Kissinger’s Yom Kippur War

Last week, March 1, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Archive released unpublished revelations on Henry Kissinger’s singular diplomatic methods and how he applied them to opening the door for the first US president to visit to communist China in 1972. National Security Adviser to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1974 and Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977, many episodes from Kissinger’s career will never be published. Some of the stormiest occurred in the final months of 1973

The October 1973 War, which became known as the Yom Kippur War, was an intelligence nightmare – before, during and after it was over – in ways that have changed little in thirty years, as we see in the current US war on terror. US intelligence, chiefly the CIA, was partially immobilized then by the White House playing its cards obsessively close to its chest and its heavy penetration by Soviet moles. Already then, Aldrich Ames who was convicted of spying for Moscow twenty years later was actively distorting the information coming out of the Middle East in the service of his masters.

But Kissinger once again came up with his own resources for circumventing the hiatus, as recorded in the following unpublished extracts from the DEBKA-Net-Weekly Archive:


“Even when it was clear that Egypt and Syria had struck first, US intelligence predicted a short, sharp victory for Israel, and recommended no extraordinary US measures beyond the routine beefing up of the Mediterranean Sixth Fleet for the duration of the crisis…

“On October 9, 1973, word of Israel’s disastrous setbacks in Sinai flooded into Washington with shocking impact. The Egyptians had smashed through the purportedly indestructible Barlev Line and were advancing east into Sinai. Prime Minister Golda Meir announced her intention of flying to the United States to plead for emergency aid. Even the legendary defense minister, General Moshe Dayan, was panicked enough to advise surrender. The fact that the Syrians were falling back under Israel’s counter-offensive did not mitigate the Sinai disaster.

The Americans, including Henry Kissinger, began to reassess the situation. Kissinger soon decided that something could be salvaged from Israel’s setback for the future. To his mind, provided neither side won the war decisively, it might open up a small window for future Middle East peace diplomacy. He accordingly began finessing the war situation towards a stalemate…

“By October 12, US decision-makers had finally grasped how gravely a debacle in the Middle East War could affect America’s world position. With reluctance, they considered the looming possibility of Soviet arms triumphing in the Middle East and pondered ways of averting one of the most alarming US-Soviet confrontations of the nuclear age. Israel was in danger as it never had been before. Its leaders had repeatedly stated they would wield their nuclear option only as a weapon of last resort if faced with extinction. According to Kissinger’s information, Israel had a very short nuclear option. The question being asked in Washington now was: How desperate was the Israeli government? A grim answer came in Golda Meir’s letter to President Nixon that day, in which she wrote that if Israel’s survival were at stake, it would use “every means” at its disposal.

“On the same day, Leonid Brezhnev sent a note to the US president, which Nixon said struck him with its “menacing tone and intention”. The US was given no credit for the restraint it exercised in refusing to replenish Israel’s war losses by air; just the opposite, the Soviet ruler accused the United States of massively rearming the Jewish State…

“At the end of that fearsome day, officials in Washington finally conceded that the detente framework had disappointed as a means of unsnarling the Middle East war crisis, because the Russians had worked outside it in pursuit of their own aims. They accepted that the only way to wind the crisis down was to turn the heat on Moscow. US policy-makers therefore finally decided to open an air corridor for large-scale replacements of Israeli war losses. In volume, that airlift was calibrated to match the Russian deliveries to the Arabs…

“Everyone agrees that, by and large, US intelligence failed to provide administration policy-makers with an accurate perception of Middle East realities at the time, although this failing is not explained. Policy-makers were pressured to make decisions on the basis of insufficient basic information and evaluations, and found themselves caught unawares by events. The embarrassing failure to see the 1973 war coming until it was too late threw the administration into paralyzing confusion. To fill the gap, reams of data were rushed unprocessed from the rapidly moving battlefield directly to the decision-makers. Many of the reports submitted by William Colby, the newly appointed Director of Central Intelligence and a member of the Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG, were by word of mouth. There was simply no time to circulate properly processed intelligence analyses. Kissinger and a few select National Security Council aides worked from an inchoate mass of unfocused information.

No one else had the full picture either. Members of the WSAG, Nixon’s closest advisers, chiefly Henry Kissinger and heads of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, INR, were swamped with a chaotic deluge of reports from the war zone. They found themselves making quick decisions without proper consultation, unable to wait for much too slow inflow of technical intelligence gathering…

“The lack of accurate and up-to-date intelligence forced policy-makers to turn to unconventional sources. Communication with foreign parties went through extraordinary routes, especially a back channel to Anwar Sadat opened up by Henry Kissinger. He dominated the diplomatic contacts in person, but typically never identified his back channel.

Kissinger continued to dominate the diplomatic process that followed the crisis. By monopolizing and personalizing information on the positions of the negotiating parties, he fueled his famous shuttle diplomacy between their capitals. He even tended to cut out American interpreters from high-level talks, relying on the interpreters of the parties facing him. This happened not only in the Middle East, but in Moscow as well.

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