Washington — Israel attack on Iraq's atomic reactor is likely to complicate immensely United States peace efforts in the Middle East and set back American relations with a number of Arab nations.
This was the initial reaction of several Middle East specialists here, both inside and outside the US government, after Israel announced the June 7 bombing of the reactor near Baghdad. In particular, they said that special envoy Philip C. Habib is likely to face new difficulties in dealing with tensions between Syria and Israel as Arab nations rally, at least temporarily, against Israel.
Even Egypt, which has been extremely friendly with Israel throughout the recent Syrian-Israeli tensions, denounced the Israeli raid. An American who works closely with Saudi officials said that Saudi Arabia, which has been playing what he described as a constructive role in the Lebanon crisis, might now feel obliged to distance itself for the time being from the United States.
The United States itself condemned the attack carried out by its Middle East ally. State Department spokesman Dean Fischer read a statement June 8 which said the raid was a "very serious development and a source of utmost concern" and that it "cannot but add to the already tense situation" in the region. He said that US aircraft were used by the Israelis in possible violation of American laws prohibiting the use of American weapons for offensive purposes.
But Mideast specialists said that despite all this, many Arabs are likely to believe that the Americans knew about, and condoned, the Israeli attack. Arab pride was now on the line, they said, and the Arabs would feel obliged in some way to react.
The initial response from the US Congress to the Israeli reaction was mixed. But several senators and congressmen expressed strong concern.
Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Clement Zablocki (D) of Wisconsin was reported as saying the action was "highly irresponsible" and probably ends the chances of a negotiated settlement of the Lebanon crisis. He also said the Israelis apparently violated American law by using US supplied planes.
Meanwhile, Reuter reported from Paris that French Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy described as "unacceptable and very serious" the Israeli raid w hich destroyed the French-built nuclear reactor near Baghdad