Battle lines are being drawn with increasing sharpness over the Reagan administration's policy toward Israel. Behind this is growing concern in Israel and among many Jewish Americans about the ultimate effect on Israel of the new administration's policy to give priority to the overall Soviet threat to Southwest Asia and the Gulf --issues as the Palestinians.
Initially, many Israelis were pleased at the apparent United States intention to play down the Palestinians. But the question now being asked is: Will it be Israel's interests, rather than the Palestinians', that will end up being played down?
From there, it is no great step to an outpouring of that fear and stubbornness in Israel which tend to assert themselves when Israelis feel they are face to face with the stark issue of survival. In that mood, Israelis resist fiercely anything they see as being "sold down the river" by the US.
Against this background should be seen:
* The firm Israeli line on no completion of withdrawal from Sinai (due one year hence) without prior agreement on the peace-keeping force to be inserted thereafter in the demilitarized zone between Egypt and Israel.
* Israeli pressures for: (1) that force to be solely American, if other countries are reluctant to contribute to it; and (2) US use of Israel's Sinai air bases at Etzion and Eitam when they are evacuated next year. (Under the Camp David accords, they are to be demilitarized and handed over to Egypt.)
* The upswing in Israeli attacks on what are described as Palestinian positions in southern Lebanon.
* The campaign launched in the US for more vigorous congressional and public opposition to the Reagan administration's decision to reverse a Carter administration ruling and supply to Saudi Arabia extra equipment for F-15 jet fighters that would increase their range.
The US government's willingness to "give in" to Saudi Arabia threatens to become, in Israeli eyes, a measure of the US government's willingness to whittle away its once exclusive and blanket commitment to Israel. Saudi "oil blackmail, " the Israelis and many of their supporters call it.
Even beyond the US-Saudi relationship, Israelis tend to view any increase of Saudi clout in the world as likely to work to Israel's detriment. Such will be the Israeli perception of the deal just worked out between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Saudi Arabia.
Under this deal, Saudi Arabia will loan the IMF $10 billion over the next two years. This is an infusion of much-needed hard currency for the fund, whose reserves for loans were running low. It comes at a time when the Reagan administration had given clear signals that it would cut back US contributions to multinational institutions such as the fund.
In return for its loan to the fund, Saudi Arabia will have its share of the weighted voting power within the IMF increased from 1.69 to 3.4 percent. This makes the Saudis sixth in the IMF pecking order, after the US, Britain, West Germany, France, and Japan. They will now be ahead of Canada and Italy.
Anxious Israelis will be wondering whether this will not encourage Saudi Arabia to resume with increased vigor its campaign to secure observer status at IMF annual meetings for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Victory for the Saudis would be a major setback for the Israelis. Earlier Saudi efforts in behalf of the PLO at the IMF have been blocked by the US and its industrialized allies, whose weighted share of votes gives them veto power.
Israelis may also be wondering whether the Reagan administration eventually will give in to the Saudis on this issue, as they feel it has given in on the extra equipment for the Saudi F-15 fighters.
The English-language Jerusalem Post has been carrying articles critical of the way in which (the paper says) the Reagan administration has handpicked Jewish-American spokesmen and then quoted them so as to be able to represent them as acquiescing in the Saudi fighter deal.
Shmuel Katz, a hard-liner from Prime Minister Menachem Begin's Likud Party, wrote of this as a "shameful episode." He called for "much more effective action" by Jewish-Americans opposed to the deal but bypassed by the Reagan administration in its consultations with the Jewish community on the Saudi deal.
"At stake," he concluded, ". . . are very grave issues -- for Israel's future , for the Jews of America, and, indeed, for the credibility of the American posture in the global confrontation."
Israel and its most zealous supporters in the US doubtless will be watching to see to what extent Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. is receptive to Saudi arguments and persuasion when he visits Saudi Arabia, as he is scheduled to do on April 7. That will be the secretary's last stop in the Middle East on a trip taking him first to Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.
In an article in the latest review put out by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, Wolf Blitzer, Washington correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, comments on the removal from the US Senate through demise or electoral defeat of many of Israel's staunchest friends. He mentions Hubert Humphrey, Clifford Case, Richard Stone, Frank Church, Birch Bayh , and Jacob Javits.
"With the overwhelming victory of the Republicans and their effective control of the executive and legislative branches of the government," Mr. Blitzer writes , "it will be more difficult to use the Congress as a counterweight to the administration, especially to the State Department. . . . Israel will have to fight its battles more forcefully within the administration itself before final decisions are taken and sent to the Congress for consideration. This means that the internal decisionmaking process in the Reagan administration takes on added importance."
Mr. Blitzer refers slightingly to the State Department "Arabists," whom he expects to use their influence to turn President Reagan away from his pro-Israel rhetoric of the election campaign. But pitted against them is likely to be White House National Security Adviser Richard Allen -- if Mr. Allen's pro-Israel and anti-PLO remarks in a recorded ABC television program this week a re the measuring rod by which to judge him.