As elsewhere, many of the United States' moves in the Middle East in the 1970s were shaped by cold-war calculations. When Egypt’s relationship with the Soviets fell apart, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger saw an opportunity to pull Cairo more firmly into the American camp by helping it regain the Sinai, which Israel had recaptured in 1967 and successfully defended in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
From 1973-75, Mr. Kissinger embarked on a flurry of shuttle diplomacy, securing a cease-fire and an Israeli agreement to pull back from the banks of the Suez. But in March 1975, while trying to negotiate a fuller withdrawal, Kissinger lost his temper with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who refused to cede strategic passes in the Sinai as well as oil fields that provided Israel with roughly 60 percent of its oil.
“You don’t understand, I’m trying to save you,” Kissinger reportedly said, according to an account in Commentary Magazine. “You are making me, the Secretary of State of the United States of America, wander around the Middle East like a Levantine rug merchant….Are you out of your mind?”
The President Gerald Ford sent Rabin a letter informing him that “I have given instructions for a reassessment of United States policy in the region, including our relations with Israel…” The US also put the brakes on an Israeli request for F-15 fighter planes and froze scheduled arms deliveries.
But US senators rallied in support of Israel, and while President Ford stood firm on withdrawing from the passes, he added enticements including $2 billion in financial aid to Israel. In September an agreement was reached, under which Israel and Egypt agreed that American “technicians” and the UN would oversee the strategic passes. By the end of the decade, Israel and Egypt signed a formal peace treaty mediated by President Jimmy Carter.