Israel And Sharon Tried To
Shoot Down US SR-71 In 1973
By Richard Sale
UPI Terrorism Correspondent
From the International Desk
“Sharon lied his ass off,” a former senior State Department official said. “Sharon and Meir said that Egypt had broken the truce and launched a massive attack, but the facts were the exact opposite.
Sharon is a tough customer…He does what he wants and what he pleases, and he doesn’t like being bossed around by the United States.”
As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell headed home from the Middle East Wednesday, having come up short in his mission to halt Israel’s military operations in the West Bank, the Israeli prime minister’s defiance of American wishes have left U.S. officials and former diplomats annoyed but not surprised.
They recall a time when the United States had to heighten the worldwide alert of its armed forces in order to keep Ariel Sharon, then Major General Sharon, from violating a U.N.-approved cease-fire to move on Cairo during the 1973 October or Yom Kippur War.
“Go back to 1973,” said one State Department official who spoke to United Press International on condition of anonymity. “Sharon has always had the air of a man much put out by the obtuseness of Americans.”
A Pentagon official added in a separate interview: “Sharon is a tough customer. … He does what he wants and what he pleases, and he doesn’t like being bossed around by the United States.”
The war began on Oct. 6, the holiest day of the Jewish year, and it was clear to almost all that Israel stood to win, even though at first it didn’t look that way. Egypt’s Second and Third Armies crossed the Suez Canal into the Sinai and Syria attacked the Golan Heights. On Oct. 8, when the Syrian threat grew severe, Defense Minister Moshe Dyan received approval from Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir for Israel to arm 13 of its Jericho missiles with nuclear warheads.
The work went on feverishly for three days and six hours, and when the arming was discovered on Oct. 11 by a U.S. SR-71, which detected the radiation, the Israeli air force ordered the plane to be shot down. But according to former CIA analyst and Middle East expert Russell Warren Howe, the U.S. aircraft escaped.
As it became clear that Israel, first caught off-guard, was quickly rallying, the United States grew concerned about war’s effect on U.S. relations with the Arab countries — or in the words of then- President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, with “picking up the pieces and avoiding an explosion in the Arab world,” including an oil embargo.
Kissinger put forth in his book “Years of Upheaval” that Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat was not looking for victory, but a chance to open dialogue with the United States. Also, neither the Soviets, who were backing Egypt, nor the Egyptians themselves wanted a confrontation with the United States, Kissinger said.
But then the tide suddenly began to turn against Israel. Syria and Egypt began to advance. Israel’s losses were extensive: 49 fighter aircraft including F-4 Phantoms had been destroyed, but Tel Aviv had also lost 500 tanks, 400 on the Egyptian front alone; a “real shocker,” Kissinger said. The Soviets suggested a cease-fire that would have meant victory for its Arab clients; the United States refused.
On Oct. 11, Israel counterattacked into Syria, and on Oct. 12 the United States launched a military airlift to resupply its client. Shortly thereafter, the Soviets began their own airlift for Egypt and Syria. By Oct. 14, deadlock reigned on the battlefield, but then, after Kissinger visited the Soviet Union and Israel, a joint U.S.-Soviet cease-fire was approved by the U.N. Security Council. It was Oct. 22. Everyone drew a sigh of relief. The days had been harrowing and hectic.
But the Israelis were restive. As Kissinger said, “While they won the last battle, they had lost the aura of invincibility.”
The Arab armies were not destroyed. This rubbed Israel where it was very raw, and just as the war seemed to be winding down, it abruptly flared up again: It was Sharon’s hour.
The Egyptians informed Washington that Israel had broken the cease- fire and armored forces were occupying new positions. Sharon, a divisional commander, began to encircle the Egyptian Third Army south of its Second Army, which would have opened the way to Cairo.
“Sharon lied his ass off,” a former senior State Department official said. “Sharon and Meir said that Egypt had broken the truce and launched a massive attack, but the facts were the exact opposite.”
As Sharon’s army cut off the last supply route to the city of Suez, Kissinger coldly noted the move was “revenge and the restoration of its reputation for invincibility. Never having known peace, it saw little point in giving up a tangible gain — however acquired.”
The United States decided to counter its ally. U.S. military forces are normally at various states of alert called Defense Condition, DefCon for short. DefCon V is lowest alert and DefCon I, at the other extreme, is war. DefCon II means attack is imminent, and DefCon III increases readiness without the determination that war is likely. As Kissinger said, DefCon III is “the highest stage of readiness for peacetime conditions.”
The United States moved to DefCon III.
“There was a lot of talk that the move was triggered by Soviet alerts to paratroop units and An-22 military transport planes, but the move to DefCon III sent a clear message that Sharon’s violation of the cease-fire was dragging us into a conflict with the Soviets, and we had no desire to see the Egyptian Army destroyed. So it also sent a clear signal to Meir and Sharon to quit,” said a former senior State Dept official who was closely involved at the time.
The prickliness does go in both directions. A former U.S. diplomat to the region said that after the 1967 war, “General Yitzhak Rabin saw Dean Rusk — I was at the meeting — and gave Rusk a series of orders and a timetable for (their) execution. Rusk gradually turned beet-red but without raising his voice said: ‘General, we have all heard allegations from Cairo and Moscow that Israel is a colony of the United States. We all know that is not true. But I would like to remind you that the United States is not a colony of Israel.’”
“Rusk must be rolling over in his grave now,” the former diplomat said.
First posted 4-17-02
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