By Iftikhar Gilani
A former US diplomat and author has proposed applying the tactics and formula that then-Secretary of State and also National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger used in the Middle East in the 1970s to end the current war between Ukraine and Russia.
Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel and special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2013, whose recently released book, Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy, provides a perceptive history of diplomatic negotiations in the Middle East, has suggested that allowing Russians to control the eastern Donbas region, while at the same time launching a massive Western military resupply to Ukraine to secure the rest of the country, would force Russia to agree to a cease-fire and return to negotiations to maintain the status quo.
This suggestion comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently said Moscow’s goals for territorial control have shifted beyond Donbas to include the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions “and several other territories.”
In a recent video conversation with former Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Indyk drew parallels between the current Ukraine crisis and the situation in the Middle East in the ‘70s. He said that Kissinger in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War enforced peace by launching massive military supplies to Israel, but only after Egypt had crossed the Suez Canal and reclaimed the Sinai Peninsula.
“Massive resupply to Israel helped the Jewish state turn the tide and launch a counter-offensive and put pressure on Egypt and its ally Russia to accept the cease-fire,” he said, adding that Kissinger’s 1973 formula could be applied to the Ukraine-Russia war. The war also dispelled the image of invincibility that Israeli politicians had woven around themselves after the 1967 war.
“This case may help Ukraine build up in the south and create conditions so that Russia agrees to a cease-fire and then will start negotiations to stabilize the situation. Russia will occupy territory that it has (already) occupied. But it will start negotiations that may take time like in the Middle East,” said Indyk.
Political frustration in the Middle East
More than 20 years since the US last brokered a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, Indyk, who acted as special Mideast envoy in 2013, said there have been political frustrations and disappointments in the region.
The book is based on extensive interviews with Kissinger and newly available documents from US and Israeli archives, besides Indyk’s own diplomatic experiences and interactions with the main players.
The author said that Kissinger’s efforts produced two documents, both of which were concluded by President Jimmy Carter, two years after Kissinger had left office. Carter succeeded in bringing together Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the US’ Camp David to sign a pair of political agreements in 1978.
Indyk said that the German-born Kissinger was also responsible for the 1974 Israel-Syria disengagement agreement that still holds despite the conflict in the region.
Citing Kissinger’s cautious approach, the author said that he found that the former secretary of state was actually interested in stabilizing the situation rather than bringing lasting peace. According to the new set of documents, while President Saadat and his Syrian counterpart Hafez al-Assad along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were ready to forge peace and take big steps, Kissinger dissuaded them from doing so and instead urged them to take incremental steps.
“Kissinger was not trying to make peace, but to establish an order in the region, using the peace process as a mechanism to do so. Kissinger would tell players, ‘It’s too ambitious, it’s too dangerous and risky, and the region isn’t ready for a big step’,” he added.
He wanted to allow time to heal and exhaust the players so they would agree to end the conflict.
According to the book, Kissinger argued in favor of territory for peace, based on UN resolutions, where Israel is supposed to hand over territory to Palestinians that it occupied in the 1967 war in exchange for security commitments.
“But he had no urgency and wanted to grant time to Israel to get stronger, reduce (its) isolation, and exhaust Arab countries so they give up their desire to destroy Israel. He wanted Israel to be strong enough to make territorial concessions sufficiently to end the conflict,” said the 670-page book.
While agreeing that Kissinger missed opportunities, the author said that his incremental, step-by-step approach to resolving deep-seated conflicts in troubled regions has proved more effective than rushing for solutions. Referring to President Barack Obama’s hard push for peace, he said it soon gave way to cynicism, and in 2014, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge resulted in the deaths of more than 2,100 Palestinians in Gaza.
The book also dug up an interesting rivalry between President Richard Nixon and Kissinger. Due to Kissinger’s Jewish roots, Nixon wanted him to get away from the Middle East and so handed the region over to Secretary of State William Rogers, when Kissinger was still national security advisor.
But at his earlier post, Kissinger continued to work in the Middle East behind the back of the State Department.
“When he met Saadat’s NSA (National Security Agency) in 1972, 10 months before the war, he did so in a safe CIA house on the outskirts of New York. There was no State Department representative at the meeting. He was working behind the back of Rogers. In the end, Nixon, who was suspicious of State Department bureaucracy, backed him as he had a superior strategic argument that appealed to the president’s sense of strategy,” the book revealed.
‘Ignoring Palestine issue big mistake’
Indyk said that a major reason for US failure in the region is that those who came after Kissinger overreached to try to achieve peace.
“Failure to make the Middle East democratic reduced US influence and opened the gates of Babylon to Iranian influence. The image of the country has been tarnished due to missteps. The challenge of the US is how to maintain interests in the Middle East while focusing on other regions in Asia and Europe,” the author said.
Another big mistake, he said, was ignoring the Palestinian issue, which over the years has been sidelined.
“Kissinger believed that if you ignore the problem, particularly this one, it will blow up in your face eventually. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain stability and order to begin an incremental process, step-by-step approach, but nevertheless has a territorial component to address the Palestinian issue,” Indyk said, adding that even if Israel conceded a small amount of territory, it would lead to a point where the issue would be resolvable.— AA