Middle East: aid and superpower influence

ON Saturday, Jan. 5, in Amman, Jordan, the commander of the Jordanian Army, Lt. Gen. Sharif Zayed Shaker, announced that his government has signed an agreement to buy an air defense system from the Soviet Union. This followed an announcement last Aug. 16 that Kuwait had signed a similar contract with the Soviets for an air defense system.

Both Kuwait and Jordan have long been among the moderate Arab countries and those closest to the United States. Both had asked for air defense systems from the US. Both had found that they could not get them from the US, either at all or under terms they considered acceptable. Until now both have bought most of their weapons from the US.

The deal with Kuwait has moved along since August. The record does not show precisely when the first deliveries of Soviet missiles reached Kuwait, but a Washington Post report last Dec. 1 says that both SA-6 and SA-7 weapons had arrived and that they were accompanied, or followed, by ``half a dozen'' Soviet military personnel to train the Kuwaitis in use of the weapons.

We do not know that Soviet personnel will also come to Jordan with the weapons Jordan can now expect. But at latest reports there were still some 7,000 Soviet military personnel in Syria accompanying, and protecting, Soviet antiaircraft and other new weapons of the latest types Moscow has sent to Syria since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

This probably does not complete the list of items involving Arab countries turning to Moscow for the services they were accustomed to getting either from the US or from America's Western European allies. They are three specific examples of the result of a US policy that has evolved during and since that invasion.

During the first 20 years of Israel's history, the US pursued a policy of ``evenhandedness'' between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It sold arms to both, but attempted to do so in a way that would not give one a decisive advantage over the other. The US attempted to keep itself in a position of potential mediator between the two and repeatedly acted as a mediator.

The policy of ``evenhandedness'' was abandoned by President Lyndon Johnson during and after the 1967 war. Major American resupply of military equipment to Israel on the basis of a regular and rising annual subsidy dates from then.

US aid to Israel was negligible before Johnson's presidency. It has escalated regularly ever since. It reached the $3 billion level last year and will go to nearly $5 billion this current year if Israel is granted all it is now asking.

President Reagan has declared a policy of maintaining a ``qualitative'' Israeli superiority over its Arab neighbors, and he is doing so. He has also entered into a military arrangement with Israel.

In his speech of March 13, last year, to the Young Leadership Conference of the United Jewish Appeal he called it a ``formal strategic arrangement'' and noted that it was the first such formal arrangement between the US and Israel.

In that same speech he said he hoped that the pro-Israel lobby in Washington would withdraw its opposition to the sale of the air defense weapons to Jordan.

King Hussein of Jordan gave an interview to the New York Times, in Amman, the next day. In it he declared that the US had, by its decided tilt toward Israel during and since the invasion of Lebanon, lost its credibility as a mediator in the Middle East and had become an open and avowed ally of Israel.

The purpose of Israel's invasion of Lebanon was to drive the PLO out of Lebanon and establish a government in Lebanon friendly to Israel. US military weapons made the invasion possible. US military and economic support of Israel has continued since, despite the fact the invasion was condemned in the United Nations, with the US concurring.

The PLO is now filtering back into Lebanon. The new government in Lebanon is closer than ever to Syria and uninterested in any relations with Israel. The moderate Arabs have been alienated from the US. The Israeli Army is having to pull out of Lebanon with little to show for its losses.

And the Reagan policy of supporting Israel is encouraging the thing the US wants least, the return of the Soviets to the Middle East.

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