Richard Nixon had his infamous 18-minute gap. Now, Nixon’s grandson seems to have a six-day gap.
In an op-ed this week, Christopher Nixon Cox urged U.S. President Joe Biden to airlift weapons to Ukraine, recalling his grandfather’s airlift of weapons to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. That airlift is not the model to which the Biden administration should look.
According to the younger Nixon’s account, Israel’s leaders, “outgunned and outsupplied,” and pleaded for international assistance, “but many Western leaders hesitated.” Not Richard Nixon! “He was determined to resupply Israel immediately with whatever was required for its defense,” wrote Cox.
When the leader of the Free World decides that something must be done “immediately,” his instructions are promptly implemented by his subordinates. Otherwise, heads roll.
Cox inadvertently makes it seem as if his grandfather was the most weak-willed president in our nation’s history. “As his State Department and Pentagon chiefs dragged their feet in an act of bureaucratic sabotage,” Cox claims, “President Nixon repeatedly asked his military planners to speed up their preparations for an airlift.” Supposedly, this state of affairs continued for “six days.”
Nixon is widely remembered for the 18-minute gap in a key internal White House tape recording of the president’s Watergate-related conversations. Cox appears to have a six-day gap in his historical memory.
If the president of the United States gave an order for urgent military action, then the order could not have been ignored for six days. A major international war was raging, and the entire world was watching. The notion that the U.S. Secretary of State (Henry Kissinger) and Secretary of Defense (James Schlesinger) were engaged in a possibly-treasonous act of sabotage is just not believable. The possibility that Nixon gave an urgent order and then forgot about it for six days is no more believable.
So how do we know what actually happened? From three sources that are far more reliable than Nixon’s grandson: the widely respected Israeli diplomat Yehuda Avner; then-Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban; and David Makovsky, formerly an Obama administration Mideast envoy.
On the eve of the Yom Kippur War, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir became aware that the Arabs were preparing to invade. According to Avner, in his book The Prime Ministers, Nixon administration officials “tied” Golda’s hands, telling her “in no uncertain terms not to fire the first shot.”
Eban confirmed in his autobiography that Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff David Elazar proposed a pre-emptive strike, but Meir and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan rejected it because “the United States would regard this as provocative.”
When Syria and Egypt attacked, Israel desperately requested an airlift of U.S. arms, but Nixon and Kissinger stalled. Their strategy was to orchestrate “a limited Egyptian victory,” Makovsky wrote in The Jerusalem Post in 1993. They feared that a decisive Israeli victory “would cause Israel to strengthen its resolve not to make any territorial concessions in Sinai.”
Nixon and Kissinger stalled for 10 days, not six. Avner quotes from a conversation between Kissinger and Nixon on the ninth day of the war, concerning Israel’s plea. “We’ve got to squeeze the Israelis when this is over, and the Russians have to know it,” said Nixon. “We’ve got to squeeze them goddamn hard.”
And squeeze he did. For 10 long, brutal days, Israel paid a terrible price: More than 2,600 Israeli soldiers were killed in the war defending the Jewish state.
“Finally,” Cox writes, Nixon “told his Defense Secretary, James R. Schlesinger, to ‘send everything that can fly’ with materiel to support Israel. This time, the bureaucracy got the message and one of the largest airlifts in history began in earnest.”
The key word in that paragraph is “finally.” If Nixon had really wanted that airlift to proceed on day one instead of day 10, then it would have happened.
And if Biden wants to airlift weapons to Ukraine, you can bet it will happen—no thanks to the attempt by Nixon’s grandson to rewrite history in order to whitewash his grandfather’s reputation.
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a U.S. delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020.