Snuffing out discord -- in Mideast and in women's issues

Questions about Robert Zelnick's article ``Israeli actions and American policy,'' Jan. 23, have been troubling me. Is the probability of big-power conflict in the Middle East really lower because of Israel's military strength? The answer depends on how Israel uses that strength. While invading Lebanon in 1982, Israel went out of its way to sideswipe Syrian forces. The IDF dealt the Syrians a devastating blow, but their defeat gave the Soviets an opportunity to bring in powerful new ground-to-air missiles and considerable forces. Israel's action brought us closer to confrontation with the USSR. Israel's settlement activity on the occupied West Bank has kept its relations with Arab countries in turmoil and has made the United States role as mediator in the area increasingly difficult. Our unquestioned support for Israel in spite of its West Bank activities has steadily eroded our credibility among moderate Arab nations, including the oil-producing nations on the Persian Gulf. In this way, too, Israel jeopardizes our strategic position.

Ever since the argument that we should aid a weak Israel to ensure its survival began to appear hollow after its stunning victories in the ``six-day war,'' Zionists have switched to the new argument that Israel is an essential strategic ally. Americans who wish to hold office with any influence on our Middle East relations must now subscribe to that article of faith before congressional committees and on other appropriate occasions if they wish to avoid deep trouble. William N. Dale US ambassador (ret.) Chapel Hill, N.C.

I commend the Monitor for the article ``Israel, Egypt patch up peace treaty,'' Jan. 24. The opening sentence, ``With a minimum of fanfare, the Israelis and the Egyptians will start formally talking to each other again next week,'' is refreshing in a world where the media take every opportunity to fan the flames of discord and dissension. The article was fair, dispassionate reporting of a much-debated and publicized era of tension in the Middle East, and it is to be hoped that more unbiased reporting will serve to curb the spread of hostility in the area. A. Miller Los Angeles

I must take issue with Mr. Strout's column ``Reagan the courtmaker'' [Feb.1], in which he discusses some who have been nominated to the Supreme Court. His point is well taken, but I have trouble with the qualifications Strout chooses in describing the various nominees. He lists two qualifications of Sandra Day O'Connor -- her birthplace and the fact that ``she has three children.'' The particulars of no other nominee's family are enumerated, although there is reference to their judicial experience. Does the fact that Ms. O'Connor has three children give some special enhancement to her qualifications for the Supreme Court? Marilyn R. Shearer Huron, Ohio

Re ``Japanese women in a male society'' [Jan. 10]: As an American mother I found myself objecting to the implicit inference that a society is more progressive when it has a higher proportion of working mothers.

Assuring women appropriate compensation in the work force is a needed goal and sign of equitable attitudes. But the assumption is questionable that having mothers of preschool children in the work force is to women's, children's, or society's advantage. In making national employment policies, both equity and appropriate use of resources should be a criterion. Neither is met when no distinction is made between the general female population and mothers of young children.

The writer adopts the modern standard when he suggests Japan is reactionary in expecting mothers to temporarily drop out of the labor force. As the mother of two who has tried both work patterns, I have concluded that society is more progressive when it provides both mother and child the opportunity to be together during the infant/toddler period.

I was interested to see that no reference was made to the superior performance of Japanese schoolchildren. No insight was offered into Japanese women's sense of fulfillment in playing the nurturant role in a fast-paced, achievement- and productivity-oriented society. No connection was drawn between the high value Japan places on human resources and its acknowledgment of women's invaluable contribution to human resource development.

The later career of the mother and the future career of the child would be better served by the mother's making an initial investment in the infant's development. To offset the short-term loss of income, perhaps policymakers should consider following the European pattern of instituting a direct child-care subsidy at birth. Jan Howell Knoxville, Tenn.

Kathleen Howard-Merriam is wrong when she writes that enforced seclusion of Afghani women is essential for maintaining rebel morale. [``Afghani women: Unsung heroines,'' Jan. 17]. By this logic, women would still be much worse in our country if we were concerned about male morale every time we exercised our rights. Any anthropologist familiar with the area knows that the Muslim fundamentalists are terribly oppressive of women's rights. Women are forbidden to learn to read, may not own land, and cannot unveil their face in public. The punishment for any of these ``crimes'' is often death. Gene Martin New York

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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