The challenge these two events placed on the administration’s pursuit of détente was that these Palestinian nationalist organizations through their use of multi-national hijackers and fedayeen forces used terrorism as their means to disrupt the Middle East peace process, to articulate their agenda of bringing the voice of the Palestinian people to the world’s attention, and to free the Palestinian hostages held by Israel, the US and other states.1 By attacking other nations across many boundaries with multi-national forces the Palestinian organizations and their terrorism became ‘transnational’. The transnational nature of the organizations and their terrorism challenged the realist approach of the administration because it would undermine the three reasons the administration pursued détente in the region: 1) in order to maintain the US-Soviet balance of power in the region, 2) to restrict Soviet influence on radical Arab governments, and 3) to ensure important US-Soviet cooperation in a peace process as outlined in ‘the Rogers Plan.’ In addition, the transnational nature challenged the traditional state-to-state diplomacy, which Détente and the administration relied on during this era.
The structure of this article is as follows: a discussion of what transnational history is and how it is used to analyze other nationalist organizations and how it can be applied to the Palestinian nationalist violence of 1970. The basics of the Nixon administration’s and Kissinger’s foreign policies will be explained followed by a chronological account of the Labor Day hijackings and Black September to outline the challenges the administration faced. Finally, a short historical-graphical discussion of the international histories of post-1967 will detail the US involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict through the administration’s pursuit of Détente and how these histories do not take into account the transnational nature of the organizations. This article will end with how the arguments made can contribute to the historiography of the US involvement in the conflict by adding a transnational historical perspective.
II. Transnational History and Transnational Organizations
For an example of how transnational history can be used as an analytical tool a look at Matthew Connelly’s A Diplomatic Revolution will show how his argument that the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) in Algeria was very successful in internationalizing its fight for independence with the French in such a way that it would involve not just Algeria and France, but other nations and international institutions.5 The FLN used their fight to gain support from various nations, peoples, and institutions across many national boundaries. The FLN worked remarkably well at developing “bureaus” and “delegations” in “Cairo, Damascus, Tunis, Beirut, Baghdad, Karachi, Djakarta, and New York” to promote talks and negotiations which made possible the maneuvering the FLN hoped for in the United Nations General Assembly.6 It is important to point out that while the FLN used the UN General Assembly the PLO and PFLP do not use the body in 1970. The transnational history and nature of the FLN is important to this article because it illustrates the FLN’s success in internationalizing its nationalist movement outside the borders of Algeria and involved not just the French colonial government, but the US, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. Also, Connelly and others argue, Yasser Arafat witnessed the celebration of the FLN in Algiers and later modeled Fatah—the dominant faction of the PLO—on the FLN.7
Understanding transnational history as the “global interconnectedness” between the nation and factors outside the nation and taking into account Connelly’s transnational history of the FLN’s allows for an analytical connection of both arguments to the Palestinian nationalist organizations involved in the terrorist events of 1970. By combing both arguments the PLO and the PFLP can be understood as non-state actors that initiated attacks across national boundaries who focused on domestic or foreign targets, which triggered relationships between the organizations, the international system, and the US, Soviet Union, Israel, and Jordan.8 The hijackings involved PFLP members, passengers, pilots, and equipment from various nations and the involvement of many nations and other international institutions. Black September involved an array of foreign fedayeen forces that attacked the Jordanian military in Amman and the involvement of many foreign diplomats and the possible involvement of foreign militaries. The use of a transnational perspective allows the argument that the transnational nature of these organizations challenged the Nixon administration’s three reasons for their pursuit of Détente in the region and the traditional state-to-state diplomacy necessary for the success of Détente.
III. Transnationalism and Kissinger’s Détente
During Kissinger’s tenure as Nixon’s national security advisor (1969-1973) the “official” decision-making involving the administration’s Middle East foreign policies was left to the State Department. The department’s framework for a post-1967 Arab-Israeli peace was named for Secretary of State William P. Rogers (1969-1973). ‘The Rogers Plan’ (as it became known as) called for a “comprehensive withdrawal from almost all of the occupied territory gained by Israel after the June 1967 war. Rogers saw the need for a traditional state-oriented agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but not with the Palestinian organizations. Kissinger was not a supporter of the plan and wanted to “shield” Israel from any pressure to withdrawal from all or most of the territory to pre-1967 boundaries.9
Kissinger believed that because of Soviet “support for Arab ambitions” any Soviet involvement would jeopardize the peace process and the balance of power the administration wanted between the US and Soviets.10 He believed that Israel was essential to the process and that the Soviets only encouraged the Arab governments’ desire to eradicate the state of Israel. Moreover, he believed that maintaining the balance of power between the US and the Soviets was essential to keeping the Arab governments in their places.11 Kissinger understood that by giving territory back to Egypt or Syria it would give clout to the Soviets who could demonstrate their utility to the Arab governments’ cause.12 Nixon however understood the importance of relaxing the tensions between the two super powers by reaching a détente because both were needed for promoting a peace between the Arabs and Israelis.13 Also, he understood the importance of having a public framework that could lure the Arab governments away from the Soviets.14 Ultimately, Kissinger and the administration understood that the Soviets were in the “foreground” when it came to making policy decisions in the region so they pursued Détente.15
IV. The Labor Day Hijackings
Kissinger recounted that the US and Israeli policy of not giving into blackmail by guerillas gave the Israelis the leverage to hold guerillas in Israel; nevertheless Kissinger advised the NSC team to urge negotiations.20 In a memorandum to President Nixon, the Deputy Assistant for National Security, General Alexander M. Haig, Jr. wrote that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was willing to negotiate with the hijackers for the release of the fedayeen prisoners being held by Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom.21 Kissinger told Nixon on September 8 that the US government was working with the US embassy in Amman to insure that the ICRC was able to negotiate with the PFLP an early indication that the administration was focused on working with other states and NGOs instead of with the PFLP directly.
On September 9, the UN Security Council resolution 286 noted concerns for the people aboard the hijacked planes, urged that they should be released, and recommended that states should take the legal actions necessary to prevent future hijackings.22 Nixon on September 11 outlined his seven-point program to deal with “the menace of air piracy.” Only four of the proposed seven points clearly show that the administration was fully aware of the importance of state-to-state involvement in resolving and combating future hijackings:
These four points do not include any references as to how the administration wanted to work with the PFLP directly, but rather as an indication that the administration clearly understood the hijackings involved only state actors who could resolve the issue without the involvement of the PFLP directly. By calling for an international conference, the administration was working within the traditional international system of gathering states at international organizations (like the UN and ICAO) to solve international crises, but these hijacking did not involve states. On September 12, the PFLP blew up the Swiss Air, the TWA, and the BOAC planes in the Jordanian desert after all of the hostages were released and escorted to Amman.24 A memo was prepared by the State Department on September 12, which outlined the international efforts to combat hijacking, and emphasized that the Tokyo Convention (1963) provided for the immediate return of aircraft, passengers, and crew. A telegram sent by the State Department to the embassies in the region outlined Secretary Volpe’s statements to be delivered at the ICAO and that Nixon had directed Secretary Rogers to speak directly with other governments about how to prevent future hijackings.25 The US proposal to the ICAO included a section that called on the ICAO to suspended air services in states that allow for “international blackmail” by detaining aircraft, passengers, and crew and failing to extradite or prosecute the hijackers.26 These sanctions indicate that the administration was incapable of determining a way to directly punish the PFLP.
Following the ICAO’s adoption of the US proposal on October 6, Kissinger and his staff prepared a list of possible US sanctions to be imposed on states who were uncooperative on the issue of hijacking, including: Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, North Korea, and Cuba. This list included states of particular importance to the administration’s foreign policies in the region—Jordan who was the closest Arab ally to working for peace and Syria and Egypt because of their close ties to the Soviets. Kissinger’s memo detailed the “appropriate sanctions” including: economic sanctions, cessation of the use of specific airports by US airliners, following the ICAO sanctions, and cutting-off loans from the Export-Import Bank. 27
The hijackings on September 6 triggered a national security crisis that challenged the administration’s traditional state-to-state diplomacy and reasons they pursued Détente in the region. The ICAO’s and Kissinger’s sanctions only punished those states that were uncooperative in the hijackings and not the PFLP. This proves that the administration did not know how to focus their policies and sanctions on the organization itself. Working with ICRC and ICAO instead of the PFLP directly also indicate that the administration did not understand how to work with the transnational PFLP because they were not state actors who could be punished directly by the organizations.
V. Black September in Jordan
The Washington Special Action Group (WSAG), designed by the administration to deal with national security issues directly in the White House, met to work end the crisis using the three objectives. Under the leadership of Kissinger the group met each day of the seventeen day crisis with the Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, the deputy Secretary of Defense, the Undersecretary of State, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the head of the CIA. This effectively moved the deliberation from Rogers in the State Department to the NSC in the White House. As a result of the WSAG meetings the administration increased the presence of US armed forces in the area and moved the Sixth Fleet to the eastern Mediterranean.31 In the first few days of the crisis, the WSAG recommended that King Hussein use his army against the fedayeen, but Hussein was reluctant.32 This recommendation is an indication that the administration and Kissinger wanted to remain outside the realm of direct involvement to prevent the possibility of Soviet retaliation.
A report from Secretary Rogers to embassies in the region pointed out that the Soviets had the possibility of siding with the Arabs on the issue of Jordan and that the US should take into consideration Iraq’s (and later Syria’s) potential support of the fedayeen.33 As a result of these concerns Kissinger and WSAG discussed the possibility US air involvement if Hussein asked for it or whether the Israelis should provide it. The consensus was that either option would jeopardize US-Soviet relations in the region as it was most certain that if the US or Israel got involved the Soviets would support Iraq and ultimately cease their possible involvement in the peace process both of which threatened the administration’s reasons for détente in the region.34 On September 12 a tentative and delicate cease-fire was agreed upon between the fedayeen and the Jordanian army.35
On September 19, Kissinger learned that the Israelis had spotted Syrian tanks moving towards the Jordanian border. Because of this Israeli intelligence the administration learned that the Soviets were concerned about US or Israeli intervention.39 In a memo from NSC member Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger the advice was given that the Soviets were concerned about how “outside” intervention might amplify the current hostilities and “force them into the unpalatable decision of going to the defense of the Arab states with their own personnel.” Sonnenfeldt also warned that the Soviets wanted to make clear to the US that the “Middle East is a Soviet preserve where the US can no longer act with impunity.” The memo concluded that the Soviets did not want any outside intervention—U. S. or Israeli—even if it solved the crisis in the region, but “would probably prefer to see the King remain in power.”40 Sonnenfeldt’s advice to Kissinger regarding the Soviet’s threat of military support on behalf of the Arab governments in the “Soviet preserve” proves that the administration’s and Kissinger’s concerns of direct Soviet intervention in the crisis was rooted in fact, but also the delegacy of maintaining a balance of power in a region was of interest to both super powers.
In a NSC meeting on September 21 they discussed the possibility of Israeli involvement in Jordan. They understood that while Israel had no territorial aims, it did see the elimination of the PLO from Jordan as a plus. They also understood that Israel wanted US support against any possible Soviet retaliation on behalf of the Arab governments. All parties involved (the US, Israel, and Jordan) agreed to the use of Israeli forces.41 However, Israeli involvement would most certainly alienate the Arab governments and Soviet involvement in the peace process.
By September 22 there had been no contact between the administration, Israel, Jordan and the fedayeen forces directly and quite possibly as a result of this a conference was convened on September 22 in Cairo by Arab governments concerned about the Jordan crisis. These governments appointed Sudanese President Jaafar Muhammad al-Nimeiry as the mediator between the PLO and the Jordanian government.42 By the morning of September 26 the cease-fire agreed upon on the 23rd remained intact and Nimeiry returned to Cairo with Arafat to speak with Egyptian President Gamael Abdel Nasser. All parties opposed Hussein and felt that the PLO was under attack by the US and Israel.43 September 27 saw the signing of a cease-fire agreement between only Arafat and Hussein at the Cairo Hilton. By 19:25 GMT the fedayeen and Jordanian forces were to cease all military actions. Arafat and Hussein agreed to withdraw all fedayeen and Jordanian forces from Amman, restore law and order as it was prior to the crisis, and end the military government.44 Unfortunately violence would remain between the fedayeen and the Jordanian army until June 1971 when the Jordanian army crushed the PLO who fled to Lebanon. The signing of the Cairo cease-fire agreement did not involve the Nixon administration who was more concerned about the Soviet’s responses and reactions to US and Israeli actions than with working directly with the PLO and Hussein. The lack of involvement of the administration in Cairo indicates that the administration’s traditional state diplomacy effectively removed them from any possible involvement in a cease-fire agreement because they were so concerned with the security and safety of Jordan as an ally in the peace process, the maintenance of détente between the US and Soviets in the region, and the prevention of Soviet influence over the radical Arab governments.
VI. “Nixonger” and the summer of 1970: what can transnational history tell us?
The hijacking of the four airliners with European, Israeli and American citizens aboard and holding them hostage in the Jordanian desert placed the Nixon administration in a difficult position of trying to gain the release of the hostages while they punished only the states who allowed the blackmail to happen and not the PFLP directly. The sanctions developed by the administration and later adopted by ICAO is a clear indication that the transnational nature of the PFLP challenged the administration’s state-to-state diplomacy and their reasons for Détente because they were only directed towards states and not the PFLP.
Black September presented many of the same challenges the administration faced with the PFLP. The PLO and the fedayeen forces in Jordan were transnational organizations that pursued a violent struggle against King Hussein’s Jordan. This violent struggle was a threat to the US balance in the region because Hussein and Jordan represented an Arab ally in the region and in the peace process. The administration also faced the difficulties of Syrian and Iraqi involvement in the crisis on behalf of the fedayeen. The persistent concern over Soviet support against Hussein on behalf of Syria or Iraq was present in the minds of the administration. Even with this concern the administration pursued the possibility of Israeli involvement in the crisis in order to maintain Jordan’s viability, but also to remove any possibility of US involvement that might cause Soviet retaliation. However, possible Israeli involvement was just as likely to trigger Soviet retaliation as US involvement could have. The administration and Kissinger were successful in assuring that Hussein and Jordan would remain, but were not involved in the negotiation of the Cairo cease-fire agreement.
The administration’s and Kissinger’s inability to understand the transnational nature of PLO and PFLP is unique and new to the historiography of US involvement in the post-1967 Arab-Israeli conflict because the historiography has been dominated by international histories. These international histories argue that the US policy in the region since 1967 had followed a policy of preventing Soviet dominance in the region through the pursuit of Détente and the ‘Rogers Plan.’ Also, that the US tried not to alienate the Arab states with these efforts in the hopes that they would not go to the Soviets for support and that the US recognized the fact that the Soviets wanted: “land, oil, power, and the warm waters of the Mediterranean” and that these desires threatened US national security in the region.45 These histories outline the relationships between nations i.e., (US-Soviet, US-Israeli, Soviet-Arab, etc). More specifically the historiography argues that the US tried to walk a delicate diplomatic line which would allow for “mutually binding peace contracts” between Israel and the Arab states, but not between Israel, the Arab States, and the transnational Palestinian organizations.46 Understanding that the historiography focuses strictly on national relationships makes the transnational argument made in this article important to understanding a more nuanced picture of US involvement in the post-1967 Arab-Israeli conflict.
1. Mohammed K Shadid, The United States and the Palestinians. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981), 120; for a discussion of ‘the Rogers Plan’ see, Steven L. Spiegal, The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict: Making of America’s Middle East Policy, from Truman to Reagan. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 186-187.
2. Thomas Bender, (ed.). Rethinking American History in a Global Age. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 51-53; see also, Thomas Bender, “Whole and Parts: The Need for Synthesis in American History,” Journal of American History, 73, no. 1 (June 1996): 120-136.
4. For a broader discussion of what is transnational history see; “AHR Conversation: On Transnational History.,” American Historical Review 111, no. 5 (December 2006): 1440-1464; Ian Tyrrell, “American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History,” The American Historical Review 96, no. 4 (October 1991): 1031-1055; Ian Tyrrell, “Making Nations/Making States: American Historians in the Context of Empire,” The Journal of American History 86, no. 3 (December 1999): 1015-1044; David Thelen, “Of Audiences, Borderlands, and Comparisons: Toward the Internationalization of American History,” The Journal of American History 79, no. 2 (September 1992): 432-462; David Thelen, “The Nation and Beyond: Transnational Perspectives on United States History,” The Journal of American History 86, no. 3 (December 1999): 965-975; Michael McGerr, “The Price Of The "New Transnational History".,” American Historical Review 96, no. 4 (October 1991): 1056.
7. Ibid., 279-280, see also, Alan Hart, Arafat: A Political Biography. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984),7 and 10; Barry Rubin, Revolution Until Victory? The Politics and History of the PLO. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1994), 10-104, and 112-113.
8. For a brief discussion of transnational terrorism in the international system see: Quan Li, “Does Democracy Promote or Reduce Transnational Terrorist Incidents?,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 49, no. 2 (April 2005): 278-297.; and _______, “Economic Globalization and Transnational Terrorism,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 48, no. 2 (April 2004): 230-258.
9. Salim Yaqub, “The Weight of Conquest: Henry Kissinger and the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” in Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), Yaqub, 227..
26. Briefing Memorandum from Stevenson to Irwin, “Hijacking—US Initiative in the ICAO Council, 28 September 1970, FRUS, 1969-1972 E-1: 76; Telegram 5465 From Embassy in Jordan to the Department of State, 30 September 1970, FRUS, 1969-1972 E-1: 77.
27. Memorandum from Rhinelander and Rein to Flanigan, “Air Piracy—Follow on International Action Following Adoption by ICAO of US Resolution,” 9 October 1970, FRUS, 1969-1972 E-1: 78; Memorandum from Kissinger to Flanigan, “Possible Actions Against Countries which are Uncooperative on Hijacking,” 31 October 1970, FRUS, 1969-1972 E-1: 79; In order to perform these sanctions the memorandum recommended the use of the “Trading with the Enemy Act” and the “Export Administration Act” which would sever all financial aid and trade to the states, and possible restrictions on passports and travel.
45. “America’s Moment in the Middle East.” Middle East Journal 31, no. 1 (Winter 1977): 1, 9; and Donald Neff, “Nixon’s Middle East Policy: From Balance to Bias.” Arab Studies Quarterly 12, no. 1/2 (Winter/Spring 1990): 2,9.
46. For a discussion on the balance of power see: Donald Neff, Fallen Pillars: U.S. Policy Towards Palestine and Israel Since 1945. (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1995); Georgiana G. Stevens, “1967-1977: America’s Moment in the Middle East.” Middle East Journal 31, no. 1 (Winter 1977): 1-15 [hereafter “America’s Moment”]; Salim Yaqub, “The Weight of Conquest: Henry Kissinger and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” in Logevall, Frederick, and Andrew Preston (eds.), Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); and Salim Yaqub, “The Politics of Stalemate: The Nixon administration and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1969-1973.” in Ashton, Nigel J. (ed.), The Cold War in the Middle East: Regional Conflict and the Super Powers, 1967-1973. (London: Routledge, 2008).