Reagan deal with Israel sets him up well with Syria - and voters
President Reagan rolled out an extra-soft red carpet in Washington last Monday and Tuesday for Israel's new prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, and promised him some, but not all, of the things on Mr. Shamir's shopping list.
When the shower of phrases about ways to ''enhance Israeli-American cooperation'' and about the ''mutual interests'' of the two countries had ended, and Lebanon's embattled President Amin Gemayel had replaced Mr. Shamir on the White House guest list, it seemed reasonably clear that Mr. Reagan had extracted two advantages from the Shamir visit.
He had built (or thinks he has built) extra bargaining power for himself with Syria for the day when Mr. Reagan will have to do a deal with that country if the United States Marines are to come safely out of Lebanon in time for next year's presidential elections.
And he had outflanked the Democrats in the ''be kind to Israel'' department of American politics. It is difficult to see how any Democratic presidential candidates could now appear to be more friendly to Israel than Mr. Reagan was, in front of the television cameras, at the White House this past week.
Reagan is still far from having all of his foreign policy problems in shape for a presidential election year, but he is working hard at it and making progress in three departments.
His first and probably most urgent aim is to so arrange things in the Middle East so that the Marines can be brought home in honor and without more heavy casualties. That can only be done through some kind of deal with Syria. A closer military association with Israel is seen in the administration as a preliminary to this.
After the Shamir visit and the prospect of a ''joint military-political group'' of US and Israeli officials, the Syrians may be more careful to avoid a military encounter with Israel. Also, they and their Soviet suppliers and advisers may conclude that there have been enough danger and trouble in the Middle East for the time being. A lull in that troubled area through 1984 would be welcome to many, including Reagan.
The ''new friendship'' with Israel was trumpeted the day after the White House had officially declared that Reagan ''looks forward to visiting the People's Republic of China'' in the spring.
The White House spokesman accompanied the statement with the assertion that ''we recognize the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China.''
So far as the White House is concerned, China's Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang will visit the US in January; and in April the President will be seen on US television climbing the Great Wall, visiting the Ming tombs, and dining in Peking's Forbidden City while Walter Mondale is tramping through Kansas cornfields.
It is not as fully arranged as the White House likes to think it is. While Reagan's spokesman was asserting the prospects for the new and closer friendship with mainland China, China was fussing about
things Congress is doing for Taiwan.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wu Xueqien told the Monitor's Peking correspondent, Takashi Oka, that Congress had ''destroyed'' the atmosphere necessary for the exchange of visits. The Chinese presumably want a higher price for their contribution to the Reagan reelection.
Reagan's political need for the exchange of visits with the Chinese is presumably greater than Peking's need right now. The Chinese have been improving their own relations with Moscow at a time when Reagan is battling with the Soviets over new US weapons for NATO in Europe.
Earlier this year the political side of the White House was thinking in terms of a possible ''summit'' for Reagan with Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to take place, also in the spring. The struggle over the new US weapons for NATO, plus the Soviet shooting down of the Korean airliner, had dimmed such prospects well before Mr. Andropov's disappearance from the public stage.
No matter what happens in Moscow now, it seems unlikely that there will be a thaw in US-Soviet relations in time to be of much use for Reagan in American politics. All the more important, therefore, for Reagan to be seen being friendly with the Chinese.
During the week the White House was doing its best to damp down anxiety caused by the Soviet walkout from the intermediate-range nuclear weapons talks in Geneva. According to official Washington, the walkout was expected and discounted in advance. The prospect is said to be that the two sets of talks about nuclear weapons - one for Europe and the other strategic - will now be merged, as they probably should have been long ago.
And, of course, it is possible that if a new, or revived, Soviet leader should be in operation in the Kremlin early next year, there might be a get-together of some kind. Not all summits have to be convened to conclude important state decisions. Just a get-together would allay anxieties in both countries.
Meanwhile, Mr. Shamir has been able to go back to Israel with assurance of a 1984 round of American economic and military support. He is getting less than he wants. He asked for $1.7 billion in military aid, all to be in grants, not loans. He was offered $1.275 billion, all in grants. He will be allowed to use $ 550 million to build an Israeli fighter plane which can compete in world markets with US fighter planes. The US Sixth Fleet is to spend $200 million in Israel. And there will be $910 million in economic aid.
Considering that Israel has the world's highest foreign debt load on a per capita basis (a total foreign debt of $21.5 billion for a Jewish population of about 3.2 million), the aid promised at the White House last Tuesday will be a palliative, not a solvent, for Mr. Shamir's problems.
But he also gets acceptance, by implication, that Israel is a ''strategic asset'' to the US. This is the basis for Israel's continued claim for military and economic support. He can hope for more later. And the new ''group'' to be set up to consider various possible forms of military cooperation may come up with ways and means to further support Israel's staggering economy.
Mr. Shamir did not offer in return to respect Reagan's hope for suspension of Jewish colonization on the West Bank. But if and when the economic pinch increases in Israel, that subject could be raised again. The inflation rate is now way over 100 percent and rising.