US task: repair damage done by Sadat loss
The assassination in Cairo last Tuesday of Egypt's President Anwar Sadat has not destroyed fatally or finally the hope in Washington of bringing Arabs and Israelis together in a "strategic consensus" to protect American and allied access to the oil of Arabia.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But it has added to the difficulty of reaching that goal. And it underlines the fact that President Reagan does not yet have a foreign policy team at his disposal in Washington that is adequate to the task.
Remedial action can begin only with a recognition in Washington that the "strategic consensus" is like any stool, chair, or table. It must have at least three legs under it to be able to function. In the Middle East those minimum three legs are Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. With those three in place, others can be attracted.
Former President Carter began the task by reconciling Egypt with Israel. That first essential step has been set back and jeopardized by the loss of President Sadat -- who probably died precisely because he had failed to reconcile Israel with other Arab states.
He was almost certainly killed by Islamic fanaticism fed by the fact that he had made his own peace with Israel without obtaining as compensation at least political self-rule for the Arabs of the territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. That failure stood in the way of reconciliation between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
President Reagan's first task is to repair the damage done by the loss of President Sadat. This means reviving confidence among the Arabs that their interests are respected in Washington and will be remembered in future US operations in the Middle East. That in turn will, now more than ever, require conclusion of the sale of modern weapons to Saudi Arabia, even including the AWACS planes.
But conclusion of that affair would be only a beginning. It would keep Saudi Arabia in the status of a potential third leg under the "strategis consensus." To convert the potential into the reality would require months and probably even years of patient and determined diplomacy.
The difficulty was illustrated on the very eve of the assassination. On Monday, only a few hours before President Sadat was struck down, Israel's foreign minister delivered a bitter attack on Saudi Arabia in a speech in New York. He accused the Saudis of "a fanatic hatred of Jews and Israel." He called them a "major obstacle" to a Middle East peace.
But during the previous 12 days an Israeli naval vessel armed with missiles went aground on a reef in Saudi waters. It was allowed by the Saudis to be refloated and taken away. Saudi military forces observed the operation and could have destroyed or captured the vessel.
The recovery by Israel of its ship with Saudi consent was confirmed by the Israeli government the day after the verbal attack on Saudi Arabia by Israel's foreign minister.
President Sadat had bridged the gap between his own country and Israel. He was the best possible bridge for a future reconciliation between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Now Washington will have to find or devise a new bridge and a new formula. But President Reagan's foreign policy team is unharnessed and uncoordinated.