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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jokes during the 1973 Middle East crisis

The State Department just released a 1278-page document of meetings and memos relating to the Middle East from 1969-1976, many of which center on events leading up to, during and following the Yom Kippur War.

It is a really fascinating historical record.

To whet your appetite, here are some of the jokes mentioned in the archive.

May 7, 1973 - meeting between Brezhnev, Gromyko and Kissinger in Zavidovo, Russia.

Brezhnev: Let us turn to an easy question now, the Middle East. Let us send Dr. Kissinger to the Middle East for two weeks.

Gromyko: President Nixon and I will write out a brief lucid instruction, and it is done with.

Kissinger: You know the story of the scorpion whowanted to cross the Suez Canal. He asked a camel if he could ride on his back. The camel said, “If I do and you sting me, I will be dead.” The scorpion said, “I will drown also, so you have every guarantee.” So the camel took the scorpion on his back and they started across. In the middle of the Canal the scorpion stung the camel and as they drowned the camel asked, “what did you do this for?” The scorpion said, “you forgot this is the Middle East.” [Laughter]

Gromyko: Very good.

Brezhnev: I have heard a different version, a scorpion—on the back of a frog. And the frog said, “That is just my nature!”

Kissinger: There is a story about an Arab lying in his tent trying to take an afternoon sleep. There were a lot of children making a lot of noise. So he told the children, “In the village they are giving away free grapes and you should go there.” So the children went away to the village. It got very quiet. Just as he was falling asleep he said to himself, “You idiot, what are you doing here if they are giving away free grapes?” So he went to the village. [Laughter]
So I think it would take three weeks.

Brezhnev: Three! Since this is the evening of jokes, I will tell you one.

Kissinger: I was hoping to trigger you—you are much better at it.

Brezhnev: Sometimes in our negotiations something happens that applies to Jackson. Two Jews meet. One asks, “Abraham, why are you not going to Israel? You applied for a permit and everything seemed to be settled.” The other replied, “Some goddamn fool wrote an anonymous letter on me alleging I am not a Jew.” [Laughter]

So with the communique´ we still have time, and Mr. Nixon can still take a look at it. The experience of the Moscow Summit shows it can be done.

Sonnenfeldt: Kornienko and I spent all night on it.

Brezhnev: Is not that a pleasant way? Let me tell you another story: Two Jews meet: One asks, “Abraham, did you hear that Isaac’s dacha burned down?” Abraham says, “So what, it is none of my business.” “It is really none of my business either,” the first one says, “but it is pleasant nonetheless.”

San Clemente, June 23, 1973 (minutes of meeting)

Dr. Kissinger noted that paragraphs 5 and 6 were agreed. At this point, he called attention to the fact that a paragraph from the May 1972 principles had been dropped. It was the one which read, “The agreements should lead to an end of a state of belligerency and to the establishment
of peace.” He explained that we had dropped it because there was reference to “final peace” in the new paragraph 1. We felt that it was not needed.

Foreign Minister Gromyko said he would like to keep that paragraph. It was more favorable to Israel. It might facilitate negotiation. The Foreign Minister asked whether he was being “too pro-Israel.”

Dr. Kissinger joked that this was because of the large Jewish population in the Soviet Union. The Foreign Minister acknowledged the quip.

Damascus, December 15, 1973 - Kissinger and Assad

Assad: If we are to suppose there are such secure borders, history shows we are in the need of secure borders if anyone. Why should secure borders be at the expense of Syria. Let secure borders be at Galilee if anywhere. Under what logic should secure borders be at the expense of the population of Golan. Why should the line of danger be closer to Damascus than Tel Aviv? The distance from the ’67 border to Damascus is 80 kilometers; the distance from the ’67 border to Tel Aviv is 135 kilometers.

So why should they want secure borders. If the idea behind it is to keep danger away from both capitals, why not?

Kissinger: You will be in trouble if they move their capital to Haifa.

Assad: In that case we will move our capital to Koneitra. As to Egypt, we have to take into account its rate of population and that it will soon be 50 million.

Kissinger: I am not condemning it. I made a joke.

Jerusalem, December 16, 1973: Kissinger, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and others:
Dr. Kissinger: Asad I thought would be difficult.2 We were reviewing the text of the draft letter to Waldheim on the convening of the Conference. I told him we wanted the date changed; he said, “Fine.” I said the Israelis had problems with the phrase about “the timing of the participation of others.” We discussed it a while, and then he agreed. I said, “Mr. President, I had been told you would be difficult to deal with. But you’re not.” Then he said there was one sentence in the letter he objected to—the sentence that said Syria agreed to come. [Laughter]
I said to him, “In other words, you don’t care about the date of the Conference because it doesn’t make any difference whether you don’t show up on the 18th or you don’t show up on the 21st?” He said, “That’s right.” [Laughter]

Prime Minister Meir: On that we agree with Asad.

Dr. Kissinger: No, he will come.

Mr. Sisco: They are briefing a delegation already to come.

Minister Eban: There are no Aluwites or Baath members in the delegation—so if he has to execute them, there will be no loss of party membership!

Jerusalem, December 17, 1973: Kissinger, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Abbas Eban and more

Dayan: Have you got a concept about the U.N. forces? Because now it’s something provisional. When you go seriously into a permanent arrangement, the questions of guarantees and security zones come up. Who stands behind the Poles and the Finns? You can’t really rely on them. It is one thing if we have observers. Right now there is no difference between U.N. forces and U.N. observers. If one side violates it, they observe and send a note. It is very useful, but not quite enough.

Something very funny, the other day the Egyptians asked the U.N. forces to move a little out of the way so they could fire on us. The U.N. forces wouldn’t, so the Egyptians moved a little away. [Laughter]

They exercise functions like checking convoys, but otherwise they’re really only observing. If they are to be really a solid buffer, there has to be more agreement on permanence.

Geneva, December 22, 1973, Kissinger and Gromyko

Secretary Kissinger: The Arab world is very new to me, Mr. Foreign Minister. I’ve no experience with it.

Minister Gromyko: You never dealt with them before?

Secretary Kissinger: I have never been in an Arab country and never had much dealings with them. I frankly thought I could get through my term of office and let someone else do it. To be honest. Now that I have started, I will finish it and with enthusiasm.

Minister Gromyko: It is an extremely complicated world.

Secretary Kissinger: Extremely. And you can’t count on every word they say. [Laughter]