The Ford-Kissinger policies toward Israel were sharply attacked by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger here last night. He said “It is improper–pernicious–to blame the failure to achieve a settlement (in the Middle East) on the one nation prepared to accept a settlement,” an obvious allusion to the Ford Administration’s open criticism of Israel’s alleged failure to offer initiatives for peace. Schlesinger made his remarks in an address at the seventh annual policy conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee at the Shoreham Hotel.
In reply to questions, he offered an account of the 1973 Yom Kippur War airlift to Israel in which he alleged that President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger procrastinated in re-supplying Israel with urgently needed arms until the war was in its seventh day. Schlesinger was Secretary of Defense at the time and served in the time capacity in the Ford Administration until late last year.
In his address last night, he referred to two themes of the Ford Administration’s Middle East policy–momentum and even-handedness. He said the tendency is to blame the slow progress in negotiations on Israel and to assert “the failure to achieve momentum is a direct responsibility of Israel.”
“Momentum is fine.” Schlesinger said. “The question is momentum toward what? To a just and comprehensive settlement? To a reduction or the end of terrorism? To the recognition of state entities? It is improper–pernicious–to blame the failure to achieve a settlement on the one nation prepared to accept a settlement. That is an improper judgement.”
Schlesinger added that if the U.S. “is to be the guarantor of freedom it must be prepared to support democracies” because “if we are not prepared to support democracies, we must ask who will we support?”
EVEN-HANDEDNESS AND FORCED CONCESSIONS
With respect to even-handedness. Schlesinger who is currently a Visiting Scholar at Johns Hopkins University, observed that “even-handedness is different from forcing either side into concessions. If the United States is to be the leader of the diverse nations it must be responsible for all nations and it cannot be in a position of forcing one side.”
He said that the military balance in the Middle East today is interlocked with a global military balance and support of Israel by the U.S. is “a barometer of American intentions….The strategic significance of Israel is of growing importance in the world-wide military balance” because it in “an indicator of American steadfastness” after the difficulties of the U.S. in Southeast Asia and Africa, Schlesinger said.
He noted that Israel is “highly dependent” on the U.S., “far more than the Israelis expected after the 1967 war” This, he said, put the U.S. in a position to extract concessions from Israel but he was “concerned” by the undermining of America’s moral support for Israel and the “parallel tactics” employed by the U.S. in Southeast Asia.
GENESIS OF U.S. AIRLIFT
Schlesinger’s version of the genesis of the American airlift to Israel in October, 1973 corresponded with what he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an exclusive interview two years ago. He said the Nixon-Kissinger policy when the war broke out on Oct. 6 was that Israel could receive whatever American military equipment it was able to pay cash for and to transport in its own or chartered aircraft.
Subsequently, a decision was made that the U.S. would transport military equipment to the Azores where it would be picked up by Israeli planes, but that did not work out, Schlesinger said. He said the idea then was to transport the equipment in un-marked American aircraft to maintain a low profile for the U.S. According to Schlesinger, the decision to send Israel military supplies directly by U.S. Air Force transport planes was not taken until 1 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13.
Schlesinger’s version has been disputed by the State Department which has implied that the delay in sending military supplies to Israel was due to foot-dragging by the Pentagon. Schlesinger declared last night that “This should be out of contention.” However, he said, “We have the latest authorized leaks” in an article in Foreign Policy magazine by Edward R.F. Sheehan on Kissinger’s diplomacy. Schlesinger observed that this was “a clever stratagem to neutralize Israel’s supporters in the United States.” He said that Sheehan’s version of events is in conflict with his own knowledge and added, “I must allow others to sort out the conflict.”
SUPPLYING ARMS TO ARAB STATES
Asked whether the U.S. should be a “major” arms supplies to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Schlesinger said that “some modicum of related arms is appropriate” for Egypt but that “modicum” was distinct from being a major supplier. He said that others could supply Saudi Arabia along with the U.S. “All arms to the Middle East should be carefully balanced on the basis of the regional basis. The United States should take a long-term view rather than a short-term one based on diplomatic views.” he said.
Schlesinger claimed that “we recognize” that in the last three or four years, the American military position has declined, notably in naval strength and “it is essential” that both the Middle East and the world military balances be in “appropriate equilibrium” because without that, “ultimately” there will be no survival for Israel and the Middle East will be subject to “Soviet fiat.” A militarily weakened America “will be unable to hold the rings in the Middle East,” Schlesinger said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.