"Alongside the 1956 Suez Crisis and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the October 1973 airlift of weapons to Israel ranks among the most divisive moments in the history of NATO. It should not be forgotten."
October 12, 2023
Gwynne Dyer’s reflections on the legacy of the 1973 Mid-East war offer a timely reminder of the dangers of hubris. An Israel that had come to think of itself as invincible received quite a shock.
However, Dyer’s suggestion that Israel defended its Sinai positions by the force of will – because “the Israelis had recovered their nerve” – leaves out a central player: the United States of America.
Never before 1973 had the world seen arms shipments on the scale of that U.S. resupply operation, which (matched with aggressive U.S. nuclear diplomacy) alone enabled Israel to maintain its positions in the Egyptian Sinai. That October, more than 22,000 tons of United States weaponry poured through the skies into the armed forces of Israel, at the cost of some $1.5 billion.[i] NATO allies were so startled by U.S. aggressiveness that they vetoed the use of their territory: the U.S. weapons had to be shipped via the Azores, courtesy of the far-right government then in its final days in Portugal.[ii]
Alongside the 1956 Suez Crisis and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the October 1973 airlift of weapons to Israel ranks among the most divisive moments in the history of NATO. It should not be forgotten.
[i] See Jason Maoz, “Thirty-six years ago today . . .,” Commentary (October 2009), https://www.commentary.org/articles/jason-maoz-2/thirty-six-years-ago-today-richard-nixon-saved-israel-but-got-no-credit/; and Eqbal Ahmad, “Yet again a new Nixon,” in The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad, edited by Carrollee Bengelsdorf et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), https://archive.org/details/selectedwritings0000ahma/page/230/mode/2up?view=theater.
[ii] See William B. Quandt, “The Western Alliance in the Middle East: Problems for US Foreign Policy,” in The Middle East and the Western Alliance, edited by Steven L. Spiegel (London: George Allen & Unwin), 11.