95. Editorial Note

Following the Rabat Summit in October 1974, U.S.-Iranian exchanges on the Arab-Israeli crisis increased. According to telegram Secto 583/1969 from Jerusalem, November 8, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reported to the Shah that although no negotiations over the [Page 286] West Bank were immediately feasible, an Israeli-Egyptian settlement might be possible. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL–152, Iran, Chronological File, 4 January–23 March 1975)

On the eve of the Shah’s trip to Moscow, Kissinger elaborated in a message to the Shah, sent in telegram 253473 to Tehran, November 16, that Israeli leaders refused to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization over the West Bank, but that all parties wished the United States to try to restart negotiations. Kissinger invited the Shah’s input on Egyptian-Israeli contacts. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P850017–2108) Several hours later, in telegram 253511 to Tehran, Kissinger sent a warning to the Shah, and presumably the Soviet Union, that the Israelis had called up a small number of reservists in response to Syrian military preparations. The Secretary noted that although he had received Syria’s assurance that it would not initiate hostilities, the possibility of fighting could not be ruled out due to the high state of military readiness. (Ibid., P840176–0603)

On November 25, following President Ford’s summit with Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev in Vladivostok, Kissinger sent the Shah an update. He reported in telegram Secto 171 that Ford had privately emphasized the importance of laying groundwork prior to further diplomacy in the Middle East, but agreed that progress had to be made swiftly, and publicly acknowledged with Brezhnev that the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people had to be taken into account. Kissinger also announced that he would continue his pre-negotiation consultations. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL–152, Iran, Chronological Files, 6 October–30 December 1974)

For his part, the Shah urged U.S. officials to look to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for a resolution to the Middle East dispute. On December 7, in backchannel message 44, Helms transmitted to Kissinger a message from Sadat to the Shah that the latter had provided. Sadat expressed his eagerness for peace, starting with Israeli withdrawal from parts of the Sinai, including the oil wells at Abu Rudeis. Helms reported the Shah’s conviction that this was “‘an unhoped for opportunity’” since “no one expected Sadat to be so forthcoming.” (Ibid.) According to telegram 14874 from Beirut, December 12, in an interview with a local independent weekly, the Shah warned that Israel must agree to implement UN resolutions at the next stage of peace talks or face renewed war with the Arabs. The next war, he noted, “‘will be our war this time, and none of us will have any choice.’” The Shah regretted that the Israelis had not met Sadat, “a great man and peace lover,” half-way, and that the United States had failed to help Egypt. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D740361–0634)

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The Shah’s threat was picked up by the Washington press. In telegram 272843 to Tehran, December 12, the Department requested the Embassy’s reaction to a Washington Post comment that “The Shah of Iran was quoted today as saying his heavily armed country would join a war against Israel if the Middle East crisis was not resolved in accord with UN resolutions.” (Ibid., D740361–0619) In telegram 10534 from Tehran, December 13, the Embassy maintained that the Shah’s “assistance would not extend much beyond what he provided during the 1973 war and would be confined largely to political psychological support.” (Ibid., D740362–0444) Khalatbari’s denial that Iran would go to war against Israel, despite Iran’s Arab sympathies, was conveyed in telegram 10537 from Tehran, December 14. (Ibid., D740364–0194)

On December 26, a UPI report based on an article from the Lebanese press indicated that Iran planned to provide Egypt with several kinds of weapons and pilot training. Telegram 10870 from Tehran, also December 26, quoted Khalatbary as saying that Iran had no intention of giving arms to Egypt. The Embassy surmised that the Beirut paper was trying to demonstrate Israel’s isolation from former friends like Iran. (Ibid., D740374–1085) Ultimately, repeated press speculation led the Embassy to reaffirm in telegram 1733 from Tehran, February 23, 1975, that Iran had not changed its even-handed policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict or its commitment to Israel’s survival, but had altered its tone in order to promote peace talks. (Ibid., D750064–0177)

On December 22, in backchannel message 55 to Kissinger, Helms conveyed the Shah’s offer to carry a message from Washington to Sadat during his January 8–11 visit to Egypt. Helms repeated the Shah’s “strong conviction that the Israelis should accept President Sadat’s most recent proposition as being by all odds the best they could get.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Backchannel Messages, Box 4, Mideast/Africa, Incoming 12/74)

Kissinger responded with a message to the Shah, transmitted in telegram 1948 to Tehran, January 4, 1975, that the central issue was to find the appropriate relationship between Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory and the political content of an Israeli-Egyptian agreement. A full-scale conference in the absence of this step-by-step process, as the Soviets wanted, would only produce stalemate, he warned. Kissinger also registered concern about “a possible Egyptian tendency again to balance the Soviets off against the US.” The threat of the re-introduction of Soviet influence in Egypt would force the United States to demonstrate Soviet impotence to produce peace in the Middle East, resulting in another stalemate and “probable confrontation in which Israel would be likely to score further military gains.” Kissinger invited the Shah to share these thoughts with Sadat. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL–152, Iran, [Page 288]Chronological Files, 4 January–23 March 1975) In telegram 5170 to Cairo, January 9, Kissinger directed Ambassador Hermann Eilts to reiterate the Department’s position to the Shah, who was then in Cairo: “Principal point to get across is not that we feel that Sadat to date has sought to play U.S. and Soviets against one another but that he should resist any temptation to do so.” (Ibid., P850014–1437)

Following his talks in Egypt, the Shah sent Kissinger a personal letter on January 11, reporting that Sadat sought a completely independent foreign policy. “His whole approach to the Africa problem, North Africa and the Mediterranean is very anti-communist. He is even aware of the possible danger of the Palestinians.” More to the point, Sadat was willing to accept an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai alone. The Shah warned that it would be “a historical mistake” not to assist Egypt, adding that he was sure Sadat was “not trying to play the United States against the Soviet Union or vice versa.” He asked Kissinger to pass along to the Israelis his hope that they would not miss this “golden opportunity.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL–152, Iran, Chronological Files, 4 January–23 March 1975) In a brief reply sent through Director of Central Intelligence Colby, January 15, Kissinger suggested that it would be helpful “at the present critical juncture” for the Shah to convey these ideas to the Israelis himself. (Ibid.) A more general report on the Shah’s talks with Sadat was sent in telegram 501 from Tehran, January 17. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750018–0928)

The Shah sent Kissinger another message from Sadat, transmitted in telegram 109 from Zurich, February 20, that indicated that if Israel withdrew from the Sinai, Sadat would be willing to confront the Syrians and Palestinians if necessary. (Ibid., P840125–1066) In telegram Secto 477/651 from Jerusalem, March 22, however, Kissinger sent a message that advised the Shah that he was suspending his negotiating effort, because “the gap between the Israeli and Egyptian perceptions of what their interests require is too great to be bridged at this time.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL–152, Iran, Chronological Files, 4 January–23 March, 1975) The Embassy later reported in telegram 3868 from Tehran, April 27, that during Sadat’s April 23–24 visit to Iran, the Shah had voiced full support for Egypt’s willingness to sign a peace treaty with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders. Local press comment indicated that the meeting was the first of many, necessitated by the failure of Kissinger’s step-by-step diplomacy in the Middle East and Israeli intransigence. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750147–1025)

Documentation on the Arab-Israeli dispute during this time period and U.S. attempts to negotiate a peace settlement are in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976.