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The Kissinger covenant and other reasons Israel is in trouble.


At dawn on June 5, 1967, the Israeliair force swooped down in a surprise attack on Egyptian air bases. Israel's plan was to go first after Egypt, its most formidable enemy, while urging King Hussein to keep Jordan out of the fight. Within hours, Israel had knocked out Gamal Abdel Nasser's entire air force, effectively settling the contest. Over the next few days, Egypt's army, operating without cover, was decimated by Israel's air and ground forces.

Notwithstanding Israel's appeal, Husseinjoined the war, unaware that the outcome had been determined before his forces fired a shot. When Jordanian artillery shelled Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel struck. In a three-day offensive, it captured the Old City of Jerusalem, destroyed Jordan's army and occupied the entire West Bank. Before the last battle against Jordan was fought, the Israelis turned on the Syrians, who appeared impregnable in their bastion on the Golan Heights. In the most brilliant military exploit of all, the Israelis stormed the Heights, and by the end of the week, Syria, too, was defeated.

In fighting both on land and in the air, Israelhad demonstrated its superiority over the combined power of its Arab neighbors. It ended the war occupying territory more than three times its size. It was in possession of what its generals called "strategic depth,' with a defensive perimeter that included Egypt's Sinai peninsula and Gaza Strip, Syria's Golan Heights, and Jordan's West Bank. Israel, which had appeared outmatched in 1948 and again on the eve of the Six-Day War, had suddenly become invulnerable to the full power of the Arab world.

Like every Jew in my circle of friends, like everymember of the worldwide community of Jews, I exulted at Israel's victory in 1967. It was a triumph that made us all feel better about ourselves. We stopped having to apologize for being weak, for being dependent, for being Jews. We were winners at last, after two thousand years of losing, and whatever concerns about Israel I have since acquired, that feeling of joy has remained. The issue since the Six-Day War--as it has been debated both in Israel and in countries friendly to Israel--is not a strong state versus a weak one. The issue is whether Israel can bring itself to use its power prudently and wisely.

In retrospect, it is clear the Six-Day War transformedIsrael in ways that went far beyond the simple question of security. It resulted in gains for the winner too huge to be digested, costs to the losers too embarrassing to confront. From the shattered fragments of the conflicts emerged a structure of relations among the nations of the Middle East dominated by Israel's military power, hardly healthier for the victor than for the vanquished.

The war dramatically changed the internaldynamics of Israeli politics and culture. It was only after the Six-Day War that the relationship between Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin) and Sephardim (Jews mostly from the Middle East) exploded into open struggle. The war created a new geographical reality on Israel's borders and established a new psychological reality at home, sharply intensifying the competition among diverse cultural groups and leading to the dominance of the Israeli right-wing. In their own land Jews, who take pride in no longer having to be fearful and servile in dealing with anyone, have created a social structure that demands that Arabs be fearful and servile in dealing with them.

The war has also radically changed how Israelrelates to its neighbors. In creating a powerful army, Israel has freed the Jews of the age-old torment of impotence, imparting to them a sense of mastery over their future. But in doing so, it has failed to grasp the limits of what armed might can achieve. Israel had persuaded itself that, given the shift in the strategic balance in the Middle East, the Arabs had the only advantage in reaching an overall peace settlement. Israel has come to rely on guns, so unfamiliar in the Jewish past and so suddenly acquired, to solve problems that are only peripherally military. The cockiness was reinforced by an American policy, codified in a pact devised by Henry Kissinger that virtually guaranteed whatever arms and assistance Israel requested. The result has been that while Israel is now strong enough to repel its neighbors, it is also strong enough to turn its back on the peace process. Ironically, Israel's military domination--supported by its increasing conservatism--only makes it more difficult to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Evening scores

When the Six-Day War was over, the Israelisfound themselves ruling more than 1.2 million Arabs who lived in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Conflict between Israelis and the residents of the occupied lands was inevitable. But the presence of the new Arab population also exacerbated the bitter ideological quarrels between the Ashkenazim and Sephardim.

"Ashkenazim' was a term first applied to GermanJews, and over centuries came to designate all Jews exposed to the main currents of European culture. "Sephard' was the name originally given to the Jews of Spain that later applied to all Jews influenced by the culture of Islam. It was the Ashkenazim who founded modern Israel, for Zionism was an Ashkenazi political movement. The Jews who settled the new land were for the most part Eastern Europeans, who brought with them ideas current in the world they left behind.

During the many centuries of Diaspora,however, the idea of a return to Zion may have been more deep-seated among the Sephardim. Though rarely persecuted by their moslem neighbors, the Jews of Islam were denied full participation in the economy and society. Then, in the late nineteenth century, with the Ottoman Empire in decline and Arab nationalism on the rise, their position became more precarious. For the first time, European doctrines of anti-Semitism circulated in the Arab world.

In its first months of independence, Israelwelcomed more than 300,000 European Jews, survivors of Nazism, but after that the Western influx abated and immigration from the Arab world soared. They came knowing little of Zionism, without political designs, generally impoverished, and poorly educated for modern life. By 1956, Israel's population had been increased threefold by the arrival of Eastern Jews. Though Sephardim were about 15 percent of the Jewish people worldwide, within Israel their ratio grew from barely a fifth at independence to nearly half. With a substantially higher birth rate, by the Six-Day War their ratio had increased to more than a majority.

The Ashkenazi refugees, adapting more easilyto Israel's Western ways, made their way to the cities, where they entered trade or industry. There they were quickly absorbed into the middle class. The Sephardim who followed them to the cities tended, in contrast, to became an urban proletariat, living in slums. Those who stayed behind in rural areas clustered in state-constructed "development towns,' economically and socially impoverished, a far cry both from the vibrant Arab cities from which they had fled and from the Jewish homeland of their millennial dreams.

In jobs, schools, and the army, the Sephardimsaw themselves as victimized by discrimination. As Arab Jews, they were made to feel like foreigners in a Jewish land. Mainstream Zionist leaders, insensitive to their alienation, publicly lamented the prospect of Israel's being "Levantinized' or "Orientalized.' They spoke openly of the dangers presented by Sephardi ignorance of democracy and the rule of law. Rather loftily, the Ashkenazi ruling elite called upon Sephardim to transform themselves into good Israelis, like themselves.

Insofar as the Sephardim might have beencalled Zionists at all, theirs was a religious, even "Messianic' belief, far from the political and social ideology of the Mainstream. Socialism was remote from their experience. Democracy was little known to them, and the "new' Jew was a goal to which they did not aspire. Family-oriented, they bristled at the challenge to patriarchy, at the pervasiveness of women in the labor market, at the freedom given to children--Western ways they saw threatening their traditions.

In contrast to the ideas the Ashkenazim hadbrought with them, the Sephardim brought to Israel the Islamic tradition of patriarchal rule and the Koranic view that religion is inseparable from the political structure. To this day, Sephardim have difficulty adapting not only to the Western theories of democracy but to a notion of pluralism, which is essential to stability in a heterogenous state. More disposed than Ashkenazim to a black-and-white vision of politics, they have tended to inject into the everyday contest for power a passion generally associated with the East rather than the West.

At the same time, the Sephardim have drawnthe lines more sharply in Israel's struggle with its Arab neighbors. Despite centuries of relative tranquility in the Arab world, they made clear once they arrived that they nursed deep historic grudges. The Ashkenazim, though hardly fond of Arabs, have tended to regard them chiefly as a security problem, within Israel's power to somehow solve. The Sephardim, in contrast, respond to Arabs with emotions that are often raw, angry, intense.

Arabs today often claim to be bewildered bythe hatred many Jews feel for them, since for centuries, they say, the two peoples lived in harmony. And it is true that Jews in the Arab world experienced no Inquisition, no pogroms, no Holocaust. But the Jews of the Arab world knew the relentless humiliation of second-class citizenship, and they did not forget it when they reached Israel. Though less angry than Ashkenazim at christianity, they were readier to blame Islam for Israel's woes. They dismissed Ashkenazi concern for the rights of Arabs in a Jewish state as effete European humanism. Israeli opinion polls have shown that nearly half of Sephardim currently sympathize with anti-Arab extremist movements, more than twice the ratio of Ashkenazim. The Six-Day War suddenly presented them with the prospect of evening scores against an old enemy.

Menial labor

The war also provided Sephardim with a newgrievance toward Mainstream Zionism. When Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza, overnight thousands of Arabs arrived to join the domestic labor force, and in the years of prosperity that followed, the Arabs took over most of Israel's menial work. Mainstream Zionists were troubled. A tenet of their egalitarian philosophy held that all work was honorable, that there would be no class of serfs, that Jews and not Arabs would perform the drudgery of the Jewish society. But before the war, when it was not the "Jews' but the Sephardim who did most of the dirty work, Mainstream Zionists, whatever their egalitarian commitments, seemed not to notice. As Arabs took over the drudgery after 1967, the Sephardim took better jobs and cheered. The Ashkenazim mourned their lost ideals.

For Mainstream Zionists, the West Bankpresented a dilemma. The simple homeland of Zionist dreams had overnight become an empire containing two million Arabs, most of them without political rights. The Mainstream Zionists understood the risk to the Jewishness of Israel that incorporation of the Arabs of the West Bank presented. To refuse those Arabs citizenship would be apartheid. To accommodate them would shift Israel from being a Zionist nation to being a non-Zionist one.

Thanks to Arab day labor, Sephardim have acquireda vested interest in having Israel keep the occupied territories, even though they have little representation in the movements to colonize them. Their reasons are practical: The Arab work force offers an opportunity for upward mobility, and they have little patience with those who proposed to snatch it away by returning the land.

In his In the Land of Israel, Amos Oz, anAshkenazi and a kibbutznik, recorded the words of a second-generation Morroccan Jew:

They [Askenazim] gave us houses, theygave us the dirty work; they gave us education, and they took away our self-respect. What did they bring my parents to Israel for? . . . Wasn't it to do your dirty work? You didn't have Arabs then, so you needed our parents to do your cleaning and be your servants and your laborers . . ..

Look at my daughter: she works in abank now, and every evening an Arab comes to clean the building. All you want is to dump her from the bank into some textile factory, or have her wash the floor instead of the Arab. The way my mother used to clean for you . . .. If for no other reason, we won't let you give back those territories.

David Shipler, who for many years was TheNew York Times correspondent in Jerusalem, notes in his book Arab and Jew that Israelis almost never tell jokes that poke fun at their relations with Arabs. But one that he recalled concerned an old Ashkenazi pioneer who took his grandson from the city on a tour of the kibbutz where he had spent his life.

"See that road?' the old man says proudly tothe boy. "I built it. See that house? I built it. See that field? I plowed it.'

"Oh, Grandpa,' the boy says, "Did you usedto be an Arab?'

The conflicting perceptions of the Arabs havecreated an interesting paradox, with important political implications. Mainstream Zionists, claiming no animosity toward Arabs, consider their presence incompatible with a Jewish state, and so have urged the reintroduction of partition. The Sephardim, acknowledging their anti-Arab attitudes, see no injustice in having the large minority of Arabs as a permanent underclass. As the power in Israel has shifted towards the Sephardim, their views have prevailed.

That rise in the power of the Sephardim wasfundamental to the growth after the Six-Day War of a new wave of Revisionism--the ultranationalist movement--that was more religious and much more populist than before. The Revisionist leadership remained in the hands of right-wing Ashkenazim of the Menachem Begin model, an elite of basically secular Jews from the old terrorist underground. But it was fortified by the bulk of the Sephardi population that, for the first time, gave these leaders a mass following.

Meanwhile, Orthodox Jews, having suddenlyfound truth in Revisionist doctrine, supported it with fanaticism, acclaiming the virtue of violence committed in the exercise of God's Commandments. The coalition that came into being positioned the Revisionists to make their first serious bid for political power.

While shifting the balance of votes to the right,the new coalition also changed the rules of combat for the conduct of politics. Israelis had always practiced their democracy vigorously, with heavy doses of hyperbole, even of demagogy. But the new wave of Revisionism introduced into the political arena an element of physical aggressiveness, often passionate, sometimes violent, occasionally lawless.

The promise

At the same time the clash between Sephardimand Ashkenazim was intensifying, Israel's notion of how it would survive outside threats was changing. For several years after the Six-Day War, Arabs and Israclis skirmished verbally and militarily.

Then, on the morning of Yom Kippur 1973,the holiest day of the Jewish year, Sadat sent Egyptian tanks rolling down the ramps on the western edge of the Suez Canal. It had occurred to few Israelis that granting the soldiers leave to go home for the holiday would present a risk. During the first week of battle, the United States watched Israel take a battering, and only barely kept even with the Russians, who were resupplying the Arabs with ammunition and light equipment. The war was into its second week when Israel, strengthened with new American equipment, reversed the tide in the Sinai. On October 14, after the Egyptians had advanced beyond the range of the Surface-to-Air missiles, Israel won a huge battle in the desert. The victory was followed by a crossing of the canal by the redoubtable General Ariel Sharon, a maneuver that threatened to encircle Egypt's Third Army, which was exposed in its bridgehead in the Sinai. During the ensuing days of fighting and dying, the momentum shifted increasingly to Israel. It was only then that the combatants, pressed by their patrons, the United States and the Soviet Union, showed a readiness to stop.

In the negotiations that followed the cease-fireafter the Yom Kippur War, Israel sought not just to keep defensible borders, but also to gain a permanent commitment of aid from the United States to guarantee its security.

When Henry Kissinger began his shuttlediplomacy after the war, he was balancing two goals: pressing for concessions from all sides to establish some permanent negotiated settlement, and ensuring Israel came out of the agreement strong enough to act as the U.S. proxy in the area against Soviet threats. The "disengagement' agreement in Egypt went smoothly enough. The negotiations in Syria were more difficult. Golda Meir had resigned as Prime Minister in early April 1974, Yitzak Rabin, the former ambassador to Washington, was on his way in, and, just as important, Richard Nixon was on his way out as president. Nixon, convinced a triumph abroad could save him from the tightening vise of Watergate, repeatedly pressed Kissinger to go on at times when another president might have regarded the negotiations as hopeless.

To put together a deal that included territorialconcessions by Israel and Arab agreements of nonaggression, Kissinger had to commit the U.S. to crucial involvement. At the final hour, with the beleaguered Nixon waiting in Washington to make an announcement of a peace agreement that he hoped would turn the nation's attention from Watergate, the Israeli negotiators balked. Faced with a public outcry over the PLO massacre of 24 children in Ma'alot in May, Israel demanded of Syria a pledge to forbid terrorists to cross the Golan into Israel. Hafez Assad's sense of Arab honor prevented him from proclaiming a position that might be construed as truckling to Israel. Neither side was willing to budge.

Kissinger filled the gap with a private letterpromising America's approval of any response to terrorism that Israel might choose to make. The letter set no limits. To Israel, the letter constituted a promise that no future president would withhold American economic or military assistance as punishment for antiterrorist reprisals. It committed Washington to support such attacks before the world, most notably at the United Nations. In effect, it imposed a serious new limitation on America's ability to compel restraint within the cycle of violence that so often ran amok in the Arab-Israeli struggle.

Chilly reception

Two weeks after Rabin's accession to office,Richard Nixon arrived from Washington on a grand tour of the Middle East, desperate to rescue his presidency in what were, by now, clearly its dying days. Nixon's fantasy was to establish himself in the public mind as indispensable to peacemaking in the region. He was greeted in Egypt with enthusiasm, in Saudi Arabia with respect, in Syria with cordiality. Only in Israel was he received in chilly fashion.

Though Rabin had often proclaimed indebtednessto Nixon for opening America's depots to Israel and coming to its rescue in two wars, he made clear to the American president his dissatisfaction with current policy. Rabin said candidly he did not want Kissinger to press Israel to make further concessions for peace. He much preferred the old relationship with the U.S., Rabin said, in which Israel was supplied with all the arms it wanted, while sitting on the diplomatic status quo. Nixon, encouraged in the Arab capitals to intensify peacemaking efforts, received from Rabin's new government a sharp signal to slow them down.

Kissinger, however, feared that any slowingdown would cost him his strategic objectives, since suspending the shuttle would become an invitation to Egypt and Syria to gravitate back to the Soviet camp. He saw the next logical step on his diplomatic agenda to be a shuttle to Jordan. He reasoned that unless a Jordanian presence, however symbolic, was reestablished on the West Bank, there could be no progress toward a Palestinian settlement, which he now considered fundamental to reaching his goal. Rabin rejected the idea of Jordanian involvement in the West Bank for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that he simply did not see the Palestinian issue as central to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But Rabin did see in peacemaking a way tofulfill his life's mission of providing Israel with permanent access to the weapons necessary to maintain the Middle East's mightiest army. He reasoned that Kissinger, itching to preside over an American-brokered peace, would pay heavily to get it.

Israel had long relied on a tough, little, standingarmy, backed by well-prepared reservists, but Rabin decided that was no longer enough. He wanted Israel to approach the Arabs quantitatively, both in levels of manpower and in weapons. Within months of the Yom Kippur War, Israel's military spending exceeded that of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan combined.

After Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford retainedKissinger, who arrived in Jerusalem in the fall of 1974, proposing a fresh round of shuttle diplomacy. He found Rabin amenable but determined to press a new and major condition. Rabin said Israel would negotiate only with Egypt.

Rabin's decision was based on the perceptionof Egypt as the preeminent Arab power, the only one whose armies were strong enough to threaten Israel. He calculated that there was still ground in the Sinai that Israel could safely evacuate. What he saw in return--as he acknowledged candidly--was the prospect of separating Egypt from the rest of the Arab world. Rabin stated he wanted peace with "normalization.' But the objective he really wanted was acceptance by the Arabs of permanent changes in Israel's boundaries.

In entering new shuttle talks with Kissinger, hemade clear that he was no readier to implement the territory-for-peace principle insofar as "full peace' was concerned than Golda Meir had been seven years earlier. Kissinger, faced with negotiations on Rabin's terms or no negotiations at all, decided reluctantly to go along.

Blank Check?

In February 1975, Kissinger arrived in the MiddleEast to begin the second Egyptian-Israeli shuttle, only to find negotiating conditions had sharply deteriorated in the previous months. Anwar Sadat, apprehensive about getting too far out in front of the Arab world, let it be known he wanted no agreement that did not bring with it a substantial gain in territory. Rabin answered that he preferred no agreement at all to giving away defensible terrain. Jordan and Syria had by now become extremely suspicious of Sadat and of the prospect of his making a separate deal that overlooked their interests. The Arab oil producers were talking of another embargo to put pressure on Israel. The Russians were waiting in the wings for the opportunity to cement together the pieces of their old Middle East power base.

Kissinger understood that the U.S. would bemuch embarrassed if his peacemaking program failed. Both Rabin and Sadat came away from visits with him convinced that he was more anxious for a successful shuttle than were either of them. That, of course, was precisely where they wanted him. Sadat retreated in the negotiations from his original terms, but Rabin retreated even further, and after two weeks of bargaining, Kissinger decided to go home.

Back in Washington, Kissinger publicly blamedIsrael for the breakdown. President Ford followed by announcing a "total reassessment' of American policy in the region and, in the ensuing weeks, imposed limitations on arms shipments and economic assistance to Israel. It was as severe a blow as had been struck since Eisenhower's day. Rabin stuck resolutely to his guns, while in Israel public opinion rallied to him and in America the Jewish leadership urged the White House to soften its response. In May, pro-Israeli pressure persuaded 76 U.S. senators to sign a letter calling on Ford to loosen the screws.

Rabin was confident that in time Kissingerwould crack. He understood that Kissinger could not bear to convey to the Soviet Union the image that American power in the Middle East was in disarray. He bet that Kissinger, without other options, would return to Israel, bearing gifts.

Sadat took the initiative to restore movementin June by volunteering that if Israel moved as far back as the Sinai passes, Egypt would agree to the demilitarization of the evacuated area. Furthermore, it would allow Americans to man electronic warning stations within them to monitor compliance with the agreement. Ford and Kissinger, whatever their misgivings about American involvement, adopted the idea.

But the real breakthrough in talks occurredwhen Ford, shortly afterward, conveyed to the Israeli government the offer that Rabin had gambled on receiving. In return for Israeli evacuation of the passes and the oil fields, Ford said, the U.S. would assure Israel permanent, large-scale, military and financial support. It was a huge concession that would transform not only American-Israeli relations but the entire structure of power in the Middle East. Yet even with the groundwork laid in advance, it took Kissinger 12 days of shuttle diplomacy to negotiate the agreement, known as Sinai II.

In the context of the long struggle for MiddleEast peace, the Israeli-Egyptian segment of Sinai II was unquestionably a remarkable achievement. Israel, in giving up Egyptian land it had captured in 1967, agreed to take undeniable risks with its security, and in giving up the oil fields, with its economy. The cost of the Yom Kippur War to the Israelis had been astronomical. Economists calculated the total at nearly $7 billion, equal to more than a year of the country's gross national product. Egypt had also made a psychological break from the Arab world, as well as from Arab history, to move away from the order of inexorable war that had defined its Israeli relations since 1948.

But it turned out there was less promise and,ultimately, more trouble than met the eye. The Israeli-American segment of the Sinai II agreement, the most painful to negotiate, carried American involvement in Israel's security, begun in Lyndon Johnson's day, into a new range. To get Israeli agreement to Sinai II, Kissinger sealed the pledge that Ford had made earlier to Rabin. In it, the U.S. accepted an obligation to "submit annually for approval by the U.S. Congress a request for military and economic assistance in order to help meet Israel's economic and military needs.' The accord contained a further obligation that the American government "make every effort to be fully responsive, within the limits of its resources and congressional authorization and appropriation, on an on-going and long-term basis, to Israel's military equipment and other defense requirements, to its energy requirements and to its economic needs.' The agreement also guaranteed that if Israel faced an energy shortage, the U.S. would provide oil from its reserves, transport it, and even provide oil to Israel when an embargo was in effect against the U.S.

America's pledge, in effect, made it the custodianboth of Israel's security and its economy. The agreement was not quite an American "blank check' to Israel, but it came extremely close. Kissinger's structure tied the U.S. to all decisions Israel made, while imposing on Israel no corresponding requirement to consider American interests in making them.

Even more inexplicable than the military andeconomic vows that Kissinger made was his agreement in Sinai II to put an end to his beloved step-by-step diplomacy. Having cajoled and pleaded with Rabin for months to face the Palestinian issue by dealing with Jordan, and having lost face in Amman by failing to keep his own pledge of a shuttle, Kissinger proceeded to cross a Jordanian-Israeli "disengagement' accord off his agenda. In scrapping the step-by-step strategy, he agreed to abandon the peace process altogether.

Furthermore, having rewarded Rabin once forrefusing to deal with Jordan, Kissinger proceeded bizarrely to reward him a second time. Kissinger had warned Israel in 1974 that refusal to come to terms with Amman would strengthen the PLO. Shortly afterward, his concern was vindicated when the Arab summit at Rabat transferred to the PLO all of Jordan's authority to speak for the Palestinians. Rabin naturally said he would have nothing to do with the PLO, and Kissinger said the United States would not either. In Sinai II, Kissinger made the now famous American pledge of self-denial, agreeing not to "recognize or negotiate' with the PLO. The pledge has made Washington as ineffective in dealing with the Palestinian question as Moscow became, after breaking relations, in dealing with Israel.

U.S. economic aid jumped from $126 millionin 1966 to $467 million in 1973 and three years later, after the Kissinger covenent, to more than $2.5 billion. U.S. aid is now $3 billion. Of course, not all of the huge increase could be attributed to the Kissinger covenant; Congress has often increased Israel's appropriation beyond the level requested by the administration. But U.S. Treasury and Pentagon officials are now required by law to meet with Israeli officials in crafting the budget requests for foreign aid, requests designed to meet the budgetary needs of the Israelis. More important, the philosophy behind the agreement, more than the letter of it, had been accepted: U.S. foreign aid to Israel was to become a major part of Israel's budget.

Rabin, who made up in shrewdness what helacked in committment to peace, knew well enough how to respond to an opportunity that he considered to be in Israel's interest. In Sinai II, he provided so well for Israel that it never had to settle with the Arabs again. When I asked Rabin whether Sinai II did not give Israel a free hand to do as it liked in strategic and political matters in the region, he answered, "No doubt.' To make sure I had not misunderstood him, I asked Rabin a second time whether Israel had the military power to do as it liked in the Middle East. He said, "Of course.'

Intoxicated with strength

In a narrow sense, the huge amounts ofAmerican aid and the Israeli military buildup may have made Israel more secure; no country has attempted to invade since the agreement was signed. But the military might that Rabin had been so instrumental in creating was at the disposal not just of land-for-peace Mainstream Zionists but of whatever ideology governed Israel.

The prime minister who followed Rabin in1977 was Manechem Begin, a Revisionist who was prepared to go beyond the mission of defense to assign Israel's armed forces a far more contentious set of imperatives. Begin is remembered for joining Sadat under the wing of Jimmy Carter at Camp David and agreeing to evacuate Egypt's Sinai territories. But it is sometimes forgotten that, in return, he separated Egypt from the Arab world, neutralizing its power in the Arab-Israeli conflict. With the largest Arab army no longer a factor to be considered, Begin had a free hand to use his own military forces as he liked.

In late 1981, Begin's defense minister, ArielSharon, delivered a remarkably candid speech to Tel Aviv's Institute of Strategic Studies, in which he outlined Israel's new vision of military dominance. "Israel's national security interests,' he stated, "are influenced by developments and events far beyond the direct confrontation area where Israel had focused its attention in the past. . . . Israel's sphere of strategic and security interest must be broadened to include in the 1980s countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, and regions such as the Persian Gulf and Africa, particularly the countries of North and Central Africa.'

No matter how sympathetically Sharon's assertionis examined, it emerges as fantasy except that as minister of defense, Sharon was stating policy. The fantasy was that Israel, a tiny country of barely three-and-a-half million citizens, would exercise strategic dominance over an area covering 5,000 miles end to end, and containing hundreds of millions of inhabitants, nearly all of them muslim. Israel had by far the strongest army in the Middle East, and the Arabs were in disarray. Israel's security was guaranteed by the greatest of superpowers, which bestowed upon it a huge annual subsidy and all the arms it needed, while imposing on it no political limitations. In his speech, Sharon was extolling the power of an irresistable military machine that had gone out of control.

Six months later, Begin sent the Israeli armyinto Lebanon. Secretary of State Alexander Haig has written that he warned Begin repeatedly that the U.S. would not support Israeli action in Lebanon without an "internationally recognized provocation.' This was an invitation to find one, which Israel had not trouble doing. When a prominent Israeli diplomat was shot in London, Israel blamed the PLO and its waiting army moved. Though subsequent investigation established that the PLO had not been responsible for the shooting, it hardly mattered. The Begin government concluded quite reasonably that it had met Washington's terms. "I was against that war,' Rabin told me. "Begin became intoxicated by our military strength, but the war in Lebanon had to fail. We cannot impose peace on our neighbors through the force of arms.'

Israel's intoxication with its military strengthhas also meant that during Likud's reign there have been no serious negotiations on returning any of the captured lands on the West Bank as a way of settling the Palestinian problem. Israel's emphasis has been almost exclusively on military buildup. Israel's defense budget grew from $616 million in 1966 to $3.7 billion in 1976 to $4.5 billion in 1980. Its ratio of defense spending to gross national product grew from 8.7 percent in 1966, about the same as the U.S., to nearly 30 percent in 1980, six times the American level. Israel's huge financial obligation for arms, notwithstanding generous American subsidies, have sapped the country's economic system. They have depressed the standard of living, discouraged immigration and encouraged emigration, and forced deep reductions in educational and social programs.

Meanwhile, the signs are plentiful that theArab obsession with war against Israel has faded. For a decade, at least, I believe the Arabs have been ready to live with Israel in peace. In an interview I had in 1986 in a Gulf country, an Arab fundamentalist leader told me that Islam could never make peace with Israel. "The Jewish people can live among us as they always have,' he said, "but we are against a Zionist state.' Then he stopped and sat quietly for several minutes. "Can I speak off the record?' he said finally. I replied that he could, which is why I cannot identify him. "That's my public position. But the Arab people need peace and stability to develop, and we cannot make war with Israel anymore. My private position is that we ought to make peace at once.'

In looking back on the two decades the havepassed since the Six-Day War, it is evident that Israel, having won all the battles, has lost the peace. The victory of 1967 set off a chain reaction that transformed the nation's character. Ignoring Ben-Gurion's admonition to remember that the land belonged to two peoples, Israel shifted its preoccupation from construction of the Jewish state to preservation of its conquests. Zionism, a humane set of values that for nearly a century had inspired the dream of a Jewish homeland, itself took on a new flavor, which was more aggressive, less generous, increasingly nationalistic. If the recompense for these losses was greater security, one might perhaps defend the transaction. But as the end of the 1980s approaches, with the Middle East still in ferment, Israel's condition has never appeared more precarious.
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Title Annotation:Henry Kissinger, excerpt from Sands of Sorrow: Israel's Journey From Independence
Author:Viorst, Milton
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jun 1, 1987
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