The place of decision
Since the sixth day of June - two months ago by now - the place of the action in the Middle East has been along the coast road from Israel to Beirut in Lebanon.
But unlike the average war the place of decision is not on the battlefield, or even on the same continent. The unusual dimension to the fighting in the Middle East is that from its opening day through the present and into the future the final outcome will be decided not by those who stake their lives on the field of battle but by the politicians in Washington, D. C., USA.
For example, no one in the outside world has much to do with the war between Iraq and Iran. Iraq opened that war for its own reasons and largely with its own weapons. It got most of those weapons from the Soviets in the first instance but paid for them with its own oil money. Moscow did not obtain control over Iraqi behavior by having provided the weapons.
Iran has been fighting largely with US weapons sold to Iran in the days of the Shah. No one knows better than Americans with their pained memories of the hostage affair that Washington carries no influence in Teheran.
There are ancient memories behind the Iran-Iraq war. The Iraqis are Arabs, speaking Arabic, with memories of the power and grandeur of the ancient kingdom of Babylon. The Iranians are the Persians of ancient times - different in race and language from Arabs. The Persians in the days of Darius and Xerxes ruled over the world's then greatest empire, including all of Babylonia. Their rivalries and their wars go back more than 3,000 years. They make their own decisions.
Even if Moscow and Washington were to coordinate their policies and purposes they would be unable to control or command an end to the feud between the Arabs of Iraq and the Persians of Iran.
Not so between the Palestinians trying to cling to their dugouts and bunkers in west Beirut and the Israelis trying to dig them out and scatter them to the winds.
Few countries in history have ever been as dependent on another as Israel is on the US. One reason that Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin, has been so anxious to get a quick conclusion to the siege of west Beirut is that his economy cannot long sustain so many men under arms.
The Israeli army which drove the Palestinians into their last stand in west Beirut is made up heavily of reservists who have peacetime jobs. The economy of Israel must in part stand still while the army is fighting. Israel's wars must be quick and decisive. And its wars must also have the consent of the US.
Israel's major weapons come from the US either as gifts or on long-term, low-interest loans which few seriously expect to be repaid in full. Israel's survival is underwritten and subsidized from Washington. Without American arms Israel would soon lose the ''quantitative and qualitative advantage'' which President Reagan has promised to maintain for them. Without the economic subsidy Israel's credit would vanish and its economy would collapse.
In other words Israel can do only what Washington allows it to do. It dare not conduct a single military operation without the tacit consent of Washington. When it does undertake a military offensive the world assumes, correctly, that it has Washington's tacit consent.
This is particularly important right now as the maneuvering is getting underway about the future status of the West Bank and Gaza.
The Camp David agreements contemplated that the Palestine Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza would by this time be living under their own laws, police, and political authority. It assumed that they would decide what Palestine Arabs in refugee camps elsewhere could come home and live among their own relatives in the West Bank and Gaza. It assumed eventual political independence for the Arabs of the occupied territories.
Much as Washington may wish that it did not hold the final power of decision about such matters, it does. So long as Washington subsidizes Israel's power it can control the use of that power. Any failure to limit that use becomes Washington's responsibility. President Reagan may say that he did not know about , or give a green light for, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The fact is that by failing to prevent it he gave his consent for it.
Camp David will be implemented and the Arabs of Palestine will have their own homeland inside the boundaries of Palestine if the President wishes the terms of Camp David to be honored. Camp David will be brushed aside and Israel will annex the West Bank and Gaza if the President fails to exercise the control which he, and he alone, holds in this matter.
The Palestinian fighters in west Beirut can delay, gain time, make a record for history. But unless President Rea-gan comes to their rescue they will be either overwhelmed or scattered. Israel's soldiers can stay their hands, or wipe out the Palestinians in front of them. But nothing they do will prevent the establishment of an Arab homeland in Palestine - if the President of the US decides that he wishes to sustain Camp David.