At the beginning of 1968, after 27 years of military service, Yitzhak Rabin hung up his uniform and was appointed to his first civil post: Israel's ambassador to the United States. His first year in the post was a presidential election year in the United States and Rabin used that time to study the apparatus of American government, to get to know the prominent figures in the American media and to develop relations with the Jewish community and with the heads of the important Jewish organizations.
Contrary to traditional Jewish support for the Democratic Party, Rabin openly supported the Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon.
A previous acquaintance with Nixon, and observation of the views he expressed in the presidential campaign, convinced Rabin that Nixon would be a better ally for Israel. Nixon's victory and his choice of Henry Kissinger to head of the National Security Council created the conditions for Rabin's great achievements as ambassador. Despite the then existing tensions between Israel and the United States over the administration's plans for a Middle East settlement, and Israel's objections to those plans, Rabin managed to foster special relations between the two nations. His efforts to gain the agreement of Golda Meir's government to a cease-fire in the Suez Canal were critical in achieving the annulment of the American embargo on the supply of Phantom jets to Israel.
In September 1970, Nixon asked Israel, via Rabin, to help King Hussein of Jordan deter Syrian and Palestinian attempts to threaten his regime. Rabin backed the request and worked to persuade the prime minister to do the same even at the cost of war with Syria. In the end, Hussein managed to defeat the uprising by himself, but Israel's willingness to assist him strengthened cooperation between Israel and the United States, led to an increase in the economic aid that Israel received, and improved relations between the King and Israel.
Like her predecessor Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir saw Rabin as an ambassador with special status and opened up direct channels of communication with him. In the second half of his term Rabin established his standing as a diplomat, and as a candidate for senior political posts in Israel. He learned to admire American democracy and the achievements of free-market economics. His connections with the heads of the administration and with the Jewish communities deepened, and he was widely admired.
The death of Egypt's president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, in 1970, and the election of Anwar Sadat in his place, changed the political map of the Middle East. The American administration saw the changes as a window of opportunity to promote accords between Israel and its neighbors, and stepped up efforts to achieve intermediate accords. Rabin supported the idea of progress in stages and was aware of the dangers inherent in Sadat's proposals for an accord with Israel. He believed that an IDF withdrawal deep into the Sinai, together with the opening of the Suez Canal, would pave the path for an accord with Egypt and strengthen the alliance with the United States. He warned the government that its refusal to accept the American plan would lead to an enforced agreement or even to a flare-up of hostilities. But Golda Meir's government stuck to its position.
The elections for the Eighth Knesset were around the corner and Rabin expressed his desire to return to Israel.