Middle East 1973: Calculating a Careful Response
President Nixon arrives in Israel on June 16, 1974.
By Jason Schwartz
Ripe with political and ideological tension, outstanding disputes between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations once again came to blows on 6 October 1973. The expansion of Israeli controlled territory during the Six-Day War in 1967 had furthered regional animosity. However, the conflict’s implications stretched far outside the immediate actors involved. Due to the fragile nature of many of the nation-states, the Middle East had developed into one of the most important ideological battlegrounds of the Cold War. Though the United States intended to sustain a longstanding support for Israel, the Nixon administration had centered their efforts for regional stability by improving relations with typically hostile actors. “While we had to keep the interests of the Israelis uppermost during this conflict in which they were the victims of aggression,” Nixon indicated in his memoirs, “I hoped that we could support them in such a way that we would not force an irreparable break with the Egyptians, the Syrians, and the other Arab nations.”
Understanding this conflict to be deeply rooted in Cold War politics, the Nixon administration treaded lightly before rushing to support Israel with military means. The Soviet Union also had interests in the region to defend. Any American response demanded a calculated weighing of every conceivable Soviet countermeasure. Kissinger’s memorandum to President Nixon immediately following the outbreak of hostility exhibited a careful consideration of the American interests in play. Maintaining the safety of citizens residing within the Middle East and continuing the supply line of petroleum to the United States were critical.
The negotiation of a ceasefire needed to run concurrent to conditions that would allow for a lasting peace in the Middle East. Contemporary circumstances were far different than 1967, as the military capabilities of the Arab nations had since reached equilibrium with those of Israel preventing either side from reaching a decisive victory. It appeared that a stalemate would be reached drawing out the war- as the Arabs sought to reclaim territory that Israel was unwilling to concede. Meeting with various leaders of the Arab world, President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger sought to broker a deal that would lead to further negotiation beyond the immediate conflict– forgoing the immediate gratification that a simple ceasefire would bring. Resolution would finally come at the end of October, with both sides reaching a loose agreement while also avoiding any direct confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union. The finale began what would ultimately become a successful dialogue between Israel and Egypt, leading towards the signing of the 1978 Camp David Accords.