216. Editorial Note

On October 14, 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote King Faisal of Saudi Arabia that the United States “had no alternative” but to begin an airlift of supplies to Israel following the Soviet “massive airlift of arms” to Arab states. He added, “I hope, Your Majesty, you will understand that our airlift is not intended as anti-Arab.” He assured King Faisal that “as soon as an effective ceasefire has been achieved, we are prepared to stop our airlift promptly provided the Soviets do the same.” The letter was to be delivered no sooner than the opening of business October 15, the date on which the resupply effort was to be publicly announced. (Telegram 203672 to Jidda, October 14; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 630, Country Files, Saudi Arabia, Vol. IV) The public announcement appeared in The Washington Post, October 16, 1973, page A1.

The Saudi response came from several officials. Saudi Minister of Petroleum Ahmad Zaki Yamani informed the French that if the United States did not impose an equitable solution on the conflict, Saudi Arabia would cut production over the course of one year by 5 percent per month. (Telegram 4476 from Jidda, October 14; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 630, Country Files, Saudi Arabia, Vol. IV) The Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Ibrahim al-Sowayyel, told Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco on October 15 that Saudi Arabia knew prior to Kissinger’s letter that the United States had begun to resupply Israel. Sisco recounted al-Sowayyel’s regretfully lodged official [Page 594] protest, noting, “If the USSR was supplying arms for the Arabs to clear their country from foreign invaders, he [al-Sowayyel] did not see why the US did not then press Israel to return to its pre-June 1967 boundaries.” (Memorandum of conversation; ibid.)

Prince Fahd, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, in a meeting with an American official in Jidda on October 15, said Saudi Arabia had been “offended” by the language, tone, and content of Secretary Kissinger’s letter. He thought the message “seemed to ignore all other recent exchanges of view between the Saudi and American Governments, and to presume that Saudi Arabia would be willing to associate itself with American support to Israel in the name of anti-communism.” He thought the U.S. decision to resupply Israel would only benefit the Soviet Union. He concluded that the U.S.-Saudi relationship “can never be the same again.” He added that while Saudi Arabia was not considering a break in diplomatic relations it “should be assumed that Saudi Arabia will find itself compelled to support economic sanctions against the United States.” (Backchannel message, October 16; ibid.)

In his official October 16 reply, King Faisal wrote that he was “pained” to learn of the U.S. decision to resupply Israel. He wrote: “We do care very much about the continuation of our friendship with the United States and wish that those responsible in the United States would realize the seriousness of the step (you are taking) and that the continuation of the American stand on the side of Israel will expose our relations to (being) lukewarm.” (Telegram 4543 from Jidda, October 16; ibid.)