US and Israel: a new realism

US-Israeli relations show signs of emerging from current tension on a more realistic and therefore sounder footing than before. If these are nurtured on both sides, Prime Minister Begin's visit to Washington next month could set the seal on a fresh bilateral start with multilateral benefits.

The sounder footing may be foreshadowed in the reported warplane negotiations involving US-Israeli recognition of mutual obligations affecting American aid to Israel. The interests of all will be best ensured with a continuing recognition that America's obligation to follow through in the letter and spirit of aid agreements be matched by Israel's obligation to do the same.

For the first time, the delivery of American-made planes was suspended after Israel flew such planes in attacks casting doubt on its adherence to an agreement to use US-supplied military equipment for self-defense. The Arms Export Control Act prohibits military credits or sales to a country in substantial violation of an arms agreement.

According to weekend reports, the way was cleared for resuming the delivery of F-16s and F-15s after US and Israeli negotiators reached a new understanding: Israel would respect American wishes that if forgo offensive use of US-supplied planes as in this summer's raids on Iraq and Beirut.

No less should be required. For all of Prime Minister Begin's heated public denial of such an understanding, he must realize that a certain die has been cast by the Reagan Administration. As a White House spokesman affirmed, Israel would be expected to abide by its agreement to use US-supplied aircaft only for defensive purposes: "The Israeli government knows where we stand, and they know what the law requires. . . ." Can there be any question that another Israeli raid of the Beirut sort would have an effect on US assistance?

The suspension of the plane deliveries was not what Mr. Begin called it, a wrong for the US to make right. It was a word to the wise. Despite Israel's continued dependence on American aid, it should not be kept in the ignominious position of a perennial supplicant whose plight places it beyond obligations to anyone but itself.

Mr. Begin reasonably notes that Israel helps American national security, presumably meaning as a staunch friend at East-West crossroads. A foundation of mutual responsibility is a good one on which to build when he visits Washington.

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