Henry Kissinger, who served as national security advisor and secretary of state during the Nixon and Ford administrations, denied that he intentionally delayed critically needed military supplies to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, speaking during a Channel 12 interview broadcast Monday.
According to U.S. Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., former Chief of U.S. Naval Operations, in his 1976 book On Watch: A Memoir, Kissinger stalled the airlift and then blamed the delay on Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger.
“I do not mean to imply that he wanted Israel to lose the war, he simply did not want Israel to win decisively. He wanted Israel to bleed just enough to soften it up for the post-war diplomacy he was planning,” Zumwalt wrote.
“It’s total nonsense,” Kissinger told Channel 12‘s Amit Segal.
Kissinger, who turned 100 years old on Saturday, said the reasons for the delay had to do with technical issues, a political scandal involving the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew and the fact that the United States was under the initial impression that Israel was winning.
“To make the airlift of a country available to a war-making country that is in the middle of a war is not something that is normally done, has in fact never been done,” he added.
“It was also the week in which Vice President Agnew resigned, so it takes a special Israeli attitude to even ask that question, if you forgive me,” Kissinger said.
“I mean, this was a huge step we took. It saved Israel,” he said.
“If you look at the days of the war … until Tuesday morning [Oct. 9], we thought Israel was winning and was crossing the canal. It was only Tuesday afternoon that [Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Simcha] Dinitz came back to the United States. And it was not until Tuesday evening that I could reach Nixon because of the Agnew [crisis],” Kissinger said.
“We told the Israelis they could pick up any equipment with El Al. On that day we promised Israel that we would replace all its losses, and therefore said expend all equipment that you need, because we’re here. On the fourth day [of the war, Oct. 9,] we started trying to get an airlift going,” Kissinger said.
On Oct. 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Neither U.S. nor Israeli intelligence foresaw the attack. After Israel suffered severe setbacks, it began to turn the tables. However, Israel faced a shortage of essential military material. The United States promised to resupply Israel but there was a delay of eight days, never adequately explained until the revelations in Zumwalt’s book.
Zumwalt’s explanation became widely accepted, particularly as Kissinger pressured Israel for territorial compromises after the war, Channel 12 noted.
Intense pressure from Kissinger has been blamed for first forcing Israel to lift its siege in Sinai of the Egyptian Third Army, which it had encircled and cut off from supplies, and then turning Israeli military victory into political defeat through a series of so-called “disengagement agreements” that saw Israel retreat to the Mitla and Gidi passes (January 1974) and then, in a second agreement (September 1975), surrender those passes, as well as its position on the Gulf of Suez coast and the Abu Rodeis oilfields in southwestern Sinai to Egypt.
On the Syrian front, U.S. pressure led Israel to withdraw from a position threatening Damascus and from a slice of the Golan Heights.