By drawing upon hitherto unpublished transcripts of his telephone conversations during the Yom Kippur War (1973) and the last days of the Vietnam War (1975), Henry Kissinger reveals what goes on behind the scenes at the highest levels in a diplomatic crisis.
The two major foreign policy crises in this book, one successfully negotiated, one that ended tragically, were unique in that they moved so fast that much of the work on them had to be handled by telephone.
The longer of the two sections deals in detail with the Yom Kippur War and is full of revelations, as well as great relevancy: In Kissinger's conversations with Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister; Simcha Dinitz, Israeli ambassador to the U.S.; Mohamed el-Zayyat, the Egyptian Foreign Minister; Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador to the U.S.; Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary General of the U.N.; and a host of others, as well as with President Nixon, many of the main elements of the current problems in the Middle East can be seen.
The section on the end of the Vietnam War is a tragic drama, as Kissinger tries to help his president and a divided nation through the final moments of a lost war. It is full of astonishing material, such as Kissinger's trying to secure the evacuation of a Marine company which, at the very last minute, is discovered to still be in Saigon as the city is about to fall, and his exchanges with Ambassador Martin in Saigon, who is reluctant to leave his embassy.
This is a book that presents perhaps the best record of the inner workings of diplomacy at the superheated pace and tension of real crisis.
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Simon & Schuster
December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Crisis by Henry Kissinger
The Middle East crisis that erupted into war in 1973 had many components: the Arab-Israeli conflict; the ideological struggle between Arab moderates and radicals; and the rivalry of the superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. These ingredients had separate origins that had grown intertwined; a solution to one could not be accomplished without grappling with the others.
Creation of the state of Israel with American (and, at the time, Soviet) support in 1948 had inflamed Arab nationalism and led to a war at the end of which borders were based on the armistice lines. Established as a nation by force of arms, Israel lived thereafter unrecognized, ostracized, and bitterly resented by its neighbors. In 1956, Israel moved into the Sinai Peninsula as an adjunct to the Anglo-French Suez operation. Forced back by the United Nations to the 1947 border, Israel achieved a demilitarized Sinai and freedom of navigation to its Red Sea port at Eilat. In June 1967, Israel erupted across the armistice lines after Egypt, under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, spurred on by Soviet disinformation, declared a blockade of Eilat and ominously moved its army into the demilitarized Sinai toward Israel. The war ended in six days with Israel in possession of the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Golan Heights from Syria, compounding Arab frustration with humiliation.
Israel, never having lived within accepted frontiers, saw no essential difference between locating its boundaries in one unaccepted place or another; condemned to Arab belligerency, it sought the widest possible security belt and held on to its conquests. The Arab nations, in the aftermath of that defeat, resumed a defiant posture under the leadership of Egyptian President Nasser. At an Arab summit in Khartoum they adopted the principle of "No peace, no negotiation, no recognition of Israel." A war of attrition started, as part of which the Soviet Union established an air defense system of surface-to-air missiles along the Suez Canal. In 1970, there was an upheaval by the Palestine Liberation Organization in Jordan. Syria invaded Jordan in support of the PLO, United States forces were placed on alert, and the crisis ended with the PLO's expulsion from Jordan.
Afterward, the Arab countries were torn between their ideological and religious objection to the existence of the Israeli state and the practical reality that they could not alter the status quo except through some form of diplomacy. Moderate Arab governments like Jordan and (under Nasser, ambivalently) Egypt felt their way toward a formula that accepted Israel on its prewar (1967) borders (that is, the armistice lines of 1947). But, pending a settlement of the status of the Arab Palestinians, they would grant no more than an end to the state of belligerency -- another form of armistice -- rather than the full peace that Israel demanded.
And the Palestinian issue was deadlocked further by the attitude of the Palestinian nationalists who refused to accept Israel's legitimacy on any terms. Syria refused to negotiate for any conditions; it objected to Israel's existence, not its borders. Iraq strenuously added its weight to that of the radicals, as did Libya and Algeria. The PLO, whose claim to represent all Palestinians was not yet recognized by the Arab states, called for the creation of a secular state in Palestine -- that is to say, the disappearance of Israel. And Israel came more and more to identify its security with its presence on the West Bank. This impasse blocked Middle East diplomacy for all the years between the wars of 1967 and 1973.