Mr. Reagan's Middle East problem

The affair of the Israeli bombs on the Iraqi nuclear reactor underlines the conflict of interests which has plagued the relationship of the United States to the State of Israel from its beginning. It continues to this day to complicate the relationship, and probably always will.

Specifically, Israel used warplanes built in the US in a military action which served the national interests of Israel as interpreted by the leading persons in the government of Israel. Judging from popular reaction in Israel the deed was also recognized by a majority of Israelis as being within the range of Israeli interest and as being desirable for Israel.

But the use of those American-built warplanes against Iraq disserved the interests of the US.

It disserved them in that the US has no quarrel of its own with Iraq. Iraq is conceived as an enemy by the government of Israel and by many Israelis. But it is not an enemy of the US. It has done the US no harm. It is one of the Arab countries the US would like to include in its plans for a "strategic consensus" to keep the Soviets out of the Middle East.

Iraq has of late been attenuating its relations with the Soviet Union and trying to improve them with the West in general and with the US in particular. Washtington has encouraged this and had hoped to see the trend continue.

Also, the Israeli planes flew over Jordan and Saudi Arabia on their way to Iraq, thus offending Washington's two closest friends among the Arab countries. This does not help US relations with the Saudis and the Jordanians.

Here is a clear case of Israeli national interests conflicting with US national interests. But the US will not penalize Israel for having acted contrary to the US national interest, because Israel is supported inside the US by a lobby of pro-Israel activists too powerful to be defied by the US government.

This conflict first surfaced at the White House on a historic occasion. The date was May 12, 1948. Israeli armies were consolidating control over those sections of Palestine which the Israelis intended to incorporate in their yet unborn state. The British were in the process of moving out. They had announced the end of their mandate over Palestine to take effect on May 14. The leaders of the Zionist movement intended to announce the existence of the new Jewish state the day, as they did.

The question at the White House on May 12 was whether the US should recognize the new state immediately. Gen. George Marshall was secretary of state. He was present with a delegation of State Department experts. They sat on one side of the President's desk. On the other side were the President's domestic political advisers led by Clark Clifford.

At that meeting Under Secretary of State Robert Lovett spoke first for the State Department setting forth the reasons why the State Department opposed recognotion of Israel on the ground that it would be contrary to the long-term interests of the US. Mr. Clifford got up and responded for the politicians. The counterargument was political. The Democrats needed Jewish support in the elections due that November. The Republicans were said to be active in favoring prompt recognition. Mr. Clifford proposed that on the following day President Truman would read a statement announcing early recognition.

The most authoritative account of that session I know is to be found in "Decision on Palestine," by Evan M. Wilson. He writes: "Marshall then sharply rebuked Clifford for trying to interject domestic politics into what was an international issue, and he told the President bluntly that if the election were being held tomorrow he would not vote for him."

Politics won out over long-range national interests at the White House in 1948. It has continued usually to do so this day. So too has the conflict in national interest continued. Inevitably, it will continue so long as Israel remains in a state of unresolved hostility with most of the Arabs. Israel is today at peace with only Egypt among the Arabs. This explains of course why US diplomacy continues to search for a peaceful settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Only when a general peace is established in the Middle East can the US support Israel without injuring the Arabs by doing so.

It also explains why the State Department censures Israel for the attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor, but there will be no penalty applied to Israel. In the eyes of the professional diplomats, but never in the eyes of the politicians, Israel constantly operates across the lines of US national interests.

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