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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.