Israel's Capacity for Restraint

NIGHT after night, the world has waited as Iraqi Scud missiles head toward Tel Aviv. Israeli pilots remain on full alert, but to the relief of the world, and especially a White House intent on holding the anti-Saddam coalition together, Israel has so far not retaliated. This hasn't been an easy decision for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. His country has been wantonly attacked, and his population is under tremendous stress. Israel is to be more than commended for its restraint, and for what amounts to its silent partnership in the war effort. France, Germany, and Britain have made this clear. President Bush has sent Patriot missiles to defend Israel.

We hope Israel continues to withstand pressures to strike back quickly. Its need to maintain its military credibility in the region is recognized. Yet as the war continues, the need to keep popular Arab feelings as cool as possible will increase. An Israeli strike may not harm the coalition as much as inflame Arab passions.

The question of expanded US aid to Israel has come up. It should be remembered, however, that Israel currently gets $3 billion a year from the US, more than any other country. The Shamir government wisely retracted the $13 billion ``price'' it had suggested in return for Israel's restraint.

Defanging Iraq is to Israel's great favor. It makes little sense, therefore, to tie new US aid to an operation that Israel might otherwise have felt compelled to undertake itself. And no one will escape costs from the war.

Nor will the war last forever. Israel and the US must work together after it is over.

Speaking of the war's end, Israeli resistance to Washington's postwar plans to discuss the Palestinian problem should also be dropped. The US is rejecting linkage now. But this war underscores the need to resolve the issue of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza. There will be no new order in the Middle East without such a resolution, just the same old hatred and friction.

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