In October 1973, simultaneous Egyptian and Syrian attacks caught Israel unaware, and for the first few days of the war the Jewish state’s survival was in serious peril. According to one body of conventional opinion, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger deliberately, and at great cost in Israeli casualties, delayed an emergency airlift of arms to the IDF, believing that an overwhelming Israeli victory would be less conducive to postwar negotiations than a stalemate. But, writes David M. Weinberg, the charge is simply untrue:
Kissinger, and President Nixon, clearly wanted to lead postwar peace talks based on an Israeli victory, not on a draw with the Arabs, who were backed by Soviet arms. Israeli victory was in America’s interest. The fact is that for the first two days of the war, no emergency airlift was requested by Israel, only some anti-aircraft missiles and routine items already in the existing supply program. In fact, Israeli leaders were telling Washington that the war was going well. . . . Kissinger argued [nonetheless] for sending limited arms to Israel to cement the U.S. role in regional diplomacy.
On the fourth day of the war (October 9), Israel revealed to the U.S. that it had lost 500 tanks and 50 fighter jets, and it asked for urgent replacements. Nixon was preoccupied with his domestic scandals (Watergate and Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s resignation), but Kissinger got Nixon to guarantee to replace Israel’s losses, allowing the IDF to dip immediately into its reserve arms stocks.
It was only on the seventh and eighth days of the war (October 12-13) that Israel told the U.S. it was failing to win the war quickly and was running out of basic ammunition. Kissinger then got Nixon to okay an emergency airlift of arms in U.S. military planes. Over the first full day of the airlift, the U.S. shipped more weaponry (1,800 tons) to Israel than the USSR had sent to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq over the four previous days; 3,000 tons of equipment were to follow.
So much for the canard that Kissinger purposefully delayed Israel’s resupply. Furthermore, Kissinger wisely counseled Israel against agreeing to a ceasefire on the fifth day of the war, because at that time it had lost territory. Israel should agree to a ceasefire, he warned an exhausted and dispirited Prime Minister Golda Meir, only when the IDF had regained the upper hand and had pushed into enemy territory.