In the crisis of the 1973 Yom Kippur War Israel faced critical supply issues just as the Israeli Defense forces were turning the tide against disastrous early setbacks. Russia was flying endless loads of arms daily into Syria and Egypt. The United States under Nixon agreed to send arms to counter the Soviet build up, but the large cargo planes needed to refuel to make the trip. Under the threat of an Arab oil embargo no European country would allow the U.S. cargo planes to land for refueling. Portugal eventually ‘cut a deal’. Golda Meir felt betrayed by her socialist colleagues and requested a meeting of the Socialist International in Europe.
“I have no demands to make of any of them, “ she told him (German Chancellor Willie Brandt) stiffly. “ I just want to talk to my friends, my fellow socialists. For my own good I want to know what possible meaning socialism can have when not a single socialist country in all of Europe was prepared to come to the aid of the only democratic nation in the Middle East. Is it possible that democracy and fraternity do not apply in our case? Anyhow, I want to hear for myself, with my own ears, what it was that kept the heads of these socialist governments from helping us.”
The meeting of the Socialist International convened in London, where Golda Meir addressed the body.
And then she laid it on thick: “I just want to understand, truly understand, in light of what I have told you, what socialism is really about today. Here you are, all of you. Not one inch of your territory was put at our disposal for refueling the planes that saved us from destruction. Now suppose Richard Nixon had said, ‘I’m sorry, but since we have nowhere to refuel in Europe, we just can’t do anything for you, after all.’ What would all of you had done then? You know us and who we are. We are all old comrades, long-standing friends. What do you think? On what grounds did you make your decisions not to let those planes refuel? Believe me, I am the last person to belittle the fact that we are only one tiny Jewish State and that there are over twenty Arab States with vast territories, endless oil, and billions of dollars. Of course you have your interests. But what I want to know from you today is whether these things are decisive factors in socialist thinking too?”
“Would anybody like the floor?” asked the chairman when Golda Meir sat down. Nobody did. The silence was palpable. It was broken only by a man’s voice behind her who said audibly, “Of course they won’t talk. They can’t talk. Their throats are choked with oil.”
From The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner. Avner served under most of the prime ministers of Israel from Ben Gurion forward. His book is rich in insights into the big events in Israel’s history, but what makes it special is the side bar stories about the historical characters that reveal so much about the Israeli and American leaders who figured so prominently into Israel’s history.
Less than three decades after the holocaust the Europeans were too willing to abandon the Jews again, all for the sake of oil. Those who contend that American foreign policy is driven by oil cannot explain why America was willing to suffer the oil embargo for the sake of an ally while Europe was too willing to sell its wretched pathetic soul for a few dollars a barrel.
The lessons: Israel continues to relearn that it cannot trust its defense to any other nation. For all of its stumbling, American foreign policy contains a moral ingredient that Europe and others shamelessly lack. European anti-Semitism did not begin with Hitler and it continues to live long after he is gone.
For those who fail to see the strategic value of our relationship with Israel, this episode clearly showed how Israel was critical in stopping the Soviet domination of the Middle East. As a result of the U.S. aide to Israel in 1973, the United States not only supported Israel but replaced the Soviet Union as a major player with Egypt and was able to fashion the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel first between Sadat and Rabin with Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy under Ford, which led to the famous treaty with Sadat and Begin under Jimmy Carter.