When it Comes to Israel, Drunk Nixon is Better than Sober Obama

News analysis

President Richard Nixon, 1972 / AP
• July 1, 2015 2:12 pm


President Richard Nixon was drunk during the height of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, according to veteran journalist Tim Weiner writing for Politico magazine.

Weiner’s book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, makes the charge. The former New York Times reporter claims that a call recorded by Henry Kissinger proves Nixon was drunk on the fifth day of the crisis after Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel which caught their Intelligence agency by surprise.

It became clear in the hours after the 1973 Yom Kippur attack that the Arabs had surprised Israeli forces and the Jewish state was facing the greatest threat to its survival in its brief history. Along the border with Syria, in the so-called Golan Heights, 180 Israeli tanks faced 1,400 Syrian tanks supplied by the Soviet Union; likewise Egypt crossed the Suez with 80,000 soldiers facing little Israeli opposition.

Israel suffered a number of setbacks, and Washington became increasingly concerned. Nixon alone concluded that the United States must back Israel against Arab forces whose primary military supplier was the Soviet Union. The 1973 war became more than necessary to save the Jewish state. It became a struggle between the world’s preeminent superpowers. Kissinger opposed the U.S. action, just as he opposed any action that he felt might irritate the Russians.

Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger agreed. The NSA staff was unanimous. Nixon overruled them and ordered a massive airlift of badly needed lethal aid, saying, "We are going to get blamed just as much for three planes as for three hundred.".

Nixon hit the roof when he learned that Kissinger and Schlesinger were dragging their feet on the airlift. Despite the opposition of his national security and foreign policy brain trust.

Strangely the tape of Nixon ordering the chairman of the joint chiefs to "get off your ass" and get the planes airborne is not played or written about as the Watergate tapes are. "Use every [plane] we have—everything that will fly," Nixon can be heard barking in exasperation.

Nixon’s airlift turned the tide for Israel. Under "Operation Nickel Grass" 567 missions were flown, delivering more than 22,000 tons of supplies, and an additional 90,000 tons were delivered to Israel by sea—all told $121 million in weapons and bullets.

Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir would admit that upon hearing of the airlift during a cabinet meeting, she began to cry. Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president, said, "He supplied arms and unflinching support when our very existence would have been in danger without them." Yitzhak Rabin, then serving as Israel’s ambassador in Washington, said in an Israeli radio interview that no president in American history had been more committed to Israel’s security than Richard Nixon.

Nixon had little tolerance for alcohol and there is little question that he sometimes drank to excess. When it comes to Israel, however, Nixon drunk is better than Obama sober.

Published under: Barack Obama, Israel