88. Editorial Note

In late January 1970, Israel began a campaign of bombing attacks and commando strikes across the border into Egypt, including an attack on a UAR army camp close to Cairo. On January 28, the Department of State released a statement calling for restoration of the cease-fire in the Middle East. (New York Times, Janaury 29, 1970, page 8) On January 31, Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin sent President Richard Nixon a letter complaining that Israel had “resumed anew military actions against the Arab states” that targeted both military installations and civilian populations. He argued that Is[Page 288]raeli leaders were “evidently proceeding from the assumption that the US will go on supporting Israel,” regardless of its actions, and cautioned that the violence would “only widen and deepen the conflict” and “perpetuate tension in one of the most important areas of the world.” Kosygin also warned that if Israel “continues its adventurism,” the Soviet Union “would be forced to see to it that the Arab states have means at their disposal” to “rebuff” their “arrogant aggressor.” He concluded by suggesting that the bilateral and Four-Power talks be energized to ensure the “speediest withdrawal of Israeli forces from all the occupied Arab territories” and asked that Nixon “appraise the situation from the viewpoint of special responsibility for the maintenance of peace which lies on our countries.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 121)

Secretary of State William Rogers sent Nixon a suggested response to Kosygin’s letter on February 2, explaining that “a prompt reply would have the advantage of informing Kosygin of the current efforts we started on our own several days ago to help bring about restoration of the UAR-Israeli cease fire.” (Ibid., Document 125) In his February 3 covering memorandum to Rogers’s suggested response, President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger wrote to Nixon that he agreed with the Secretary that an early reply to Kosygin best served U.S. interests in that to “stand back and let pressure on the UAR and the USSR mount further” carried “an element of risk” by putting pressure on the Soviet Union to “do something visible to reverse the present trend.” He added that the “onus for delay” should not be placed on the United States. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 340, Subject Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger) On February 4, Kissinger sent Nixon a memorandum that conveyed his further reflections on Kosygin’s letter, which he described as an “inept performance” and “disturbing,” intended presumably to “get the Israelis to desist” as well as to “keep their [Soviet] reputation as an effective protecting power of the Arabs alive.” He concluded that it was “unlikely to produce a cease-fire, except under conditions little short of humiliating for Nasser,” emphasizing again that it only served to put further pressure on the Soviet Union “to make good on their threat.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 127)

Nixon responded to Kosygin on February 4: “For its part, the United States intends to continue its efforts to promote a stable peace between the parties in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution of November 22, 1967 and to encourage the scrupulous adherence by all concerned, not just one side, to the cease-fire resolutions of the United Nations.” He added that Kosygin’s “attempt to place responsibility on one side” for the increasing level of violence in the [Page 289] Middle East was “not supported by the facts” and that “any implication that the United States has been a party to or has encouraged violations of the cease-fire is without foundation.” Regarding Kosygin’s threat “to see to it that the Arab states have means at their disposal,” Nixon wrote: “The United States has always opposed steps which could have the effect of drawing the major powers more deeply into the Middle East conflict,” but continued, “While preferring restraint, . . . the United States is watching carefully the relative balance in the Middle East and we will not hesitate to provide arms to friendly states as the need arises.” The President also argued that the United States’ October 28 and December 18, 1969, proposals met “the legitimate concerns of both sides on all key questions, including withdrawal,” and provided “reasonable guidelines” for Special Representative Gunnar Jarring to begin negotiations under his auspices. (Ibid., Document 126)

On February 6, Kissinger sent Nixon a memorandum with further background on the Kosygin letter. Kissinger concluded that “Brezhnev was obviously bitter about the Israeli raids, and especially the accuracy of the strike on the house of the Soviet advisers, which he implied was deliberate.” Kissinger added that “the Soviets seem to be responding emotionally to the killing of Soviet advisers and out of frustration over their inability to do much about the entire state of affairs. This, of course, could have some ominous implications for future moves, since as I noted in my earlier memorandum, the Middle East was a source of internal tensions within the Soviet leadership at the time of the June war. Brezhnev may be worried that his own position is vulnerable to charges of softness, and the letter could have been for the record to protect himself against any new Kremlin debate over Middle East policy.” (Ibid., Document 128)