attaché of caliber, and a minister for Jewish affairs, and what have you, but, the ambassador in a sense is a microcosm of a miniature prime minister because he is dealing with the totality of Israel’s relations. The foreign ministry has a very important weight, but to say that he demands exclusive domain over ambassador of the embassy — only people who make mistakes suffer from it. Dayan understood it very well. By the way, he said to me several times, “When it comes to negotiations or the truce in Lebanon, don’t report to me, report to Weizmann because he’s the minister of defense. I have no say on it, so why should I even hear the report?” He went to the other extreme. So, when I was appointed and it was at Golda’s suggestion, although he surely will show that Eban was the first one who gave this idea to Gazit. He sent Gazit to talk with me about it long before Golda accepted it. But, when Golda finally accepted his policy, — he [Gazit] didn’t want to let go of contact with me to maintain his legitimacy — but when she finally accepted [my suggestion for policy], he became worried of his own accession [to me].
KWS: But there is something to be said of a working relationship, that you had a working with someone for a period of time, that someone like Golda knew how you made decisions, and what priorities.
SD: There is no doubt about it; they[the Prime Ministers] take advantage. If I had a very strong position in Washington, of course it is not for me to judge, but that is, I think, an accepted analysis. It was not because of my fantastic personality, it was because everybody in Washington knew that when I speak, I speak with the authority of the prime minister. That’s all what counts, and several of our ambassadors have recently had some difficulty because primarily of the powers in Washington were not sure whether they’re talking in the name of the government, or in their name of their ability to execute what they are saying. That’s the whole secret.
KWS: And that’s probably what’s added to the friction in the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
SD: Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. I mean, people say Americans prefer the Likud; Americans prefer the Ma’arach [the Labor or Left]. But Americans, first of all, prefer that when they talk to an ambassador, that he can deliver.
KWS: They prefer straight talk.
SD: That’s right, and authority. And if it is not the fault of the ambassador but vis-à-vis the confusion about authority of — if they, that they could call the head of the system is signaling that the ambassador is there for political reasons, you know. But business is done in a different way, then you undermine the authority of the ambassador.
KWS: Where were you physically when you heard that the Egyptians had attacked on October 6th?
SD: Let’s go back earlier. The week before the war, on Saturday before the war, maybe it was Sunday… I was in my home in Washington when I had a meeting scheduled at about 5 o’clock that afternoon on the weekend because we had a crisis, a minor crisis, we thought it was a major crisis. The size of crisis is reshaped by history,
KWS: I would guess so.
SD: That was a major crisis because Kreisky [Austrian chancellor] was giving us a hard time about the “shadow camp” [for Jews transiting Austria out of the USSR], and Golda asked me to contact Kissinger to see if he could influence Kreisky not to close the transit camp.
SD: So, the subject was important enough for us. Kissinger was nice enough to have the weekend meeting, and we had the meeting on Sunday at 5:00. Before the meeting I got reports from our intelligence about concentration of Syrian troops up in the north, the week before the war, also requests not to raised it with the political level because the intelligence services are still exchanging information with them unless their political level raises it with me. And since Kissinger did not raise it at that meeting at 5:00 on Sunday, I did not raise it with him. I went back to the office to write a cable, and then he called me on the direct line at 7:00. He said, “Simcha, after you left my office, I was going over the [cable] ‘traffic’ over the weekend and I see some very disturbing cables about concentration of Syrian troops, do you have anything on it?” I said I have the same information. I have had the request not to raise it with you until you raised it with me, and if you raise it with me,[to say], “We are worried about it, and we are looking into it.” He said, “I am very concerned,” Please check with your government how serious are they evaluating it, let me know any hour, day or night.” This occurred a week before [the war broke out on October 6th]. And I called, sent [to me] also from a dozen cables, and I asked for evaluation of this information, telling them — which I got in an hour — saying that yes, we are concerned, we are studying the situation, but it doesn’t look to us as a war posture, although it’s difficult, as you know — and the Syrians working under the Russian doctrine. The Russian doctrine of deployment for attack or deployment for defense is a very similar or identical posture for them.
KWS: One can mask the other.
SD: So, I phone Kissinger back that evening to tell him this information, [Brent Scowcroft- HK’s deputy] said both of us, that we should be in very close touch. I’d informed Israel to double and triple check because the security concern in Washington is big. That means that they also have information, which is disturbing, and please don’t read me out of this matter. By Tuesday, I had to go to Israel because my father died, and I flew in for the funeral, and when I was here, I talked to Golda, of course, and to other leaders. Practically all of them came to console my mother, and I had the opportunity to ask them what was happening. And Golda three times set an appointment to come see my mother and cancelled it because — she called me and said that she is not happy with what the intelligence estimates are, and she has ordered a reinvestigation three times, and finally, she came to see me on Thursday. And she said, “You will have to go back to Washington.” Because my nose told me that this was serious.
KWS: Would you have stayed for the shivah? Would you have stayed all seven days?
SD: I stayed. No, I cut the shivah because —
KWS: But would you have stayed?
KWS: You would have stayed.
SD: Of course, but I mean I was following the instructions of the prime minister. The Yom Kippur cuts the shivah anyway. So, she said, “You will have to fly to Washington Saturday night because I don’t like the way things are shaping and that shivah is broken and tomorrow is — where will you be tomorrow, because I might want to report with you?” At my mother’s house, in Tel Aviv. Then we go to my sister’s house in Tel Aviv. She said we will be in touch, and in fact, her military secretary called me and said because Golda asked him to buy a ticket for me, but the only thing [ticket] that could get is Saturday night, El-Al to Vienna and pick up a connection from Europe to America. Whereupon Golda told him Saturday night might be too late. So, that was another problem — how to get there by Friday. I got information from her office that the information, the intelligence about the war — it’s very likely that it would take place very soon, and that I should report to Eban. Instead, I am going to Kol Nidre at the synagogue where my sister happened to be, the synagogue where Rabbi Goren [IDF chaplain] was to officiate. And when I came back from Kol Nidre, I got the call to come early in the morning, I got caught in the traffic, by early morning I should by seven o’clock, he called me and said Golda wants you to come to the office right away, I went to the office —
KWS: Seven o’clock?
SD: Yes, at seven o’clock, Saturday. Yom Kippur. She is having [U.S.] Ambassador Keating, and she wants me to be at the meeting there and be prepared to leave. Meantime, they all got arranged with that; El-AL could not fly anymore on Saturday, Yom Kippur. And the air force was already mobilized. So, they got me a plane from the air industry, an experimental plane, a testing plane, and a test pilot to take me out, and they said at two o’clock to be at the airport.
KWS: Interesting time.
SD: Yeah. Right. And Golda asked me to sit at the meeting of Keating and then at the cabinet meeting that followed. And from the cabinet, my wife, Vivian, was at my sister’s, so I phoned her to go to meet me at the airport. No, that I’ll fetch her, so it is about 1:30. I left the cabinet meeting, it was still going on, and I went to fetch Vivian, and when we arrived at the airport, it was exactly two o’clock at the special runway for the air industry. And as soon as we got in the airport, literally when I opened the door of the car, a siren, and Kol Yisrael announced that the war had started. So, that was a long answer to your question where was I when the war started. In the car opening, getting into a plane, the feeling to leave the country at that moment and go into a little plane where war started, and it wasn’t the most exciting —
KWS: Or confident.
SD: …Or confident feeling, but I knew that is where I needed to be, so I went, we flew in. I could see on the way all the planes, all the air battles, the first air battles, I could see the Egyptian coast.
KWS: What was the estimates during those early meetings, during that week about either Syrian intentions, or Egyptian intentions. Were the estimates either that A, they would go to war, or B, that they would succeed, or what, what?
SD: What are you talking about, that Saturday already? Or before?
KWS: Yes, that Saturday. I mean you — when intelligence information builds —
SD: That Saturday, it was clear there is going to be a full-fledged war.
KWS: And what did you guys think your abilities were to withstand the —
SD: Well, the cabinet, Dayan, Golda made the decision against preventive strikes, like you know, and her reason was that she said we would depend on supplies from the United States, and it would be next to impossible to get supplies from the United States if we strike first because she feels that we need to show that we did not strike first. In the cabinet Dayan showed her and others that we can manage without a preventive strike. It is to say the battle started but we will have sufficient defense.
KWS: But the consensus was [to make a]preemptive strike and she said let’s —?
SD: No, no. There was no consensus for preemptive strike at all. There was her decision to — she informed the Cabinet she decided. There was no voice in the Cabinet that said no, we should have, ah… no. No, no, no. Not at all. In the conversations that preceded it the — Dado [David Elezar, the IDF chief of staff] was for preventive strike. And Moshe Dayan was not for preventive strike. So, in the cabinet, she just informed as a matter of fact. The Cabinet at that time, it was consensus not to have preventive strike anyhow. We are talking about 11 o’clock or 10 o’clock in the morning. So, I came to the States, and I arrived in Sunday five o’clock, and I saw Kissinger right away when I arrived, and I told him look, the reason we don’t have preventive strike is because Golda said that if we have preventive strike, we not have supplies that will want/need.
KWS: So, the moment you got off the plane you…
SD: Went straight to Kissinger.
KWS: And you started talking about supplies.
SD: That was my instruction, and that was the logic. I wanted to explain to him the responsibility that lies on him.
KWS: How did he receive it?
SD: He understood it. He agreed with me. He said I said this to the President
KWS: Did he have any estimate about what Israel’s capabilities would be?
SD: I would imagine that his estimates were the same as ours, that for the first couple of days that we believe that we have another Six Day War.
KWS: Is it because he relied upon Israeli intelligence?
SD: No, I think that American intelligence probably was about the same, that we will have the capacity to… you know, everybody fights a war as the scenario as the last war, so did we. We believed that it was a matter of days, and that is why the pressure was not for an airlift but for a — because it was not in my mind nor his mind that an airlift was not even necessary. For by the time that we organize, the war will be over, but he promised to replace the losses, promised to supply the necessary equipment and ammunition, so that we can expend all that we have without worry that we would be lacking.
KWS: Did you talk about when that would begin?
KWS: I mean it was understood when you left Kissinger on Sunday that the U.S. would —
SD: A lot of things -materials, supplies, weapons systems- were in the pipeline, and it was not a question of placing new orders, but to expedite the things that were ordered, whether they were air-to-air missiles, or ground-to-air missiles, or planes that were supposed to be delivered, let us say, two a month to be delivered two a week. You know, to expedite what is in the pipeline. That was the main thing.
KWS: Did the Americans ever get a sense from you that everything was all right? That Israel would take care of business?
SD: No, no, no. My instructions and my activity, my action was to create — you didn’t have to over dramatize it because the drama was there — to create the sense of urgency, not to create the sense of complacency.
KWS: When did you get a sense that [U.S. Defense Minister] Schlesinger was dragging his feet, that the Pentagon wasn’t cooperative?
SD: It is not a question of Schlesinger dragging his feet. The Pentagon was not cooperative. First, I heard this from Kissinger and Scowcroft.
KWS: This was like the third, fourth day of the war.
SD: …Third day. But then I experienced it myself because I couldn’t get a meeting with Schlesinger about the war. I asked for a meeting on Tuesday; I asked for a meeting on Wednesday. Maybe I started asking on Monday, but I didn’t get a meeting until Thursday. That’s a long time.
KWS: Any explanation ever given to you?
SD: He said that his people are dealing with it and they are starting to contribute. Now let me give you my assessment from Schlesinger. I don’t think he delayed the, the [airlift]. Schlesinger is a very intelligent man and basically friendly to Israel, but Schlesinger made a decision on what he should be prepared to fight for and what he should be not prepared to fight for. He did not make the issue of the supply to Israel an issue over which he decided to personally conduct the war against the bureaucracy.
KWS: I understand.
SD: That is exactly the proof, and he has taken Clements [Deputy Defense Secretary] who has not been exactly a member of the World Zionist Organization to be in charge of the airlift, of the supplies. And Clements — who has never been to Israel, as Kissinger said, except for refueling on his way to Saudi Arabia, with the oil interest very much in his mind — was not exactly rushing to supply in Israel. And his political officers underneath him felt where the wind is blowing. So, it is not against Schlesinger personally that I can point accusing finger. But against his decision —[to put Clements in charge of this matter.]
KWS: Not to make it a top priority and not to fight for it.
SD: That is right. Right. You know, you try at a time like this to look for him several times when he is listening to birds in the forest because he is a bird listener. This is a wonderful occupation, but my country was at war. So, this is the answer I will give.
KWS: What happened after Thursday? What happened after the meeting?
SD: Thursday, when he told me at the meeting, he was preparing…I mean, his excuse was he didn’t want to have the meeting until he has signal of the political level because he as a Minister of Defense doesn’t make this decision, the President does and it is made at the NSC.
KWS: We were at Thursday, and Schlesinger said to you that was a decision that was made at the political level.
SD: Yeah, and that’s why I asked him, “Why you didn’t have time to see me earlier?” And he said, “Because I wasn’t ready with the political decision. I couldn’t just see you for nothing.” And now the political decision is to supply every three days a plane or so, I don’t remember the details, but something very little. And then to see what the Arab reaction is, and then decide whether to do the next one.
KWS: Where did this notion of the Arab reaction come from?
SD: From Schlesinger. That’s what he told me at that meeting. He said the political level was very concerned that there would be a negative reaction. They were afraid of the oil boycott. That was the main threat.
KWS: Was there any concept already on Thursday that this political level meant something other than just oil? That there was something else in someone’s mind?
SD: No, no. I think there was a question of the Arab reaction and the Russian reaction. The Arab reaction on the question of oil, the Russian reaction on the question of escalating things. So, I said it’s totally unacceptable to me, and I left rather angered. And I went straight to Kissinger, and I said the game is over now, and if by the end of the day there was not going to be a decision of a massive airlift to Israel, I will have to draw the conclusion that the United States has decided to abandon Israel at the time of war with all the consequences. Kissinger was very upset at this conversation.
KWS: That you had with him.
SD: And my conversation with Schlesinger —
SD: Schlesinger. He called in Scowcroft and shouted at Scowcroft how come that all this was dependent upon the Pentagon. Then he called Schlesinger on the telephone and — unless it was a staged conversation or nobody else was on the telephone, as some have suggested, but I do not believe — he said that is not what I have heard from the president. And they concluded, evidently, that they go to the president. So that evening, he went to the president, and that evening —
KWS: This was Friday.
SD: Thursday. Thursday night. Maybe he went to the president Friday, but that conversation happened on Thursday. And by Friday he called me to tell me that everything is fine, it’s going to be a major airlift. It would start that evening, and then we went into phase two: what would the airlift be? But there was no question, from that moment on, there was no question anymore because, from Tuesday to Thursday, one of the discussions was in what planes should the material be brought. And the Pentagon was trying to look for charters.
KWS: They were going to repaint planes in Norfolk.
SD: Charter planes. And of course, no charter company wanted to fly in the war zone without the guarantee of the United States government, which was not there.
KWS: The 12th and the 13th were the two worse days for Israel as I recall.
SD: The 12th and the 13th. What days of the week were they?
KWS: That would be Friday and Saturday.
SD: In terms of the war?
KWS: In terms of the war.
SD: That could be. I wasn’t in charge of the war; I was in charge of supplies for my country. I mean, I can tell you what I read in the paper, but this is not witness evidence. But —
KWS: But from Eban’s memoirs, and Kissinger’s memoirs, and anyone who said anything about it, the 12th and the 13th and the 14th were really the toughest for Israel because the supplies hadn’t yet come; they were virtually expended in Sinai.
SD: The supplies started arriving on Saturday, and from that moment on it became the largest airlift in American history, maybe until the Persian Gulf [War].
KWS: When did you begin to contemplate or begin to hear or accept the notion that — Kissinger had a political strategy in mind? [Dinitz’s wife is introduced to KWS as she enters the room.] When did the first ideas start seeping into you that Kissinger had a political outcome in mind?
SD: We discussed the political strategy of Kissinger throughout. Well, I don’t think that this is a surprise. The strategy of Kissinger was very clear to me. I have one thing to say about Kissinger. There was many a misunderstanding between me and him about the tactics. We had many, many difficult discussions about the tactics, but we understood the strategy. I think we were even in agreement, but Kissinger’s strategy was not to devastate Egypt, but to have an Egypt that would be prepared for peace. It was not to have a victorious Egypt. It was not to have an Egypt that Russian arms win over American arms.
KWS: Did you know that on October 6 or did you know that on October 16?
SD: What are the dates?
KWS: Well, the 6th was when the war broke.
SD: Well, nobody talked about strategy before the war broke. But then Sunday, Monday, Tuesday we [had] about ten, twelve conversations a day.
KWS: And he began to tell you about —
SD: Sure, I understood it; he explained this, too. He said, “I want Egypt defeated, but I don’t want her devastated.” It was clear, and I don’t think it was a wrong strategy, because — he said in no way did he want Egypt to have any advantages of the war. Or psychological, or territorial, or otherwise. That’s why he did not want them back across the canal, not to be defeated. He didn’t want this adventure to be any semblance of defeat, but when it came to destruction of the Third Army — he had doubts whether that would be beneficial.
KWS: He wouldn’t tolerate it.
SD: Tolerate is too strong a word, but he had doubts whether that would be beneficial. He even at one point asked me how long it would take us to destroy the Egyptian Third Army in order to consider a green light, and I said to him, we don’t want to. I mean, to kill every single man and woman is not our purpose, to kill 20,000 or 12,000. We, you know, are not butchers. We want them to surrender. We want them to leave the equipment, we want them to go back to Egypt with — empty-handed, not with their equipment and not with a war, so this is clear that they have lost the war. In fact, we were interested that this should be the case, and he was not against it, but there was a combination if we were going in that [diplomatic] direction. A combination of two things here: one, the general policy of no devastation, no humiliation, no decimation of the Egyptian regime. Not that he had such high regard for Sadat. He had higher regard during the war than he had during the diplomacy that preceded the war, but not only this, but some forget that before this he [Sadat] went to Russia, and he concluded the ceasefire with the Russians. And we had, his definitive assertion was that we have completed the encirclement of the Third Army after the ceasefire went into effect. He is right except with one caveat: the Egyptians violated the ceasefire, and that allowed us extra hours or a day of fighting where we completed the fighting. It is not that we had violated. We had taken advantage of the violation.
KWS: Much like you did in the ’48-’49 war?
SD: Well, yeah, but whatever it is, he felt that this is a breach of confidence with the Russians, and he did not want to give the Russians an excuse to take unilateral action on their part as they had threatened to do.
KWS: You understood Kissinger’s strategy. Did you understand the mechanisms or the methods by which he would implement his strategy?
SD: I understood it. I didn’t always agree.
KWS: What did you understand and when did you understand it?
SD: I understood that his concern was to keep the Russians in line. I did not think some of the things he had done were conducive for Russian non-intervention, but rather tempting Russian intervention. I thought his handling of the ceasefire was not according to what should have been done. He should have dragged it for a few more days. Then, that was an understanding between us, but he maintains, and then he told it to me by showing me the document; again, he could abort — that Nixon pressed him at that point to finalize it. And don’t forget that Nixon was himself climbing the walls because it was the Black Saturday when he fired half of his cabinet. So, you have to understand the whole circumstance, and therefore, he did not take the liberty, the power of attorney from Nixon to sign the agreement. And that was one of the tactical evasions which he did so that he would not have to sign the ceasefire agreement while he’s in Russia. He did not have the power of Nixon to sign the agreement. There is a document that empowers the Secretary of State to sign in the name of the president with Brezhnev. He didn’t take it with him, and that was one of the things —
KWS: No. That’s what he said. He didn’t, he said he didn’t, take it with him.
SD: Yeah, right, right, right. I mean he said…
KWS: Do you think he was selectively tactical?
SD: Wait, one second, one second. But then the thing was sent to him through the embassy by Scowcroft. Scowcroft told me. You know, he had no reason to lie, but I have to report to you what they said. Because when he was there, he went there with the hope, as he explained to me, of not having even the power of attorney to sign because he knew that the Russians would be ready to sign. Why did he sign? Because Nixon pressed it and demanded of Scowcroft to send the power of attorney there, so when he came and found it there… that’s what Scowcroft told me, not only. So, I mean, these are tactical things that, you know, you can decide to believe, you can decide not to believe. But I would think that Kissinger, if I have to assess it in all… I think that Kissinger had no reason to hurry signing the ceasefire. He did want the victory to be very clear and decisive. What was at stake was not only an ally of the United States — and at that time we were still an ally of the United States that was attacked without provocation — but it was also a question of the prestige and power of American weapons, of American equipment against Russian equipment. It was every reason to have a decisive victory for Israel; not a devastating victory, as I pointed out before, but a decisive victory.
KWS: Did you at all raise with him the notion of direct negotiation with the Egyptians as a result of this?
SD: All the time. But you see…
KWS: I want to know where this notion of direct comes from because it appears in Resolution 338?
SD: The notion of direct negotiation has been a —
KWS: I know, I know the history of Israel. I know Israel’s desires.
SD: From time, from time immemorial.
SD: That never worked. We never reached an agreement with direct [negotiations].
KWS: But Kissinger knew that if he had put this in 338, it would work?
SD: And your friend Carter’s Camp David was a classical example.
SD: No direct negotiation. I mean people are talking about…we know that they [Sadat and Begin] met twice. Once at the beginning, once at the end. And we know because we were there, and that was mostly ceremonial. I mean the negotiation was done by us with the Americans, the Americans negotiate…. And it is not necessarily because they wouldn’t talk to us. By that time, I think, the bridge in Camp David, the bridge of talking directly, had been overcome basically, with some, not with all. Let us remember that President Sadat has never come to any of the meals or any of the meetings in Camp David — social and such and so forth. In the dining room, he was eating in his own cabin with his own chief. He never appeared in any of the meetings, nor Usamah al-Baz [his primary foreign policy adviser] at any of the meals, because he said the president instructed him to negotiate not socialize with Israel, with the Americans… So, I mean, that was the sort of direct negotiation that we had. So, I was never, I mean, being so involved in this, I never thought that that’s a panacea. That was a slogan that Israel demanded because it implied for Israel recognition in itself as an adjective, a political adjective, that Israel is not a pariah state.
KWS: Why did Golda not accept Resolution 338 when Sisco and Kissinger got off the plane on the 21st of October?
SD: Resolution 338 she never accepted?
KWS: Well, she wasn’t quite pleased with it because it came out of Moscow?
SD: Resolution 338 did not come out of Moscow. Resolution 338 was in the United Nations.
KWS: I know. But Resolution 338 was written by Joe Sisco in the Kremlin [Sisco told Ken Stein that he drafted it while in Moscow with Kissinger in an earlier interview] and it was passed while Kissinger was in the air and when he landed here it had already been passed.
SD: Maybe it was written by Sisco in…. Golda wasn’t unhappy with the Resolution. Golda was unhappy with the ceasefire that was concluded quicker than we were made to understand that it had concluded, and she was unhappy if there would be a Russian role in the negotiation because Russia was an enemy and a supporter of the Arabs. And she did not want this to be mitigated by introducing another element into the negotiations, which is apriori for Arab element. These were, but the direct negotiation element was the last thing that disturbed her. She wanted it; she felt like that many of our leaders believe it is a big panacea. The direct negotiations. And they were right as long as there was question of the recognition of the entity of Israel. But when it came to practical results, I have nothing to believe; I don’t believe today that we can reach in direct negotiation in any agreement.
KWS: You were in Washington while [Russian Prime Minister had taken a secret visit to Cairo from the 16th to the 19th of October. Sadat had given a talk to the Parliament on the 16th in which he for the first time raised publicly the concept of an international conference.] Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Dobrynin met with Kissinger on the 20th or the 21st in Washington, and they talk —
SD: 21st of October.
KWS: 21st of October, sorry. And they talk about having a conference. When did you start becoming aware that the idea of a conference was even remotely going to be a method?
SD: During these days.
KWS: I mean you knew about Dobrynin and Kissinger were talking and…
SD: Yeah, Kissinger himself was not excited — over a conference.
KWS: No, he wasn’t. You’re right.
SD: And the reason he wasn’t, again, I don’t remember the details, but conceptually he wasn’t excited about the international conference because he had said to me several times one has to be mad to suffer all he consequences of the war and give the fruits of the loom to share with the others. What sort of wisdom of diplomacy is this? So, he was not crazy with the international conference and was not crazy in putting the Russians in. Contrary to people who blame him that this was a period of détente, and therefore, he was willing to sell everything. No, Kissinger was very suspicious of the Russians all the time. He played the confidant, but that was the game. And he thought that it is important that the war have a pacifying effect between the two major powers, but he didn’t trust them as far as he could throw a piano. And, in fact, you could see what he did. He put in Geneva, as his representative, an old man [Ellsworth Bunker] who couldn’t hear, who couldn’t listen, and I said to him he’ll die before the conference will come. I said to him and he said, “So what.” So, I mean, the same way Kissinger — let’s put it this way — Kissinger did not value international conferences on the one hand because he didn’t want to give a role to the Russians if can only help it, and B, did not value direct negotiations at Kilometer 101talks] 60 miles from Cairo] between Generals al-Gamasy and Arieh Yariv, because he believed that they would be making concessions there to each other without actually eliciting the full price. She believed in Kissinger. She believed that the best [negotiations was through him, though she did not always trust him]…
KWS: What do you mean exacting the full price?
SD: For instance, if Israel will make a concession to Egypt at Kilometer 101 and would not get the full political price that he could get from the Egyptians, if he would be given this concession to by Israel and send it to the Egyptians for a higher price than Aharon Yariv can get it in Kilometer 101.
KWS: Was he right?
SD: In most cases, yes because he has a whole globe to deal with. In most cases, yes, and in any event, whether he is right or wrong, trying to explain his policy now, his policy was not international, was not bilateral, but was Kissinger. And he was a great genius in negotiations and what-have-you. But he was a great believer that he, given all the ingredients, can produce the best solution rather than… If you are a cook, okay, and you can — say you give me the powder, you give me the sugar, you give me the plumbs, I will make the best cake. But if you are going to distribute it and give the plumbs to somebody else and…
KWS: To Gemasay, to Yariv.
SD: Right, right. Then what do I have left to make the cake?
KWS: Do you think he undermined Kilometer 101?
SD: He did undermine it, but he from the very beginning he was very honest about it with Golda. He said you have to go to Kilometer 101; I believe that the breakthrough is her (between the two of them and Golda), not there, and she agreed with him.
KWS: Here meaning?
SD: Here in Washington. She agreed with him.
KWS: Herman Eilts was quite emphatic about it when I[Ken Stein] interviewed him last year, absolutely emphatic about it. He said the agreement was already there between Gemasay and Yariv; they were clear about who was going to do what to whom, and Kissinger intentionally asked Yariv to back out of Kilometer 101, and the Egyptians never knew that the Israelis backed out. They knew that they backed out, but they didn’t know the reason was that it was Kissinger who pulled the rug out.
SD: I don’t remember this in real detail, but I [tape flipped over] …a global agreement in Israel, America, Egyptian. And also something else, you have to understand, Kissinger and the United States have been a very, very integral part of the whole war, that they should say, “Well, [we have done our share we should go home.”] [Dinitz used a different expression which required redaction]. No. He says, I wasn’t there only to do this, I was there to be the architect of the peace, not only the manipulator of the war. And by the way, very much like Mr. Carter. Would Carter ever agree that the peace even if could have been done, would have been done without him?
KWS: Atah tzodek, atah tzodek. B’emet. You are correct.
SD: So, it’s same way. Now, if he manipulated war, no. He didn’t manipulate the war, but he was a very powerful instrument.
KWS: Would you say he choreographed its outcome?
SD: No, he didn’t choreograph. I’ll come — this is a bit too much, but I would say he was definitely trying to direct it to a certain outcome that will allow the diplomacy to enter into action after the guns are silent.
KWS: Once the guns were silent, what kind of political actions, as ambassador in Washington, were you engaged in, in trying to push this negotiating process forward?
SD: All the time. The ceasefire itself with the Third Army business and with the negotiation for first-of-all disengagement and then interim agreement. All these—
KWS: Did anybody raise the question why Resolution 338 didn’t have any mechanism for enforcement? I mean, it’s a strange resolution.
SD: It’s a very strange resolution. It’s declaratory resolution basically, and therefore, it cannot be read independently of 242. I think that 338 came, comes, to say to introduce one missing element in 242, not to replace 242, but to introduce one missing element — and this, the partners. In 242, there is no — all of 242, there is never any call for direct negotiation. In 242, says how we going to achieve all this? We are going all this by having, I don’t remember the language now, but everyone appoints this and this and having a negotiation between the parties. And that didn’t exist in 242, but that for us was a positive element. But it was not to be an operative resolution, the United Nations itself is not operative.
KWS: What was the attitude about the UN role in the participation in these discussions as far as the Israelis were concerned?
SD: We never liked the UN you know. We never liked it to have a dominant role. It was a big discussion of what role at all should be; for the UN Secretary General’s role: how much of a doll, or dummy we can make out of him —
KWS: And Kissinger never was shy to tell you he wanted the UN to have no role, or virtually no role?
SD: He was with us on this. Of course, of course. He said about one of the highest officials at the UN, which I will not name his name, he said he looks like a fool, but don’t be fooled. He really is.
KWS: Did any sense of confidence develop in late November, early December, for Sadat, that this was a guy who could pull off something political? Particularly after this war.
SD: I think that the war had given Sadat a much greater prestige than anybody gave him before.
KWS: But did Israeli decision-makers understand that?
SD: Yes, I think so. I’ll tell you this, or maybe it’s a bit of a retrospect: I, very early after the war, maybe it’s not important what I thought, but I think that I had formulated something that many Israelis maybe believed it, too, but maybe they didn’t formulate it. I said that the war, ’73, the Yom Kippur War, will enter into history as the war before the peace. I said it very early, and that’s not important, the face. The important is the reason, and the reason is because it had two ingredients, not one. The first ingredient to begin, of the sudden, surprise attack which was so successful militarily, from the point of view of the Egyptians. They put 100,000 people across the canal. That restored the lost confidence that the Arabs had and restored their pride. For the Arabs, pride is very important, you know, and therefore, it added missing ingredient in any negotiations to be that the Arabs always could not negotiate with the Jews because for them they were somebody who they always lost. They did build the monuments and edifices for every war they ever lost, but they, deep in their heart, knew that they, these Nasser monuments, edifices, are laughing stock in the world. Here, for the first time, they had shown that the Arabs can fight, that they can take on Israel; they can surprise Israel. So, that was the first element. Now, if it had been the only ingredients of the war, we would never have peace because it was a necessary ingredient but not sufficient one. The second element was to be that they lost the war and with all the surprise element, and with all the oil weapons hype, and the unification of the Arab world, and the Soviet identification with this. The end of the war when we were 100 kilometers from Egypt and 40 kilometers from Damascus, and wars are judged by the way they end, not by the way they start. So therefore, the second ingredient was that with all this, we could not overcome Israel by force. That means that on the one hand, we have the ingredients to allow us to negotiate, (B) we have the reason to negotiate because we cannot subdue Israel by force, and that is what brought the change in Sadat. The combination: now I am not dragging, I am not a miserable loser, I am winner, but I also am afraid that never maybe in history again, so many positive elements to be gathered together to allow me to crush Israel like this time. And yet, I did not succeed, and I rarely ended with my army all surrounded and saved by the bell, by the Americans and the Russians. So, that means that now is the time to cash in diplomatically with what I have because we can negotiate without being inferior, and we can negotiate without being stupid. That is, I think, the lesson of the Yom Kippur War in terms of diplomacy in Egypt.
KWS: What did you expect to come out of Geneva, and Washington?
SD: In Washington, we didn’t appreciate Geneva very much. We felt that it was like a disease that you have to go through. I mean, there are certain things you have to do.
KWS: I may use that as a subtitle of a chapter by the way. That’s terrific, that’s terrific.
SD: But it’s — you have to go through. But who believes in Geneva? We all the time believe, those of us who were in the negotiations, there are three ingredients to this: the Israelis, the Arabs, and the Americans. And by the way there should not have been any interest for us or for the Americans, to have it any different.
KWS: When you say Arabs, but you are really talking about Egypt.
SD: I talk about Egypt in this particular case, but I would even say that for Jordan to be involved, it would be the same case. We [the Israelis] have no interest in finding partners because every partner is worse than the United States, and Americans have no interest because why share with them the glory. So therefore, there was strategically — I didn’t understand Carter on several strategic decisions. For instance, his overenthusiasm for the United Nations. He is for the United Nations. I understand that it came up, not from the Arab-Israel dispute, but from his “healing the world,” from his healing feeling. But surely, he should have understood that internationalizing the Arab-Israel dispute is not going to solve it, but is going to make it more complicated, and is going to deprive the United States of exclusiveness in a sense. But you see, this is the liberal, the quote-unquote liberal wing, never really talking strategic terms. They are talking moralistic terms, and thinking in moralistic terms, I cannot imagine why you want it with the UN. But thinking in strategic terms— I mean I had the same discussion with Michael Dukakis [Massachusetts governor and Democratic Party candidate in the 1984 elections] — putting it in strategic terms, this is the worst possible thing — not now, now the UN is an instrument of the American State Department — but when the UN is in contest between East and West, you are inviting to yourselves a veto power by the Soviet Union that you don’t have otherwise. So why? Unless you are talking about famine in Africa, fine, for this the UN is great. Or international labor organization, or international health organization, or what-have-you. They are all fine. That’s the last question. Now we have finish. What will you do when you run out [of questions]?
KWS: Oh, I won’t run out. I mean I could go on forever, but you’ve got other things you have to do with your life, too.
KWS: When Geneva was over, the decision was made to create committees: a military committee and a political committee. And the military committee met on December 26th-27th and essentially reconstituted Kilometer 101’s conclusions. And Kilometer 101 was essentially signed on the 18th of January 1974. When all is said and done, what was agreed back in November was signed in January. I mean Geneva was a show, for want of a better term. Where did you hope to go with it politically? Where did you hope Sinai I would lead you? Because this was a disengagement of forces, this was an exchange of prisoners of war.
SD: We hoped, you know, you might say that we are the retrospect—
KWS: I mean [Foreign Minister] Eban showed up at Geneva with treaties.
SD: I tell what I hoped. I hoped that disengagement would lead to interim, and interim would lead to peace. That was from — I even wrote it in many of my reports then, I mean, that’s the way I saw it. I believed after to the war, that for the first time we have a chance to make peace with Egypt alone, provided we don’t sever the link with the suitable Arabs. That was my assessment because Egypt was in the war alone, actually, except for Syria, and the relations with Syria, but I mean not with Jordan, nor Iraq, nor Saudi Arabia. And Syria gets her own share because she is having her own agreement, with disengagement agreement. And Egypt for the first time, I felt, is moving in a direction that it does not have to subserve its policy to the Palestinians.
KWS: Or to a veto of any other Arab state, which for Sadat was very important.
SD: Or to a veto, exactly. And if you look at Sadat’s writing of this period, and you find it in is pronouncements that when he talks about the Palestinians, enough, because we have shed the blood of our Egyptians, while you are sitting in the cabaret. For what? For Arafat — for taking money from everybody, and you are an ideological revolutionary, but I am shedding the blood, so I owe you nothing; all you — so get out of my way.
KWS: It is, by the way, the attitude which the Jordanians have adopted since Madrid.
SD: That is correct.
KWS: It’s exactly, I mean I just came from Amman yesterday; I can tell you having spoken to Tahir al-Masri [served as Jordanian PM in 1991]yesterday. It’s exactly what’s in there.
SD: But something else, because in the meantime the Palestinians have created an embassy of their own which is negotiating, they have their own Bibi Netanyahu by the name of Hanan Ashrawi. They have all the ingredients already of a state. They have a flag, a Netanyahu, and a delegation. So, by now the independent opinion of the Jordanian over the Palestinian, which I noticed all the time, but at the time when it could matter, they didn’t have the guts or the balls, if you want, to do this. Now when they have the guts and the balls to do this, it’s obsolete in a sense because if you can strike a deal with the Palestinians. Who the hell needs the Palestinians? Of course, in the long run, you need the Jordanians because you want to tie the Palestinians with the Jordanians and then they will be sitting there and waiting. Today, I think I saw a statement, that is a confederation with Jordan should be discussed only afterwards.
KWS: Yeah but now they want to discuss it in advance.
SD: They do, but the Palestinians don’t.
KWS: No, the Palestinians now do. The Palestinians were in Amman last week talking about — I mean I’m talking about PLO executive members, which for the Jordanians, it’s new.
SD: Confederation because they want two independent states. Well, that’s not so simple.
KWS: Did you ever get in any discussions, and this is the last question, about Palestinian representation at Geneva?
SD: Sure. You know that Palestinian representation was a major issue at Geneva, and first of all, whether they should be separate or part of the Jordanian delegation. It was the same issue as now. I mean, it’s so funny when I read the papers now, and I think to myself, somewhere in my cables there must be an answer to all this. And the second one is whether the PLO should be present. So, it is the same discussion, but Kissinger was very good on the Palestinian issue with us. He was on this, and I don’t remember how it was resolved, but —
KWS: It was resolved that they would participate at the next stage.
SD: The next stage, yes, and the next stage came now.
KWS: And that no delegation that was not at Geneva could not later on join.
SD: That’s right. That’s right.
KWS: Which Israel used several times.
SD: I drafted the memorandum of understanding between us and the Americans, on what should be the use of this.
KWS: No, I haven’t seen them.
SD: There are a couple of — several memorandum of understandings which the State Department put out already. One is a memorandum of understanding why we signed the interim agreement with Egypt, and one a memorandum of understanding of how should the things be conducted in Geneva. These are available documents now. You should look at them.
KWS: Okay, I will. I shall. You’ve been terrific.
SD: Well, I hope I did —
KWS: No, no. It fits —
SD: My memory is not that, you know, that I remember every detail, but I remember —
KWS: And if they add this to the oral history stuff at the university —
SD: Oh, you know I did. I did this. I have over a thousand pages of this period. But this is documented with cables, and so on. One day I’ll write a book. I’ll wait until you write the book.
KWS: Well, listen, the more the merrier. The point is, I’m not sure that that oral history is going to be available to people like me because they consider a lot of it to be sensitive —
SD: 25 years, yes, but I can use a lot of it in my book.
KWS: You really should, Simcha.
SD: And I will.
KWS: I mean, you owe us all a favor.
SD: I was going to do this. I started when I was at the university. Then came the Knesset. So, even in the Knesset, I had time and I continued.
KWS: Says a lot to the Israeli parliament.
SD: Yeah, right. But when I got elected to this job, that is —
KWS: When are you going to give up this nonsense and do something for yourself?
SD: No, I’m not going to give it up until I bring a million Jews, and then I leave. So, I have to finish this. I’m going to be re-elected in July, for another four years, and then after this, I will devote myself to writing, lecturing, and being an eminence grise.
KWS: Do it for us. I mean historians need it.
SD: I enjoy it, you see. It’s not that I have to force myself.
KWS: No, I noticed it comes rather simply.
SD: Yeah, I enjoy it because, first of all I have this selfish writing bug in me anyhow. Sam and I did this book (Making Peace Between Arabs and Israelis: Fifty Years of Negotiating Experience). Tell me, how is the Emory thing going?
KWS: Oh yeah. We’re doing well, with Middle Eastern things at Emory, having a good time, life is very good.
SD: Does he [Carter] disturb you?
KWS: No, not at all. He’s not focusing at all on the Middle East anymore.
SD: No, no. I know.
KWS: For him, as long as Bush and Baker are making things happen, he stays away from it. He was supposed to be part of another trip to the Middle East, but he decided for him to be out here now, everyone would raise the wrong flags, and say look you’re intruding, it’s not for you, this process —
SD: Like Kissinger. Like Kissinger feels the same way. Every time…. (end of tape)