Drift toward polarization

ENCOURAGED by the uncritical applause of its American supporters, the Israeli government is rapidly polarizing Middle East politics. It is alienating the Arab nations from the United States, while increasingly drawing on America's money and political support to advance its hegemonic ambitions. If that trend continues, an isolated Israel and America will ultimately be left to stand off the whole Arab world.

The cumulative effect of events in the past three years has spurred that process. By permitting Israel to misuse the weapons given it exclusively for self-defense, America enabled it to invade one Arab state, Lebanon, and attack another, Syria. By failing to interpose an effective objection when Israel annexed the Golan Heights, America permitted Israel to preclude any trade-off of territory for peace, which is the essence of our country's Middle East policy. By subsidizing Israel's settlements program we are helping it frustrate the Camp David Accords and forestall a peaceful solution of the Palestinian problem. By silently assenting while Israel consolidates its occupation of the southern one-third of Lebanon, our country is encouraging it to compromise its democratic credentials, so that today 30 percent of the people over which Israel rules have no suffrage or any hope of deciding their own future. Meanwhile, foolishly taking sides in Lebanon's internecine quarrels, America has made enemies of Druze, Shiites, and Syrians by bombing and shelling them for no discernible purpose.

To further the process of disenchanting the Arab nations, our country has concluded a Strategic Cooperation Agreement which marks Israel as an ally. Since that agreement provides, among other things, for prepositioning military supplies in Israel, the Arabs see it as deliberately equipping the Israelis to fight a protracted war against them. At the same time, by yielding to the Israeli lobby's diktat to refuse to sell even defensive arms to moderate Arab nations, the administration and Congress are forcing those nations to turn away from America and look elsewhere - principally to the Soviet Union - for the weapons they need to defend themselves against Israel.

These are some of the reasons why King Hussein of Jordan has, as he told the New York Times on March 24, sadly abandoned any further hope of cooperation with the US. He will turn elsewhere for military supplies and, ultimately, political support. Historians may well treat the King's decision as a major milestone in the process of polarization.

Unless we reverse our current policy the King's decision presages tragedies to come. The Lebanese invasion and the frustration of the Palestinian stage of the Camp David agreements are putting heavy pressure on President Mubarak of Egypt and, should Israel ever attack either Syria or Jordan, he might well feel compelled to renounce that stage of Camp David already concluded. Indeed, Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights and its adamant refusal to yield even an inch of the occupied territories is driving many Arab leaders to an inevitable conclusion: Since Israel is not prepared to return their captive lands through negotiation and America will not force Israel to change its position, they must take them back by force - which is a powerful incentive to greater unity.

By inciting frightened and angry Arab states to speed the enhancement of their military clout, each new Israeli adventure, such as its invasion of Lebanon, has shifted the relative balance of military power against it. Israel's attack on Syria compelled the Soviets to reequip the Syrians with $2 billion worth of advanced weapons and equipment and to provide 7,000 training personnel. Israel is now far weaker than before in relation to Syria.

As polarization continues to incite the acceleration of Arab military preparations, Israel will demand even more arms from the US and increasing economic aid to pay the costs of maintaining a garrison state, imposing military rule on more than 1.5 million increasingly hostile Arabs, and keeping up with an accelerating arms race. Yet even this will not secure the triumph of 3.5 million Israelis over 100 million Arabs; valor alone can never compensate for Israel's disintegrating economy and limited manpower. Thus the end of the road could present us with a ghastly predicament. Ultimately unable, even with American weapons, to withstand a united Arab onslaught, Israel would call on America for direct military intervention - a prospect that would produce the ugliest and most divisive national debate since Civil War days. Yet if America did not respond and Israel were seriously menaced, it would almost certainly be tempted to use - or at least threaten to use - its nuclear arsenal.

How then, would the Soviets respond? By threatening to destroy Israel with a few nuclear missiles? And what would the US do then?

That is the way great wars begin.

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