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The Troubled History of Henry Kissinger and Yitzhak Rabin

avatar by Moshe Phillips


Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Until now, the controversy over inviting Henry Kissinger to speak at an upcoming Jewish conference has focused on his actions during the Yom Kippur War, his hostility to Soviet Jewry, and his mistreatment of UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

But there is another important aspect to the debate: Kissinger’s harsh and unfair treatment of Yitzhak Rabin.

The details of Kissinger’s mistreatment of Rabin are set forth in Gil Troy’s recent book, Moynihan’s Moment. Based on previously unpublished internal memoranda and transcripts of Kissinger’s conversations with his aides, Troy presents a side of Kissinger that is not widely known — but should be.

The story began in early 1975. Kissinger undertook shuttle diplomacy aimed at getting Israel to make one-sided concessions to Egypt. He demanded that Prime Minister Rabin surrender the Mitla and Giddi mountain passes, two of the most strategic points in the entire Sinai peninsula. Kissinger also insisted that Rabin surrender the Abu Rudeis oil fields in Sinai, which had the potential to make Israel energy-independent.

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And what did Kissinger offer in exchange? A vague five-year pledge of “non-belligerency” from the Egyptians. In other words, Israel would give up vital, tangible assets, and Egypt would be free to invade the Jewish state again in five years. No wonder Rabin hesitated to agree to those terms.

Kissinger was furious that Rabin was not immediately surrendering to all his demands. Israel was “bringing the world to the edge of war for three kilometers in the Giddi and eight kilometers in the Mitla,” Kissinger complained to his aides, according to Troy.

Kissinger wanted the shuttle diplomacy to produce a “success,” whether it harmed Israel or not. So Secretary Kissinger went to President Gerald Ford to announce that he was “outraged at the Israelis,” and he wanted Ford to be outraged too. Kissinger accused Rabin of being “irresponsible” and even “fomenting antisemitism.” Troy reports that “in one of many White House tantrums,” Kissinger denounced Rabin and his aides as “fools,” “common thugs,” and “the basic cause of the trouble.” (p.35)

Believe it or not, there’s more. The nearly-hysterical Kissinger could not contain his seething hatred of Rabin. He called the Israeli prime minister and his cabinet “a sick bunch” and “the world’s worst s—ts.”

Kissinger finally got his way, of course. He convinced President Ford to announce that the United States would undertake a “reassessment” of its relationship with Israel. The “reassessment” consisted of a total cut-off of US arms shipments. After two months, Rabin capitulated to Kissinger’s pressure.

It’s not shocking that public officials sometimes lose their temper in private. Henry Kissinger is not the first US secretary of state to use vulgarities behind closed doors when he became frustrated. What’s shocking is who he used them against — Yitzhak Rabin, the then-leader of America’s only reliable and democratic ally in the Middle East. Kissinger’s mistreatment of him was disgraceful.

No wonder the decision by the Jewish Leadership Conference to invite Kissinger to be the featured speaker at its conference in November has stirred so much debate.

There are those who defend the Kissinger invite on the grounds that his mistreatment of Rabin took place a long time ago, and in the years since he retired, Kissinger has made sympathetic gestures and statements about Israel. But it’s hard to see how a few general remarks, which have not helped Israel in any concrete way, can outweigh the severe damage Kissinger caused to Israel during and after the Yom Kippur War.

Not only that, but a careful look at Kissinger’s record in retirement finds more than a few statements and actions that have undermined Israel. For example, he has promoted the two-state solution, and also pressured Israel to apologize after the Gaza flotilla incident.

Thus there can be no escaping the conclusion that the Jewish Leadership Conference’s invitation to Kissinger is a grave mistake — and an insult to the memory of Prime Minister Rabin. It’s not too late to rescind the invitation.

Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s US division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education, and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War II Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

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