Members of Israel’s Ruling Likud Party Once Planned to Assassinate Henry Kissinger

A radical faction within the Likud party plotted to kill Kissinger in 1977, according to a news report from the time.

NBC NEWS -- "Sadat's Visit to Israel: Henry Kissinger & Edwin Newman Discussion" -- Aired 1977 -- Pictured: (l-r) NBC News' Edwin Newman, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger -- Photo by: NBC Newswire
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks on NBC News about Anwar el-Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977. Photo: NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger died on Wednesday at the age of 100 — though if the predecessors of Israel’s ruling Likud party had their way, he may not have made it even halfway to the century mark.

Despite his reputation as a geopolitical kingmaker, Kissinger was never able to fully impose total U.S. authority upon Israel, but he did seek to leverage U.S. influence — sometimes against what the right-wing Likud party viewed as its interests.

In the 1970s, Kissinger was so hated by the Likud party, which now controls Israel’s far-right coalition government, that some of its members tried to have him assassinated, according to a news report from the time.

“A die-hard clique of Israeli right-wingers has put out a $150,000 ‘contract’ for the assassination of Secretary of State Kissinger,” the New York Daily News reported in 1977, citing senior State Department officials. When reports of a possible hit on Kissinger first came out, it was believed to be the work of Palestinian militants, but senior officials told the paper that they were certain that the threat was emanating from the Likud party.

The Likud hard-liners who put up the money — described as “a small, radical splinter faction within Israel’s Likud opposition bloc” — were reportedly upset at Kissinger’s diplomacy around the end of the 1973 Arab–Israeli War. Kissinger had been instrumental in disengagement agreements with Egypt and Syria that saw Israel withdrawing from territories it had conquered. On the Israeli side, Likud’s rival Labor Party had worked with Kissinger to agree to the compromises.

The 1973 war had also led to a damaging oil embargo by Arab states against the U.S., and Kissinger was said to be willing to cut any deal necessary to turn the spigot back on — which the 1974 disengagement deals accomplished.

Of the hit, the Daily News reported, “The motive was said to be revenge against Kissinger for allegedly selling out Israel during his Mideast shuttle diplomacy.”

The Likud strongly denied the allegation at the time, as did the State Department. (The reported plot to assassinate Kissinger is just one of several instances in which Israelis displayed intense hostility toward their strongest ally, including a 1967 attack on an American spy ship and an espionage operation in the 1980s.)

While Kissinger succeeded in his short-term goal of ending the oil embargo and returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, his efforts at statesmanship intentionally obstructed efforts to find a long-term solution to the permanent occupation of Palestine.

As my colleague Jon Schwarz wrote today, Kissinger went against Richard Nixon’s own directive to find a way for lasting peace when everything and anything was on the table. Kissinger believed that a constant state of conflict and instability granted America an upper hand in the Middle East. “My assessment is a costly victory [for Israel] without a disaster is the best,” Kissinger told his subordinates at the onset of the Yom Kippur War.

Despite his Jewish heritage, Kissinger showed little regard for the Israeli state or Jewish people beyond their utility to the American empire. Helping Soviet Jews escape to the United States to avoid the Russian crackdown was “not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger told Nixon in 1973, “and if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

Whatever animosity once existed between the Likud party and the former secretary of state was long past them. Today, the party is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was first elected to the post in 1996. (That election was prompted by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, who many believe was the last great hope for enduring peace in Israel.)

Netanyahu has taken a page out of the Kissinger playbook, using unending conflict to cling to power and inviting ever more extremist politicians into the Likud coalition. In September, just weeks before Israel launched its all-out war on Gaza, the pair had an affectionate meeting in New York.

Israel’s bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip in recent weeks rivals the concentrated bombing of Vietnam and Cambodia that Kissinger oversaw decades ago.

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