Last Word

Kissinger, Kant, and the Syrians in Lebanon

In June 1976, a few months after being appointed director general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I traveled to the United States. The main purpose of my trip was to stand in for Foreign Minister Yigal Allon at the annual conference of AIPAC in Washington. During that visit I was also scheduled to meet Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. I had encountered him on a number of previous occasions, but only within the confines of the academic world. This was the first time I was going to meet him in my new official capacity.

A few days before I left for the U.S., one of my former teachers, the philosopher Nathan Rotenstreich, read in the press about my planned visit and asked me for an academic favor. Rotenstreich and another illustrious Jerusalem philosopher, Shmuel Hugo Bergmann, had just published a new Hebrew translation of Immanuel Kant's On Eternal Peace. Would I be willing, he asked, to present a copy to Kissinger when I met him? Of course I agreed.

Together with Ambassador Simcha Dinitz, Deputy Chief of Mission Hanan Bar-On, and the embassy's counselor Eytan Bentsur, I went to meet Kissinger, as well as Deputy Secretary of State Philip Habib and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Roy Atherton. One of the issues that dominated our discussions was the recent incursions of Syrian forces into Lebanon. In the ever-changing Byzantine politics of his country's western neighbor, President Hafez al-Assad was playing a complex game of balancing his ideological support for the Palestinians with a tilt toward the Christian Maronites. In line with these aims, the Syrians were slipping into southern Lebanon and were about to overrun the strategically-located village of Aishieh, not far from Israel's northern tip.

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About the Author

Shlomo Avineri teaches political science at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. He is the former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. His latest book is Herzl: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).


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