Perhaps Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat didn’t get the memo when former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had stated: “You can’t make war in the Middle East without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria.”
Unbeknownst to the world Sadat had decided to bypass the influence of the Russians, Americans, and Syrians at the Geneva conference. On November 19, 1977 he astounded the world when he arrived in Jerusalem to address the Knesset. His unprecedented historic visit set in motion the first high-level Egyptian-Israeli peace talks. As a result, U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance had arrived in Israel on December 10, 1977 to begin talks with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Sadat’s astonishing visit to Jerusalem and the resulting slogan, “No more wars,” was a hard act to follow. President Carter and his main envoy Vance would settle for the job of mediators of the Middle East Peace Initiative led by the two old combatants, Sadat of Egypt and Begin of Israel. It was analogous to a prize fight (for the World Championship of Peace). Cyrus Vance the referee was willing to jump on a plane at a moments notice to advance the peace initiative to the next round. Up in the glass booths above the boxing ring Russia, Syria, the Palestinian groups, and a host of others worked behind the scenes but would have little control over the bout that ended months later in a split-decision…
Cyrus Vance’s Arrival
U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance arrived in Tel Aviv on Saturday without incident. I was positioned at Command Post One in the penthouse apartment atop the Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel. By the agents’ responses over the radio net I could tell that the temporary network communications had been very good. At about ten p.m. that evening there had been no incidences. S.Y. Agent Halliday arrived and told me we were heading to Jerusalem.
He handed me a coffee and said, “You ready to go?”
A half hour later Halliday negotiated the streets of Tel Aviv with a Styrofoam coffee cup in one hand. We didn’t get a new driver to replace the infirmed Ben as promised. Halliday said that the S.Y. (State Department Security) brass was worried about security, which seemed ironic.
“S.Y. couldn’t find a driver they could trust,” he added. “Everybody’s getting a little on edge. It’s imperative that this peace initiative gets off on the right foot—no bumps in the road.”
“What is it that Vance hopes to accomplish tomorrow?” I said.
Halliday glanced at me like I had rung the bell before the round had begun.
“I think Vance and his entourage are going to lay down the bare issues that are obstructing the way toward peace,” Halliday said. “Some people are going to get their toes stepped on.”
“What do you think are the main obstacles?”
Now I was the pain in the ass.
“Rumor has it that Sadat and Begin will meet with President Carter and Secretary Vance at Camp David outside of Washington soon to set out the guidelines for the peace agreement. I’m sure they’ll discuss the potential bumps in the road.”
My S.Y. partner had sidestepped the question, but it didn’t surprise me. It was hard to keep up with all the players and the issues. You had the Palestinian question, the Sinai Peninsula, the P.L.O. (Palestinian Liberation Organization) involvement, the Syrians… the list went on.
Halliday said, “A.I.C. Blankenship wants me to man Command Post Two at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Tomorrow’s the big day. Vance will meet Begin at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.”
“Yeah, the big day.”
“How do you feel about being a radio relay guy atop another Jerusalem hotel tomorrow? I mean, if we need you.”
“Sure, I’m available.”
“You’ll have to find a room in a hotel that suits your radio coverage, huh? S.Y. will pay for it.”
“I take it I’m on my own on this.”
“Yeah, we’re running short on manpower. I’ll be at Command Post Two all day. You can use this car.”
“A penthouse suite may be expensive,” I said.
“Cost is not an issue.”
We arrived at the King David Hotel around midnight. I volunteered to sleep on the Command Post Two living room sofa. Agent Halliday, who looked really tired, didn’t complain. He and the agent whom he would replace sacked on the two beds.
I rose at six a.m. Halliday had left a note. He gave me a time window that I had to be available in my “nest” to act as a possible “radio relay.” I grabbed the car keys and partook in a spectacular buffet breakfast as soon as it opened downstairs. With a full head of steam I went apartment looking. Forty-five minutes later I found a hotel that was up on a bluff. It would suit my radio communications needs.
It’s amazing how much respect a U.S. Diplomatic Passport can arouse, even early in the morning. The manager of the hotel personally showed me some penthouse suites on the top floor. I chose a corner room that gave me a splendid line-of-site view of the activity that would occur later.
I whipped out my American Express card later at the front desk and was staggered to see the room amount. Halliday had better come through with his promise that S.Y. would foot the bill or I was in for a huge expense that RCO Karachi might object to.
With not much to do I turned on the TV in the suite. There was a lot of news about US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance’s visit, but it was all in Hebrew. The nature of my job was that I was always “behind the scenes.” I had never seen Secretary Vance up close yet.
* * *
That morning U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Prime Minister Menachem Begin walked out the door of the Knesset to the microphone and reporters. I was watching it live on TV as I monitored the radio net. The net quieted when Cyrus Vance came up to the microphone. His statement was short and sweet, stating that this was only the beginning. Prime Minister Begin, known for his oratory skills asked the world to give the peace agreement process a chance.
That evening after a long press conference S.Y. Agent-in-Charge Blankenship gathered the advance team around him (including me) and let everyone know what a great job they had done. The Vance detail had concluded without a hitch.
Late that night I packed up all the radio gear in the Hilton Hotel Command Center, along with what I had removed from the King David Hotel and the radio repeater atop the hotel belonging to our driver Ben’s brother. It would be shipped back to OC/PE-R at SECSTATE.
Agent Halliday and I paid a quick visit to our bedridden driver Ben before we left. He would remain in the hospital two more days. The apprehension in Ben’s eyes was laughable when Halliday presented him ostensibly with a “to go” bowl from the same restaurant where Ben ate too many hot chili’s (the reason he was hospitalized).
Halliday said, “Just kidding, Ben. “It’s matzo ball soup.”
We all three got a good laugh out of that one.
Halliday said he was going out to a late dinner (I suspected with female Agent Solvano). I went back to the hotel and packed my suitcase. My flight to Athens and then on to New Delhi departed at six a.m.
Kathmandu—the Himalayas—here I come…