Soviet and Israeli replays have most of world reeling
The past week in world affairs has been like the remake of an old movie, a movie in which the essential elements of the plot are the same but the details differ in ways that tell us how the world has changed in 25 years.
In late October and early November of 1956 Moscow moved decisively to stamp out an independence movement along its military frontier in Eastern Europe in Hungary. Soviet tanks smashed out rebellion in Budapest.
Last week Moscow stamped out a similar independence movement in Poland. But it used the Polish Army as the means, rather than its own.
On Oct. 29, 1956, Israeli troops invaded Egypt as part of a British-French-Israeli attack on President Nasser, who had just nationalized the Suez Canal. Last week the Israeli government declared the occupied Golan Heights to be part of the territory of Israel. The action in each case was to expand the territories of Israel. The method is different, and so is the attitude of the outside world toward Israeli expansion.
The essential and continuing elements are the same.
Moscow is determined to hang on to effective military control over those countries lying along the western flank of the Soviet Union. They shield it from the Western world and Western influences. And Israel is continuing to try to increase the range of its territories beyond its original 1948 frontiers. Soviet possessiveness in Eastern Europe and Israeli expansionism in the Middle East are constants.
The sequence of action in the two stories differs.
In 1956 the Israelis moved first. Their invasion of Egypt began on Oct. 29. On the next day Soviet troops, which had been in Budapest, moved back out after helping in an earlier, moderate policing action. They did not return in major force until Nov. 4.
Meanwhile the British and French (on Oct. 30) in secret collaboration with Israel had issued an ultimatum to Egypt. The Soviets allowed the joint Israeli-British-French actions against Egypt to serve as a smoke screen to obscure their own moves in Hungary from world attention.
This time the Polish Army moved on the night of Dec. 12 to take over the country. Israeli Prime Minister Begin waited until the third day (Dec. 14) to present to a surprised Israeli Knesset a bill in effect annexing the Golan Heights to the State of Israel. Moscow's initiative this time partially screened Israel's action from world attention.
In 1956 and again in 1981 disapproval of Soviet action was almost universal outside the Soviet empire of influence itself. But the Middle East story differs markedly in 1981 from the 1956 version. In that earlier case Britain and France joined in the operation. Israel was to get the Sinai Peninsula out of the mutual invasion of Egypt. Britain and France wanted to regain control over the Suez Canal and topple the nationalist and anti-Western government of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Israel had two fighting allies in 1956.
This time Israel had no allies, and its action was distressing to the only patron it still has, the United States. The immediate concern in Washington was that the act of annexation might weaken Egypt's resolve to continue the process of making peace with Israel. The State Department called the move ''destabilizing.'' It was bound to be resented deeply among all the Arab countries. This would undermine the willingness of the more moderate Arabs - Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco - to cooperate with the US. It could undo the whole Camp David process and clear the way for another Arab-Israeli war.
The Israeli move was so distressing to Washington that the State Department immediately began work with other delegations at the United Nations on a resolution to condemn Israel. Washington would not vote for any sanctions or other form of punishment. But it would have to vote to censure a deed that is regarded at the State Department as both illegal under international law and in violation of the understandings reached at Camp David.
The Israeli action of December 1981 also differed from 1956 in reaction inside Israel. There was no recorded open opposition inside Israel in 1956 to the invasion of Egypt. Last week the Knesset went into an uproar over the proposal to annex the Golan Heights, and 21 members actually voted against the bill.That was not enough by any means to stop the action. Mr. Begin won with 63 votes in favor while much of the opposition abstained. But it showed that a substantial political element in Israel disapproves openly of this second act of territorial expansion since the 1967 war. At that time Israel declared that it had annexed east Jerusalem. The US does not recognize the legality of either annexation.Britain and France, which had collaborated with Israel in 1956, were this time instantly and sharply critical of Israel. But while the reaction in Washington was disappointing to Mr. Begin, it was markedly less severe than was US reaction in 1956. At that time President Eisenhower insisted that Israel withdraw its troops entirely from the Sinai Peninsula. American aid to Israel would be suspended unless it did withdraw. Israel delayed that withdrawal as long as it could, but finally complied rather than suffer loss of economic support from the US.There is no serious thought in Washington today of withholding aid to make Israel to withdraw from its annexation of the Golan Heights. Israel's influence in Washington both in the Congress and at the White House is substantially greater today than it was 25 years ago. But what Israel has gained in Washington has been lost in Western Europe.The foreign ministers of the 10 European Community countries met in London, discussed both the Polish and the Mideast affairs, and issued statements condemning both. They agreed to ''strongly deplore'' Israel's action. They called it ''contrary to international law and therefore invalid in our eyes.'' They concluded that:''This step is bound to complicate further the search for a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, to which we remain committed.''The European statement on Poland was less severe than the one on Israel. It expressed ''profound sympathy for the Polish people in this tense and difficult time.'' The Europeans agreed ''to remain in close consultation'' on the Polish matter. They called on all signatories of the Helsinki Final Act (this includes the Soviet Union) to refrain from interfering in Poland. ''They look to Poland to solve these problems herself.''The sequel to the 1956 story in the Middle East was the withdrawal of Israeli, British, and French troops from Egyptian territory. President Eisenhower was adamant about this. He refused to support the British pound or allow replenishing of Britain's depleted oil supply until British Prime Minister Anthony Eden agreed on the total withdrawal and himself resigned.The 1956 sequel in Eastern Europe was the refastening of Soviet military control over Hungary.The 1981 sequel in Europe is likely to be a refastening of Soviet control over Poland, but through the intermediary of the Polish Army and with very much less blood. Perhaps the biggest difference between 1956 and 1981 is the new reluctance in Moscow about bloodshed. In 1956 there was no hesitation and no attempt to avoid it. Today, there is reluctance both to act directly and to act violently.The sequel in the Middle East is to increase the difficulty for Washington of putting together any ''strategic consensus'' uniting Israel and the moderate Arabs in a program to keep Soviet influence out of the area. It may even cause the more moderate Arabs to consider looking to Moscow for help against Israel.All this, in turn, is likely to produce even more coolness between the Reagan White House and Prime Minister Begin in Israel. But there is no visible prospect that President Reagan might emulate his Republican predecessor and use the threat of sanctions to push Israel back from its conquests.