Middle East History: It Happened in January; Unprecedented U.S. Aid to Israel Began under the Sinai Agreements

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MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN JANUARY; Unprecedented U.S. Aid to Israel Began Under the Sinai Agreements

It was 23 years ago, on Jan. 18, 1974, that Egypt and Israel signed an armistice agreement officially ending their 1973 war. The agreement became known as Sinai I because it was signed in the Sinai peninsula and involved Israel's occupation of that strategic desert.(1) Sinai I had been achieved after a heavily publicized week of shuttling between the two countries by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who for his efforts was hailed in the U.S. media as the Superman of diplomacy. It was only later that American taxpayers would learn that Sinai I laid the groundwork for the start of unprecedented massive aid to Israel by the United States, which continues to this day.

The aid program to Israel has amounted to the largest voluntary transfer of wealth and technology in history, far more than all American aid given to rehabilitate Western Europe under the Marshall Plan after World War II.(2)

Sinai I was widely hailed in the West as a major diplomatic accomplishment. The Arab world more realistically considered it merely a modest first step in ending Israel's occupation of Arab lands, held since 1967 and some of which remain under Israeli occupation today. Under the pact, Israel agreed to withdraw its forces west of the Suez Canal, thus liberating the Egyptian Third Army, which had remained surrounded by Israeli troops since the October war, and withdraw all its forces back 15 miles from the eastern side of the canal to positions west of the Gidi and Mitla passes. Between the two armies would be stationed a U.N. peace force.(3)

While Kissinger's diplomatic prowess was loudly credited in the United States for Sinai I, it was actually a secret agreement that he signed with Israel that had achieved the breakthrough. This secret commitment foreshadowed what was to become America's huge aid program to Israel. The covert Memorandum of Understanding contained 10 detailed points, the most important being a far-reaching pledge that Washington would be responsive to Israel's defense needs on a "continuing and long-term basis."(4)

The potential massive dimensions of that pledge began to become clear less than two years later when Kissinger, after another highly publicized shuttle between Cairo and Jerusalem, achieved what became known as Sinai II, signed on Sept. 4, 1975.(5) The agreement was especially favorable to Israel, and considerably less so to Egypt. The major article involving Egypt committed that most powerful of Arab countries to abstain from the use of force to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, meaning in the words of scholar Abdel Safty: "Thus, the agreement marked Egypt's military abandonment of its commitment to the right to liberate occupied Arab territories."(6)

For the Arabs, there was the bitter realization that Israel's continued occupation of their territory was against official U.S. policy and the major instruments guiding international civilized behavior since World War II: the U.N. Charter and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Yet it was Israel, not Egypt. that profited far more from Kissinger's diplomacy.

Kissinger made no effort to demand that the occupation end in exchange for the treasury he was about to give Israel. Instead he assured Israel a level of annual aid at around $2 billion for the next five years and opened to Israel a cornucopia of other U.S. assets never imagined by the average U.S. taxpayer.(7) The irony was that the amount of aid was of such magnitude that it allowed Israel to maintain the very occupation that the United States said it opposed.

It goes without enumeration that the staggering amount of money given to Israel would have been of significant impact in helping America address its own domestic problems, especially those in the ghettos of the crumbling cities.

Secret Understandings

Kissinger's series of secret understandings included a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Israel in which he committed the United States to "make every effort to be fully responsive. …