The bombing of the Iraqi reactor provides an occasion for assessing Israel's defense policy. What is its purpose? Is it successful? To begin, with, there is no agreement over exactly what Israel is trying to defend. Since 1967 the Israelis have emphasized the need for "secure and recognizable boundaries that are defensible." But as yet no Israeli governmet has specified what these boundaries might be. They have given hints with the assertion that they will not accept the boundaries that existed before the 1967 war, because these had "invited aggression."
Meanwhile, the Arabs reject anything beyond the 1967 borders, whatever the justification. Thus, Israel actually has contested, not defensible borders.
The Israeli's problem is that, like the United States and the Soviet Union, they are trapped by their reliance on strategic thinking. They always assume the worst possible position for themselves and attribute optimum strength to their adversary. Attention is focused on overcoming a hypothetical Arab military excellence. The result is a compelling necessity for greater and greater military capability. The Israelis strive for undisputed military superiority over the region as a whole, and the attack on Iraq showed the lengths to which they will to achieve it. Herein also lies the difficulty the Israelis have with the Syrian missiles in Lebanon. These missiles don't really threaten Israel's security, but they do challenge its regional supremacy.
The tactics which accompnay this policy are not difficult to fathom. In all situations the Israelis rely either on preventive attack or massive retaliation. Certainly guerrilla attacks launched on Israeli villages from Arab territory are unacceptable. Over the years the Arabs have acceded to Israeli's insistence on this point. If not at peace, the Arab governments have established a modus vivendi with their Jewish neighbor by preventing Palestinians from conducting operations from Syrian and Jordanian territory, as well as from Egypt. In response, the Palestinians have concentrated their operations in Lebanon where the government is too weak to control them.The Israeli answer has always been massive sea, air, and ground thrusts against Palestinian military sites and refugee camps either to keep the Palestinians off balance or as retribution for each raid into Israel.
Over time, the Israelis have come to think in terms of eventually neutralizing Lebanon. Toward this end they have established friendly Lebanese forces in a buffer zone along the border and generally encouraged Lebanese Christian opposition to the Palestinians. Turmoil, extended civil war, and Syrian intervention have characterized the Lebanese scene. The proliferation of arms in Lebanon, as private armies were established and Syrian military strength increased, is seen by the Israelis as a threat that the problem is partially of Israeli's own making.
What assures that the treend cannot be reversed is the insistence of the Israelis on cloaking all their military moves against Arabs with an aura of moral punishment rather than just as out-and-out defense. This attitude has heightened Arab feelings of weakness and created severe problems for Arab leaders whenever they contemplate negotiations with Israel. The Israeli position is one of studied disregard for Arab dignity.
In the present atmosphere, Israeli leaders do not emphasize that they possess nuclear weapons or that in 1975 they attempted to acquire the Pershing missile, a weapon with the capability of delivering a nuclear warhead. As a fallback position, when the US ultimately refused, the Israelis asked for the conventional weapons that would give them a first-strike capability. The Israelis want the wherewithal to launch a preemptive attack of such magnitude that the Arab could not respond.
This capability is difficult to achieve. The implication for the United States is that any time Israel's qualitative military superiority is threatened by the Arab states, the Jewish state will contend that it has no choice but to consider nuclear arms. Thus the US feels the necessity to constantly "up the ante" with larger and larger shipments of more sophosticated arms. As a result, the military situation is unstable.
In the light of this circumstance, the raid on Iraq becomes clear, as does the ambivalence of the US over the affair. The alternative to tacitly accepting the Israeli act is to see Arab-Israeli differences over the next 10 years converted into an unstable nuclear contest. It is enough to horrify even the most stout-hearted statesman.
The unfortunate thing about the entire business is that the more Israel does to protect itself, the greater the threat seems to be. In talks over the years with regard to a Middle East settlement, the Israelis have focused their attention on security rather than peace. Actually, they have been preoccupied not with defense but with strengthening their sensem of well-being and security. Armaments have not produced such feelings. The root of the Israeli's difficulty is not an illusive defense. They suffer from anxieties -- an inherent distrust of Arabs. The dilemma confronting the US in the middle East is a matter of what is on people's minds, not how many explosives are in their arsenals.
To date the US approach to resolving the problem has been to give Israelis security defined in their own termsm in an attempt to persuade them to be more forthcoming in moving toward peace. But the American weapons have provided Israel with a claim to independence -- if not a sense of security. They enhance Israeli ability to resist American pressure for moving in the direction the US identifies with peace.
The only break over the past 30 years in the downward spiral toward increasingly greater disasters was Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. Egypt's leader understands the problem. What the Middle East needs is an atmosphere of trust. But apparently this will require a new Sadat in Jerusalem and another Sadat in Damascus before peace will truly have a chance.