Menu JTA Search

Behind the Headlines Did Pentagon Drag Feet on Airlift to Israel Last October? “poppycock” Says Defe

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

In their New York Times Sunday magazine article “Twenty Days in October”, CBS correspondents Marvin and Bernard Kalb portrayed Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger as the chief obstructionist of U.S. military support to Israel in that fateful first week of the Tom Kippur War. But if he were, was Schlesinger alone? Were others at the top of the Administration also influenced by the oil lobby, as the Kalbs indicate Schlesinger was, or at least equally resistant for other reasons, including detente, as the Kalbs also hinted?

“I’ve seen more poppycock on this than any other subject in that war.” Schlesinger told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview in which he contradicted some major elements in the Kalb adaptation of this episode in their forth-coming book on Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. “There was a cover story during that period that the source of resistance (to the massive support for Israel) was to be the Pentagon.” Schlesinger revealed. “This story was basically only to protect the realities of national policy.” he said.

In their diary like article, the Kalbs reported with the confidence of information on high authority that on Friday night. Oct. 12, 1973. Kissinger asked Gen. Alexander Haig of the White House to arrange a meeting with President Nixon. “Kissinger reviewed the day’s developments with the President.” they wrote. “It would have been extraordinary if he did not lay particular stress on the Pentagon’s tactics. Nixon took immediate action, he instructed Haig to order Schlesinger to send ten C-130 transport planes, loaded with military supplies, to the Azores at once then to fly 20 C-130s directly to Israel and finally to facilitate a quick Israeli pickup of the cargo left in the Azores. “”Kissinger, the Kalbs added, informed Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz of the “President’s latest order, aimed at breaking through all bureaucratic roadblocks.”

PRESIDENT FURIOUS

On Saturday (Oct. 13) at 1:45 A.M. Kissinger called Dinitz again. According to the Kalbs, and told him the President has issued still another order to Schlesinger to make absolutely certain that ten Phantoms reach Israel by midnight Sunday. At, 10:30 A.M., that Saturday morning at the White House. Nixon questioned Schlesinger about “implementing his previous orders about supplies for Israel” the Kalbe reported. Schlesinger tried to explain his difficulty in chartering civilian transport planes, the Kalbs said. “To hell with the charters.” Nixon exploded, according to one eyewitness, the Kalbs reported. “Get the supplies there with American military planes…Forget the Azoresl Get moving I want no further delays.” By 3:30 P.M. Dinitz was informed that a fleet of larger C-5s had just left the United States for Israel, the Kalbs said.

But Schlesinger told JTA: “Kissinger called me Friday night (Oct. 12) at about 11 P.M. I was at home. He indicated Israel was running short. To say the lest be was a little bit concerned. I checked it and got approval for the airlift. It was about time for us to fish or cut bait. The constraints on Israel were there because it was thought Israel would do okay by itself. By the end of the week that thought was beginning to fade.” Schlesinger said that his “check” was with Haig at the White House. He did not ask the President directly for authorizing the airlift. Schlestinger said, because he had assumed the President had concurred

WHAT NATIONAL POLICY WAS

What was “national policy”? What about the “charter” planes? Said Schlesinger to JTA between his appearances before Senate committees on defense appropriations. “Basically, national policy during the first week of the war was to provide assistance to Israel in the form of ‘consumables’. In the first week, the Israelis would have to take their equipment either in their own aircraft or aircraft they could hire. Somewhat surprising to us at that time was that none of the airlines was prepared to provide charters. In addition, Israel could have consumables on a cash-and-carry basis. The policy of replacement included major equipment — aircraft and tanks. This was the national policy throughout the first six days of the war.”

The Kalbs quoted Maj. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Kissinger’s deputy on the National Security Council, as having told Kissinger that the charter problem had been and remained “real enough.” Kissinger, they said, phoned Schlesinger that the President would “blow his top” when he learned about the delays and that the charters were a “matter of urgent national security.” The Kalbs wrote: “Schlesinger tried to refute the Secretary’s charges but Kissinger interrupted him with an order to get busy implementing the President’s policy.”

ALL FACTS NOT KNOWN

Schlesinger, however, told JTA: “On the night of 12 October (Friday) there were indications Israel was beginning to run out of munitions and that this might endanger Israel. Early in the morning of Oct. 13 (Saturday) — one or two A.M. — I ordered the start of the airlift. Gen. (Mordechai) Gur (Then Israeli Embassy Defense Attache and now chief of Israel’s General Staff) was at the Pentagon at 1:30 A.M. that Saturday morning. He was told about the handling of the airlift at the Israeli end. The materials were already on the move at two or three A.M. If you backtracked the movement of aircraft you will have plenty of evidence of what had occurred. If you will call Dr. Kissinger you will get a response. I will be curious to know what his response is.”

Plainly, the facts of that eventful week, particularly the last two days are not all in the public domain. Perhaps Kissinger and Schlesinger, both former New York youngsters and classmates at Harvard, will collaborate on an official version beyond contradiction. That would be a real best seller.

NEXT STORY