As President Gerald Ford is laid to rest, veteran diplomats, pundits and politicians in Israel recalled a vitally important letter from the late US leader to the state of Israel.
The letter, written on September 1, 1975, followed six months of American pressure on Israel to sign an interim peace agreement with Egypt, with whom Israel was still in a state of war. That agreement required Israel to give away vital assets to Cairo – including chunks of the Sinai desert that contained valuable oil resources.
The only tangible benefit for Israel from agreeing to a unilateral withdrawal from the Egyptian oil fields was a presidential letter from President Ford stressing the vital importance for Israel of holding on to the Golan Heights. Israel had acquired the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, following 19 years of Syrian shells on Israel’s northern communities from the towering Golan Heights, and Syria’s incessant attacks from the Golan on the Sea of the Galilee – Israel’s only fresh water resource, from where Israel’s National Water Carrier pumps water to the whole country.
In the seminal letter Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, President Ford wrote that “any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights.”
President Ford’s funeral comes during a week that the US Congress reconvenes, following a policy recommendation from the Baker Hamilton commission that the US exert pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights as part of an overall American strategy for stability in the Middle East.
Israeli unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon in May 2000, and from Gaza in August 2005, facilitated Israel’s enemies use of these territories as launching pads for aggressive attacks against the Jewish state, President Ford’s legacy for Israel remains his understanding of the vital importance of the Golan Heights for Israel’s security.
Here is the full text of the letter from President Gerald Ford to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin:
September 1, 1975
His Excellency Yitzhak Rabin Prime Minister of Israel
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
I wish to inform you that the U.S. recognizes that the Israeli-Egyptian Interim Agreement entailing withdrawal from vital areas in the Sinai constitutes an act of great significance on Israel’s part in the pursuit of final peace and imposes additional heavy military and economic burdens on Israel.
I want to assure you that the U.S. will make every effort to be fully responsive within the limits of its resources and Congressional authorization and appropriation on an ongoing and long-term basis to Israel’s military equipment and other defense requirements as well as to Israel’s economic aid needs, all of this based on the requests submitted by Israel, joint studies and previous U.S. Presidential undertakings.
Further to those undertakings, it is my resolve to continue to maintain Israel’s defensive strength through the supply of advanced types of equipment, such as the F-16 aircraft. The United States Government agrees to an early meeting to undertake a joint study of high technology and sophisticated items, including the Pershing ground-to-ground missiles with conventional warheads, with the view to giving a positive response. The U.S. Administration will submit annually for approval by the U.S. Congress a request for military and economic assistance in order to help meet Israel’s economic and military needs. Realizing as I do the importance of the Interim Agreement to the Middle Eastern situation as a whole, the U.S. will make every possible effort to assist in the establishment of conditions in which the Agreement will be observed without being subjected to pressures or deadlines.
In the spirit of the special relationship existing between the United States and Israel and in light of the determination of both sides to avoid a situation in which the U.S. and Israel would pursue divergent courses in peace negotiations, the U.S. will take the position that these are negotiations between the parties. As I indicated to you in our conversation on 12 June 1975, the situation in the aftermath of the Israeli-Egyptian Interim Agreement will be one in which the overall settlement can be pursued in a systematic and deliberate way and does not require the U.S. to put forward an overall proposal of its own in such circumstances. Should the U.S. desire in the future to put forward proposals of its own, it will make every effort to coordinate with Israel its proposals with a view to refraining from putting forth proposals that Israel would consider unsatisfactory.
The U.S. will support the position that an overall settlement with Syria in the framework of a peace agreement must assure Israel’s security from attack from the Golan Heights. The U.S. further supports the position that a just and lasting peace, which remains our objective, must be acceptable to both sides. The U.S. has not developed a final position on the borders. Should it do so it will give great weight to Israel’s position that any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights. My view in this regard was stated in our conversation of September 13, 1974.
Sincerely, Gerald R. Ford