LOS ANGELES: Newly released documents show that former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger delayed telling President Richard Nixon about the start of the Arab-Israeli War in 1973 to keep him from interfering, according to new book excerpted in Vanity Fair on Monday.
Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, is by presidential historian Robert Dallek, who spent four years reviewing the Nixon administration s recently opened archives, including 20,000 pages of Kissinger s telephone transcripts and hundreds of hours of Nixon tapes.
The historian says that when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Oct. 6, 1973, the Israelis informed Kissinger at 6 am, but three and a half hours would pass before he spoke to Nixon.
Dallek, a biographer of Nixon’s predecessor Lyndon Johnson, also had access to nearly a million pages of national-security records and unpublished parts of the diaries of Nixon s first chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman.
Dallek says the documents reveal a complex relationship between two men who were both prone to paranoia, insecurity, manipulation, and ruthlessness. They also show Kissinger s increasing power derived from the deepening incapacity of the president due to the Watergate scandal.
Dr Ahmed Shawky, a professor of mass communications at the American University in Cairo, told The Daily Star Egypt that Dallek’s findings show that during the 1973 crisis Kissinger was interested in pursuing his own power and promoting his own goals.
“I think Kissinger wanted a role for himself and that’s why he kept Nixon in the dark, said Shawky, who was an Associated Press correspondent in the Sinai during the 1973 war, and was deeply involved in the war coverage. “Nixon was a weak president and Nixon wanted to be the man in charge.
“Kissinger did not talk to President Nixon at the beginning of the war because he thought the Israelis would wipe out the Egyptian forces. He was very confident that the Israelis would win quickly, so that’s why I think he didn’t tell Nixon right away.
According to Shawky, the United States did not want a war to break out in the region, and in its first few days played a minimal role in the conflict in the hopes of a swift Israeli victory. After a few days, though, the United States began sending military supplies and weaponry to Israel.
“Nixon did not want a war in the Middle East, and did not want Israel to be involved in a war, said Shawky. “Before that Kissinger warned the Egyptians several times not to go to war because he thought they could not stand up to the power of the Israelis. At the time there was a state of no war, no peace, and that was good enough for the United States. At the time the US and the USSR had an agreement to each respect and support the Middle East.
According to Dallek, Nixon did not believe Kissinger should handle Middle East policy because he is Jewish. He quotes the former president as saying:
Anybody who is Jewish cannot handle Middle Eastern policy. Henry might be as fair as he can possibly be, he can t help but be affected by it. Put yourself in his position. Good God … his people were crucified over there. Jesus Christ! Five million of them popped into big ovens! How the hell’s he feeling about all this?
Kissinger told Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig Jr. that the war had started an hour before informing the president, Dallek says.
Kissinger phoned Haig, who was with the president in Key Biscayne, Florida, saying I want you to know … that we are on top of it here.
He also urged Haig to lie to the media by telling them that the president was kept informed from 6 am on, so as not to let it appear that Nixon was out of the loop. When Kissinger finally phoned the president at 9:25 am., Nixon asked that Kissinger indicate you talked to me.
Dallek also says that according to a telephone transcript, Nixon asked Kissinger on Oct. 7, if there had been any message from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the Middle Eastern hostilities and Kissinger said Oh, yes, we heard from him. Then Nixon had to press, asking lamely, What did he say?
On Oct. 23, Kissinger and Haig headed a group of national security officials to devise a response to Brezhnev. Without Nixon s input or knowledge, Dallek says they decided to raise America s worldwide level of military readiness to Def Con 3, a level reached only once before.
Dallek says transcripts reveal that before they convened, Kissinger asked Haig during a phone conversation if he should wake the president and Haig replied No.
Thirty minutes later, in another phone conversation, Haig asked, Have you talked to the president? Kissinger replied, No, I haven t. He would just start charging around … I don t think we should bother the president.
Kissinger maintained that putting the country on alert was Nixon s order. But Dallek reports that there is no document or transcript showing that the president signed off on the action.