The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

The Arabs, Israelis, and Kissinger is a useful book for the American reading public, written by a man thoroughly prepared to be its author. At the time he wrote the volume, Edward Sheehan was a research fellow at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs. Earlier he had been a foreign correspondent for The Boston Globe, serving in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. A writer of international reputation and a recipient of awards and commendation for his work as an interpreter of foreign affairs, he has published articles in many reputable periodicals in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. Indeed, portions of the present volume appeared earlier, in somewhat different form, in The New York Times Magazine and in Foreign Policy. In addition to his experience as a correspondent in the Middle East and his observations there, Sheehan consulted scores of sources, including primary sources, in London, Paris, Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Riyadh, Jerusalem, United Nations Headquarters, and Washington, D.C. During the course of his research the author had briefings approved by Secretary of State Kissinger, as well as conversations and a private interview with him. Some controversy erupted, however, as the author carefully notes in his preface, when portions of the material appeared in Foreign Policy. Henry Kissinger was agitated to see some of his conversations with heads of state in print, particularly after he had some short time earlier denounced a Congressional committee for permitting “leaking” of intelligence documents. Certain members of the State Department were reprimanded for exceeding their instructions in providing information. Sheehan, on his part, publicly announced his own share in the responsibility; and, as he suggests, the unforeseen controversy attests the authenticity of the material.

Sheehan’s avowed purpose was to write the most comprehensive and readable account yet to be published of Henry Kissinger’s diplomacy in the Middle East, especially that portion after the October War of 1973, a brief war which made a great deal of difference in the Middle East, a difference which persons outside the arena of foreign relations may well not yet have understood or valued sufficiently. The relationship of the Arabs’ oil boycott to the October War has escaped the notice of many Americans, despite the continued use of “the oil weapon” by the Arabs to reinforce their position in the continuing negotiations, now carried on by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance for the Carter Administration, following the change in American government in January, 1977. Also, the fact that the Arab countries’ victory in that war changed their views of themselves, as well as the military situation in the Middle East, seems to have escaped the notice of a large segment of the public, whose piecemeal accrual of information from the daily, even the weekly, reports from the news media has not given them any synthesis of knowledge. If Sheehan’s book were to do no more than provide a sizeable segment of the public with a better understanding of what has happened in the Middle East, its publication would be worthwhile.

But the book should do far more than that. Sheehan attempts to narrate an account from the beginning of Henry Kissinger’s involvement in Middle Eastern affairs through the Geneva conference after the October War to the spring of 1976, including the disengagements Kissinger negotiated in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. In narrating these events, the author has used considerable new material on the negotiations with the Arabs and the Israelis. One useful portion of the book, almost fifty pages in length, is the series of ten appendices, in which are found essential documents on the Middle East, such as the text of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (1967); Security Council Resolutions 338, 339, and 340 (1973), all passed after the opening of the October War; the text of the Egyptian-Israeli Agreement on Disengagement of Forces in Pursuance of the Geneva Peace Conference; the text of the Israeli-Arab Agreement of September, 1975; and Senator Fulbright’s 1980 Middle East Scenario, first published in The Washington Star on July 13, 1975.

Another valuable aspect of Sheehan’s book is his set of portraits of key persons in the Middle East. The author, who by preference would be a full-time novelist and dramatist, has utilized the skills in observation and description which are part of the literary man’s craft to bring the reader keen...

(The entire section is 1866 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

America. CXXXV, October 2, 1976, p. 195.

Commentary. LXIII, January, 1977, p. 78.

Library Journal. CI, November 15, 1976, p. 2357.

New York Review of Books. XXIII, December 9, 1976, p. 20.

New York Times Book Review. October 17, 1976, p. 5.

Publisher’s Weekly. CCX, August 16, 1976, p. 111.