An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.

--Winston Churchill

Three wars dominated events in the Middle East, the Gulf and Southwest Asia in 1982. In Afghanistan, the conflict between Soviet occupying forces and the freedom-fighting Mujahedeen continued without resolution. To the west, the sputtering war between Iraq and Iran saw a succession of gains for Iran that pushed virtually all Iraqi forces from its territory; but by the end of the year the prospect of any decisive military breakthrough had faded. And in Lebanon the Israeli invasion in June led to the eviction of the headquarters and principal military apparatus of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and left Lebanon faced with the problem of withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces and wrestling anew to establish itself as a coherent national entity.

In the first two of these wars, U.S. influence and leverage were limited, although there were substantial consequences for U.S. relations with the nations on the fringe of the hostilities. But in the Lebanon War the United States played a critical role in bringing an end to the organized fighting, and in early September launched a dramatic new attempt to move toward resolution of the Palestinian issue that lay at the core of the war. On that front at least, more than ever the main roads led to the United States as the indispensable third party, in a situation where U.S.-Israel relations had become more difficult than at any time since 1956 and where certain parts of the Arab side were slowly seeming to come to terms with the changed circumstances in the aftermath of Lebanon. The war had created new opportunities to address the Palestinian phase of the peace process, under the aegis of the United States. Hopefully, 1983 augurs less violence and renewed diplomacy in an altered regional setting. The picture is mixed and uncertain, but not without promise.

Looked at more broadly, the events of 1982 demonstrated once again the multiple threats to peace and stability in the area. Afghanistan is an example of external invasion, the Iraq-Iran war an intraregional conflict, and the war in Lebanon was in effect the fifth Arab-Israeli war. As it happened, the year did not see any new example of an internal upheaval, but the underlying situation in several key countries remains fragile. In different forms a resurgence of Islamic sentiment has now become a more sensitive element of Middle East politics, giving a new dimension to both their internal and external aspects. To assess the significance of this and other underlying trends in the area would require a broad historical essay beyond the limits of the interpretive account of 1982 presented in this article. And it may be too early to say just how the events of the year fitted into, or contributed to, the deep historical currents sweeping the area.

Let us start, then, with Afghanistan and the Iraq-Iran war, and proceed to the Arab-Israeli conflict that was the dominant concern of U.S. policymakers virtually throughout the year, overshadowing for long periods even such other central problems as Soviet relations, Western Europe, China and Latin America.


Three years after it invaded Afghanistan, the Soviet Union has made no significant progress in winning recognition of the Babrak Karmal regime, whose popular base in the country has shrunk, and has experienced only limited success in controlling and running the country. While the military losses have not been negligible, the economic burden is relatively marginal, since most of the natural gas produced in Afghanistan goes to the Soviet Union on a favorable basis. On the whole, developments in 1982 continue to point to a Soviet policy based on the assumption that the political, economic and international costs remain tolerable. Despite some tactical moves toward a U.N. mediation effort, the evidence is strong that Moscow intends to remain indefinitely in Afghanistan, to accept no government it cannot control, and not to allow a situation to develop in which the people of the country could return to a real nonalignment.

Militarily, the stand-off remained. The Soviet Union augmented its forces to 105,000, and undertook offensives in the key area of Kandahar and Herat and to a lesser extent in the northern tier. Attacks by several Soviet-Afghan battalions were launched against the Panjshir Valley in May-June and September, and against Laghman, a resistance stronghold just 12 miles from Kabul, but in both areas the Afghan Mujahedeen resistance fighters overran outposts as soon as the main invading forces withdrew. Some marginal improvements could be discerned during the year in the security of Soviet convoys from the Soviet border to Kabul, but Moscow made no headway in rebuilding an Afghan army that could take over the brunt of the pacification effort. The intra-Marxist differences between the Maoist-oriented Khalq faction of the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDPA) and the pro-Moscow Parcham continued, the most serious consequences being widespread disloyalty among the Khalq-dominated Afghan officer corps. Moreover, a number of Afghan officers were arrested for collusion with the resistance, particularly during the May-June Panjshir offensive.

Economically, the Soviets are having to provide some necessities to forestall popular discontent in larger towns and cities, where some shortages of basic commodities have occurred. In the countryside, most of which is out of Soviet-Afghan government control, the local economy functioned pretty much as it did before the Soviet invasion.

Internally, the regime labored during the year to enlarge the PDPA and to enhance its role. This was a shift from the previous year's unsuccessful tactic of seeking to broaden the base of the regime by creating a large popular front organization, the National Fatherhood Front. While party membership increased, official statements emanating from a Party Conference in March and the Ninth Plenum in July suggest the quality of the new membership was disappointing.

In general, the guerrilla forces appeared stronger, better armed and better organized during 1982, but divisions continue to prevent the development of a nationwide strategy, even though a sense of nationhood exists based on the tenets of Islam and the fierce opposition to the Soviet occupation and the Afghan puppet regime.

On the international front, the U.N. Secretary General's personal representative, Diego Cordovés, conducted indirect talks with key parties in July in Geneva, and these are scheduled to be pursued further early in 1983. The framework for discussion envisages a phased withdrawal of Soviet forces, with the Karmal regime left in place in the first phase, looking toward a future status for Afghanistan modelled on that of Finland. The Soviet Union continues to insist on the ending of all "external interference" by other parties as the precondition for any Soviet withdrawal.

The principal nation negotiating with the Soviet Union has been Pakistan, which has borne the brunt of the more than three million refugees who have fled Afghanistan, and which is at the same time the location of Afghan resistance groups and the conduit for a limited flow of arms from Middle Eastern countries (indirectly supported by the United States)-and which faces recurrent Soviet threats of retaliatory action, threats made real by occasional limited border crossings.

Apart from its indirect role in arms supplies, the United States has continued to focus on shoring up Pakistan so that it can effectively resist any expansion of the war and conduct negotiations from at least a limited position of strength. Necessity has made the United States and Pakistan strategic partners despite the high political and economic costs. The Administration and Congress have accepted General Zia's spongy disavowal of nuclear ambitions. Any real improvement in the tight authoritarian control, or early election, is unlikely.

President Reagan held talks with President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in December 1982. This dramatized the renewed, closer U.S.-Pakistan strategic cooperation, reflected concretely in the previously concluded five-year $3.2-billion U.S. economic and military aid agreement. During his Washington visit, Zia made clear his intention to pursue the U.N. talks. He said publicly that he "was fairly well impressed," as a result of his 50-minute talk with Yuri Andropov at the November Brezhnev funeral, that Moscow wants to pacify world public opinion, and that his advice to the Soviets to cooperate with the U.N.-conducted indirect negotiations had "gone home." But a Pravda editorial in December, the first major Soviet statement on Afghanistan in over a year, cast a long shadow over this undue optimism. The editorial reaffirmed unchanged conditions for withdrawal of Soviet troops, offered no support for the notion the Soviets were flexible, and seemed directed at reassuring President Karmal that Moscow was continuing to insist Pakistan must negotiate directly with him.

While the United States has not interposed objection, the Administration is understandably highly skeptical of Moscow's attitude toward negotiations, and has held to the view that the U.S.S.R. seeks a political cosmetic facade for maintaining a regime under its control. It has cautioned Pakistan in this regard.

The United States supports a settlement embracing total Soviet withdrawal, self-determination for the Afghan people in an independent, nonaligned Afghanistan, and the right of the refugees to return with safety and acceptance, all of which has been spelled out in three U.N. General Assembly resolutions. It will not accept a legitimization of the Karmal regime. The gap between Moscow and Washington, therefore, is not likely to be bridged in the foreseeable future.


By early spring of 1982, it was clear that the Iran-Iraq war had moved in a new direction. In May, Khurramshar, the only major Iranian city held by Iraq, was taken by Tehran's forces, and by late June Iran had succeeded in forcing Iraqi troops from nearly all of its territory. But a succession of Iranian offensives in the summer and early fall ran into strong resistance and resulted only in heavy Iranian casualties. Iraq's Saddam Hussein had decided to cut his losses by withdrawing his forces and setting up strong defensive positions, and was signaling a desire to end the war essentially on the basis of a return to the situation prior to Iraq's initial attack in September 1980.

Ayatollah Khomeini, however, rejected all peace offers, and supplemented continued assaults in the Basra area by opening a second front further north in the central sector. By the end of 1982, no decisive military breakthrough had taken place, and the Ayatollah-in clear control despite reports of increasing infirmity-continued to insist in effect on the removal and humiliation of Saddam Hussein. No cease-fire or settlement seemed likely as long as the Ayatollah lives, and only a major political change in Iraq or Iran could alter the situation dramatically.

The internal situation in Iran and Iraq showed remarkable resiliency. Having deflected a leftist challenge in 1981 and early 1982, the Khomeini regime has consolidated its position and the internal threat for the time being has receded. While the revolutionary zeal has diminished, the economic situation appears tolerable despite the cost of the war and inefficient industrial management; Iran even managed to increase its oil exports, and Iraq was powerless to carry out repeated threats of attack on the major shipping point at Kharq Island. The Islamic Republican Party has consolidated a strong hold in most sectors of Iranian society, and the country has not divided or fractionalized as some hoped or predicted. The scattered opposition of the Mujahedeen has been controlled by ruthless repression, and the army has remained basically nonpolitical while improving its institutional status within the country as a result of its performance in the war.

In Iraq, the internal situation appeared to be less solid, but Saddam Hussein has not yet had to pay the price for his mistake in starting the war in 1980. The economic cost has been heavy: the country's port is closed and only the pipeline to Turkey is operating since Syria closed the one going through its territory. The Shi'ite majority of Iraq's population, who over the years have benefitted economically from the country's oil-produced growth and prosperity, have not taken Khomeini's bait to rise against Saddam Hussein. A reorganization in about mid-year gave the army greater responsibility for conduct of the war, and if a challenge should eventuate against Hussein, it could come from this quarter. As the war continues, Iraq's resources have been depleted, and it has become more dependent on large amounts of borrowing from oil-producing Arab states, which increasingly find such support burdensome and want an end to the war.

As Iran evicted Iraqi forces from its territory, it began in June to make more threatening noises about further action against the Gulf states, and its demands now include reparations not only from Iraq but especially from Saudi Arabia. Its oil exports greatly exceeded the guidelines adopted by OPEC in 1981 and the result has been a significant weakening of OPEC, and the crippling of the oil weapon of 1973, in the context of a sluggish world market. While the OPEC annual meeting in December overtly reaffirmed the previously agreed price levels (roughly $34 per barrel), it ended in disagreement regarding national production levels and the disarray seems certain to mean continued widespread price discounting and flouting of production levels in 1983.

Among the Gulf states, Kuwait's support of Iraq during the year made it particularly vulnerable to the threatening Iranian posture. More important, Iranian attention was focused on Saudi Arabia, to the point of sending a deliberately disruptive delegation to the traditional Mecca pilgrimage in September; although the Saudis were able to contain that action, the sense of threat from Iran, coupled with financial pressures, has tended to immobilize Saudi policy on many fronts. The Saudi leaders have gone so far as to indicate willingness to pay some reparations to Iran, despite an oil production decline to somewhere between five to six million barrels a day, and a deficit budget year which may require them to dip into reserves and use income from overseas investments. In November, Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Faisal Bin Saud accompanied King Hussein of Jordan to Moscow and Beijing as part of a committee established to secure support for the Arab peace proposal adopted at the Fez summit conference in early September. But the present situation adds to normal Saudi diffidence, militating against an activist political-diplomatic role in intra-Arab councils and in the peace process. The prospect for Saudi Arabia in 1983 is a turn inward and an even more cautious policy outward.

For the United States the stakes and interests in the Gulf remain vital. The crumbling of the Iranian pillar under the Shah was a major setback in the region, and an early reversal is most unlikely. There is no practical basis on which U.S.-Iran relations can be resumed, and a wait-and-see posture remains the only available choice. While there has been some pressure from Arab nations for the United States to do more in support of Iraq, for the most part this has been resisted on the ground that in the long run Iran is more important strategically.

The United States continues to give quiet assurances to Saudi Arabia that it can be relied on to shield it from the Soviet Union and to be responsive in case of any other threat, and the development of a Rapid Deployment Force for these purposes has gone steadily ahead. While neither Saudi Arabia nor any other Gulf state, except for Oman, has indicated overtly any desire to provide bases for U.S. forces, still less to join formally the kind of "strategic consensus" that was tested by Secretary of State Alexander Haig in 1981, some informal cooperation and use of standby facilities is not precluded. Quiet assurances and a modest ongoing defense assistance program are the principal commonsense elements in a constructive and prudent U.S.-Saudi relationship serving the interests of both.


Important as the wars in Afghanistan and the Gulf area were, throughout 1982 it was Arab-Israeli relations, and in particular U.S. relations with Israel, which absorbed the greatest amount of time and attention of U.S. policymakers. Menachem Begin had been unexpectedly reelected in June of 1981, partly as a result of the nationalist feeling aroused by his successful attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad, quickly followed by an air attack on Beirut and continuing exchanges across the Lebanese border that were halted by a precarious cease-fire negotiated by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Philip Habib. By the end of 1981 the Reagan Administration appeared somewhat on the defensive after the bruising fight it had won to get Senate consent to the sale of four air-warning aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

It was within this environment of Israeli-American relations that Israel moved in December to extend Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to the Golan Heights. Although the United States vetoed punitive resolutions in the U.N. Security Council in January, it also temporarily suspended important defense trade measures and briefly postponed completion of a Memorandum of Understanding on strategic cooperation initialed by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon in November 1981. Throughout 1981 the Administration had muted its objections to expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and there had been no progress in the Egyptian-Israeli autonomy talks-the first move under the second half of the Camp David Accords of 1978. Secretary Haig's trip to the area in January 1982 predictably found no basis for renewing these talks.

Egypt, Israel and the United States viewed the completion of the Israeli withdrawal on April 25, 1982, under the terms of the 1979 Peace Treaty, as a watershed. For the first four months of the year this was Washington's principal preoccupation. Organizing a peacekeeping force adequate to meet Israel's exacting conditions required extensive and intricate diplomatic efforts, especially with the four European nations that eventually agreed to participate with six others alongside the United States, and a series of minor frictions left the issue in doubt right up to the very end.

The withdrawal was finally completed on schedule, with Begin sending in his army to move Jewish settlers physically from the area and to destroy remaining settlements. The suspicion that Jerusalem was seeking to sidetrack the treaty was put to rest. Traumatic as it was for many of Begin's supporters, the withdrawal was clearly a sound move in Israel's national interests. Failure to go through with it would have destroyed Camp David and set back any hope for peaceful agreements. Egypt became the first Arab country to get back its territory by peaceful means. Moreover, the settlement, along with the peacekeeping arrangements, dramatically confirmed the major strategic result of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty, that war against Israel is not today a viable Arab option with Egypt on the sidelines.

Thus the withdrawal was a demonstration-like the three prior disengagement agreements with Egypt and Syria-that diplomacy can succeed. It made renewal of hostilities in the area less likely-but it also reduced Israel's incentive to come to a fundamental settlement with the Arabs over the West Bank, Gaza, and later the Golan Heights.

For Egypt, too, the completion of all the steps agreed in the Peace Treaty was a solid gain. However, partly because of the frictions and strains of the last phase, it did not lead to any major improvement in relations between Egypt and Israel, or to any increased willingness to negotiate autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza on the limited terms offered by Israel. The formal normalization of bilateral relations, dating from April 1979, was not developed through extended contacts of the sort that had appeared possible earlier; the autonomy talks remained suspended; and by the end of the year normalization was at a standstill although both sides continued to carry out their treaty obligations scrupulously.

President Hosni Mubarak is committed to Anwar Sadat's policy of peace, food, security, and enhanced welfare for the Egyptian people. He has projected an image of calm confidence. Recapturing Egyptian territory and carrying out Sadat's legacy freed Mubarak to consolidate his position politically and to turn to two important internal problems, the economy and Muslim fundamentalism.

Egypt's flagging economy is Mubarak's most serious internal problem, a result of the world recession and the increasing burden of necessary government subsidies and reduced foreign exchange earnings. Suez Canal and oil earnings, tourism, and remittances from Egyptian workers abroad were less than budget projections. During 1982 Mubarak introduced some modest reforms. He has spoken frankly to the Egyptian people about the economic situation, and they have adopted a wait-and-see attitude as to whether peace will provide the dividend promised by Sadat. While the open dialogue with governmental and non-governmental circles has been welcomed, another reshuffling of his economic ministerial team was required during 1982, and as yet there is no dynamic program in place to attack basic structural difficulties. To assure continued growth, the government will have to address pervasive cost-price distortions which tend to lead to unwise investment decisions, encourage excessive consumption, and discourage productivity improvements and the development of a competitive export sector. Added to these factors is Egypt's long-term problem of population control.

Mubarak has handled the problem of resurgent Muslim fundamentalism with firmness and sensitivity. He has used both repression and reconciliation as instruments of policy. Shortly after Sadat's assassination the government arrested 3,000 fundamentalists and imposed martial law, which is still in effect. In October, 58 members of an underground religious group called Jihad, whose stated aim was to overthrow Mubarak, were arrested and a cache of arms confiscated. At the same time, these tough actions under the Interior Minister, General Abu Basba, were coupled wisely with release of over 1,500 academics, journalists, lawyers and religious dissenters, none of whom were considered in the category of the most militant and incorrigible fundamentalists. The government also has encouraged during this past year a dialogue between fundamentalists and Islamic scholars to educate the general public that extremists are not the only voices of Islam.

In the long run, Mubarak's position will be affected more by internal issues than by his current isolation in the Arab world, which is being reduced. There appears no significant organized opposition to the regime today, and Mubarak has the broad support of the populace and the loyalty of the armed forces. Nevertheless, the situation requires careful attention and close monitoring. Millions of Egyptians live on the margin, and there is always the danger of politicized radical Muslim fundamentalism making common cause with the disadvantaged.

Externally, Egypt continued to be excluded from Arab councils even in the wake of the war in Lebanon. It did step up its contacts with some of its Arab brothers-Oman, Somalia and Sudan-and even though diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia remained broken, Mubarak flew there in June to make contact with the new King Fahd at the funeral of King Khalid. This trend continued, and an important development, little noticed, came in December when the Egyptian Minister of State, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, visited Lebanon and established a liaison office in Beirut, a signal that Lebanon welcomed Egypt's support. Additionally, Cairo cemented its relations with Western Europe, supporting a French and Egyptian U.N. resolution for Palestinian self-determination, and signing a $1.1-billion contract with Spain. These directions in Egyptian policy are expected to continue during 1983. But Egypt cannot soon be a major force in the peace process, and the dominant concern of U.S. policy must be to help Mubarak deal with his internal problems, principally through continued large-scale aid.


Early in the year public statements from Jerusalem about violations of the Lebanon cease-fire became more pronounced, and when Begin responded to U.S. expressions of concern in January by assuring President Reagan that Israel would not attack Lebanon, he made an exception for Palestinian provocations there and possibly elsewhere in the world. Twice in April Israel carried out small-scale air attacks and seemed poised to undertake a major military operation, and in one instance a strong warning by the U.S. Ambassador was necessary to discourage such a move.

In May there was another false alarm. More important, Israeli officials may have gained the impression that while the Administration continued to uphold the cease-fire, it would react only moderately to a limited Israeli action of the sort that had been carried out in 1978. But in retrospect, in light of the continuing Palestinian attacks, it would appear that Israel had already taken the strategic decision to intervene in Lebanon and was waiting for an appropriate opportunity.1

This came in June when the Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov, was seriously wounded by terrorists. Israel claimed that the PLO was responsible, but information developed later did not confirm this. Aerial bombardment of targets in the Beirut area started immediately, and on June 6, Israeli armed forces crossed the Lebanese border and moved northward. In keeping with the description of the undertaking-"Operation Peace for Galilee"-Prime Minister Begin stated at the outset that Israel's goal was to clear a 25-mile cordon sanitaire in southern Lebanon in which Palestinian forces and arms could no longer threaten Israeli citizens. This was quickly achieved.

During the first week of the war Israelis carried out several highly effective military actions: a surgical destruction of Syrian surface-to-air missiles and 80 Syrian jets shot from the sky, both without Israeli losses. Although the Syrians fought fairly well on the ground, Syria quickly accepted a cease-fire, much to the chagrin of the PLO, and it remained in control of the northern part of the Bekaa Valley. Israeli forces were then able to move northward to the environs of Beirut, free to concentrate militarily on the PLO.

The Israelis wanted the Lebanese Christians to join in the military operation and sweep Beirut, thus eliminating the risk of heavy Israeli casualties. Lebanese Christian forces were unwilling to get into a direct military confrontation with the Palestinians, however, and Israel therefore sought, by heavy artillery shelling and aerial bombardments, to force the PLO to leave Beirut.

By mid-June it became clear that Israel's military purpose was not only to secure southern Lebanon but to destroy the PLO-and that its political aim was to solve the Palestinian issue per se, so as to give it a free hand in consolidating its control over the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, the elimination of the PLO was intended to lead to a Christian-dominated Lebanon which would be expected to sign a peace treaty with Israel at an early date after the war, or to result in a division of the country between Syria and Israel. And finally, if Israeli statements were to be taken at face value, Israel's future purpose was also to confine a Palestinian entity within the territorial limits of today's Jordan on the East Bank.2

As the Israeli aerial bombardment was intensified and prolonged, written about daily and portrayed nightly on TV as in the days of Vietnam, increasingly sharp criticism resulted in the United States and elsewhere. This was fueled in the early stages by uncritical media acceptance of exaggerated PLO and Arab claims of casualties and damage, and it was not until later in the war that a more accurate and balanced press presentation ensued.

In the face of Israeli successes, the Arab reaction to the investiture of an Arab capital was one of general indignation but practical helplessness. It was largely limited to rhetorical support. As to the fate of the PLO apparatus in Lebanon, Arab feelings were mixed. Many countries had experienced PLO disruptions, Jordan's very existence had been threatened in 1970, and the Arab world knew what the PLO had done to disintegrate the political fabric in Lebanon. As for the Soviet Union, its military equipment stood discredited by the devastating Israeli attacks on Syrian forces, and it confined itself to denunciation and weak warnings, and to attacks on alleged U.S. collusion with Israel.

That these charges of collusion were unjustified should have been clear even before the operation began. At most, Washington had shown an attitude of tolerance and understanding of Israeli action to free its northern area of threat, and the fact that Israeli forces were initially received as saviors more than conquerors by the Lebanese people, who wanted to be rid of the PLO, was not an insignificant factor. It soon became apparent that the removal of the PLO would give Lebanon the opportunity to put its own house in order and change the conditions in the area in which the Palestinian issue could be addressed. But at the same time, the Reagan Administration insisted from an early stage that this removal be achieved by negotiation, and without the kind of humiliation that could have hardened Arab attitudes on the Palestinian issue beyond the possibility of a renewed peace process. Beneath the surface, particularly after the advent of George Shultz as Secretary of State in late June, the lesson drawn by the Administration was that Palestinian nationalism remained a formidable element in the area, and that the problem had to be solved primarily politically and with some urgency.

Moreover, despite President's Reagan's clear record of backing and support for Israel, he and his senior advisers were sharply affected by the civilian casualties in Lebanon. There also developed deep feelings at high levels in the Administration that Begin and Sharon had misled the United States as to Israeli objectives.

In these circumstances, Ambassador Philip Habib was the principal actor on the ground in a determined U.S. effort to bring an end to the war, to arrange for a peaceful exit of the PLO from Beirut, and to organize a multinational peacekeeping force. Through July and August, Habib shuttled back and forth between Lebanon and Israel, with side trips to other Arab capitals, and a meeting of the Syrian and Saudi foreign ministers with the Reagan Administration in July helped measurably to overcome an initial Arab reluctance to cooperate with any plan to evacuate the PLO out of fear this might appear as cooperation with Israel. Syria finally agreed to receive PLO fighters, and a number of other Arab countries followed suit.

But it was a long and complex task for Habib to work out the details for a withdrawal of the PLO and a positioning of what became a trilateral initial peacekeeping force of American, French and Italian troops. The Israeli bombing of Beirut continued, its peak being reached in an all-day, highly destructive attack on August 12, which led Reagan to telephone Begin in support of Habib's view that the attacks were impeding his efforts to get agreement. The let-up in Israeli bombing which followed led to the resumption of Habib's talks primarily with former Muslim Prime Minister Salam Salem, who had become the main Lebanese interlocutor.

Finally, agreement was reached and the PLO withdrawal by land and water began on August 21. U.S. assurances-based in turn on clear Israeli undertakings-that the PLO would be allowed to leave in safety, and that remaining Palestinians would not be harmed, were an important element of the agreement, as was the Arab willingness to provide havens for the PLO. At the same time, there is no gainsaying that the military pressure of the Israeli siege around Beirut was a major factor causing the PLO to leave without a further fight. A few of the bombings by Israel, particularly on August 12, were disproportionate, some may have been random. However, most were targeted and intended for the PLO, but the fact that PLO positions were located in crowded civilian areas resulted inevitably in a tragic loss of innocent lives.

While the PLO pullout was in process, Bashir Gemayel was elected president of Lebanon on August 23, and promptly extended the hand of reconciliation to the Muslims. PLO leader Yassir Arafat left on August 30, for Greece and then Tunisia and Syria, disdainful of the Arabs, who he felt had given him no effective support. An uneasy calm prevailed in Beirut, and it was accompanied by what in retrospect was a premature exodus of the multinational force. This was primarily due to the domestic sensitivity in the United States to the presence of American Marines in Lebanon, a cogent reminder that the Vietnam syndrome still has a residual influence on the body politic and psyche of America.

Then, on September 1, President Reagan, in a carefully drafted TV address, launched a major new initiative designed to set in motion a renewed peace process building on the Camp David framework and consistent with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 of 1967 and 338 of 1973. He called specifically for an interim period of self-government under Palestinian Arabs residing in the West Bank, with negotiations later between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Arabs to determine the ultimate status of the territories. He went further to make clear that in such negotiations the United States would oppose both an independent Palestinian state and Israeli annexation of the territories, and would support an association between Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza. Concerned over Israel's policy of creeping annexation, the President also called for a freeze on settlements, but at the same time reiterated U.S. policy toward the PLO, that no dialogue or negotiations would be undertaken as long as the PLO failed to recognize Israel's existence, and added his strong assurance that the United States remained committed to Israeli security and survival and that Israel would not be asked to return to the precarious situation of the pre-1967 period.

It was a bold stroke, brilliantly executed with the advice primarily of Secretary Shultz, who had consulted during the summer both key policymakers and a number of private Americans with Middle East experience. The Israeli military action in Lebanon had had a profound impact on the President, whose full and direct involvement was crucial, for under the American system, as strong as any Secretary of State may be, only the President can wield the kind of influence and power over Congress and the American people required to produce constructive results.

The September 1 proposals at once received strong bipartisan support from Congress and from public opinion, including a number of leaders and organizations of the American Jewish community, who saw positive as well as negative elements in the Reagan initiative and felt it should not be dismissed out of hand. But they were summarily rejected by Prime Minister Begin, who complained about lack of prior consultation (ironically to many Americans, in view of his own record over the year). The Arab reaction was mixed, and at the Fez meeting in early September the Arabs came together on a statement essentially reiterating past positions and-as Vice President George Bush promptly noted-fudging the question of acceptance of Israel in a vague and inadequate formula about peace and the U.N. Security Council.

But before there could be further follow-up, the attention of the world and the Administration was riveted on dramatic events within Lebanon during September.


On September 14, Lebanon's President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, in a massive bomb explosion. In rapid succession Israeli forces were moved into West Beirut, the Israelis in turn authorized Lebanese Christian forces to enter the two main Palestinian refugee camps, at Sabra and Shatila, and on September 16-19 these forces massacred hundreds of men, women and children in the camps.

World opinion was horrified; the outcry in Israel itself was of deep anguish and disbelief, including a massive protest demonstration. Both internal and external pressure forced a hesitating Prime Minister Begin to agree that a three-man Commission of Inquiry should be appointed to conduct a full investigation. Begin's initial attempt to avoid establishment of a commission and his categorical disclaimer of responsibility added to the seriousness and intensity of the debate within Israel. Inevitably, Israel bore part of the blame and responsibility for the events in the camps, even though there was absolutely no evidence of any direct involvement in the killings by any Israeli soldiers.

The Commission met through November and December, and its report was scheduled for early 1983. In November it issued a notice of possible findings against individuals that included both Prime Minister Begin, principally for the decision to allow the Lebanese Christians to enter the camps in the light of their past record of conflict and bloodshed with the Palestinians, and Defense Minister Sharon, for a host of alleged omissions. Its final report is sure to rekindle debate in Israel, with the possibility of a major impact on the political situation and perhaps early elections.

The full and objective Commission inquiry was impressive evidence that vigorous democratic processes and forces were at work in Israel, and that its people needed no outside prodding in seeking the facts and insisting upon a fair, balanced judgment of responsibility. No comparable outcry centered on the Lebanese Christians who perpetrated the revengeful acts. If a double standard of morality was being applied to Israel by the outside world, it was at least in part a reflection of the double standard which the country applied to itself and to Jews everywhere. In Israel, Begin retains strong grass roots support, but the Christian massacres further diminished his standing not only with the Reagan Administration but with the American people.

In Lebanon, Amin Gemayel, brother of Bashir, was chosen president on September 23; he at once appealed for a return of multinational forces to aid in maintaining order, and after a short interval the United States, France and Italy sent reinforced contingents. The sending of American Marines was accepted by congressional leaders with some reluctance, and on the Administration's assurance that they would not become involved in conflict and on the expressed hope that they would be out before the end of the year.

That hope was not realized. Amin Gemayel made some headway in establishing the authority of the central government, strengthening the Lebanese army and assuring its loyalty to the state, and in carrying forward a productive unifying dialogue with the main political and religious factions-an awesome set of challenges. A key difficulty is achieving control over Christian military forces. It will be a long time before even an expanded and reconstituted Lebanese army can cope effectively with the situation, and Gemayel's repeated stress on the continued need for outside forces suggests that American and other peacekeeping forces may be needed indefinitely.

Politically, Lebanon has never fully achieved a genuine internal unity, and the scars of this war are on top of the deep damage of the 1975-77 civil war. The departure of the PLO has removed a major source of division and disruption, but there remain hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who cannot be expelled without major difficulties with the Arab world and the Muslims within Lebanon, as well as a host of deep-seated animosities, some along, but others cutting across, religious lines. The creation of a new Lebanon in which power politically, militarily, and socially can be shared more equitably remains the overriding objective. But a stable, united Lebanon is years away, if indeed it can be achieved.

Yet, while there are some Lebanese who continue to favor a partition, with Christians and Muslims each having their own state, and others who have proposed a Syrian-Israeli condominium, the overwhelming majority favor a unified, single nation-state. Ironically, Amin Gemayel may be better able to make more progress to this end than his brother Bashir, because he has not been directly identified with past military action undertaken by Phalange Christian forces. Gemayel's appointment of Shafig Wassan as prime minister has broad support among the Muslims. Amin's stress on improved relations with Muslims and Druze and on removal of all foreign forces has been well received at least initially, though outbursts of violence and revenge continue. Emergency powers for the president have been extended, and the entrepreneurial spirit and skill of the people and the private sector have begun to make some headway in rebuilding the country physically.

Nonetheless, the problems are monumental. Lebanon's immediate need is money for major rebuilding and reconstruction. Gemayel is looking to oil-producing Arab countries for huge amounts of assistance, estimated anywhere from $10 billion to $25 billion. The Arab record for actually making large payments is not good. Moreover, with a flat world oil market in prospect at least for the next several years, the capacity of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to be generous is under constraints. Nor are the prospects good for large amounts of financial assistance from a United States still in the throes of recession and a Congress understandably concerned about budgetary deficits.

U.S. policy has consistently supported the political independence and territorial integrity of Lebanon, and in the wake of the war the United States necessarily assumed a key mediating role in obtaining the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces. President Assad of Syria knows that a continued Syrian presence in Lebanon provides opportunity for influencing internal Lebanese developments, controlling thousands of remaining PLO, and using the Bekaa Valley strategically in defense of Damascus. But there is continuing pressure on him today to extricate Syria from Lebanon if reasonable terms are offered.

While Assad's present internal situation has calmed, the domestic difficulties of the Ba'ath regime as well as the opposition to Assad are serious. Added strains arise from the cost of ongoing involvement in Lebanon, regardless of resupply by the U.S.S.R., and from the continuing risk of military confrontation with Israel. In light of these considerations, an agreement that assures Israeli and PLO withdrawal becomes a proposition which Damascus must consider seriously. The United States could provide an added incentive by holding out the prospect of future support for negotiations over the Golan Heights consistent with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Israel wants a stable Lebanon. Its superior military power can assure against a PLO or Syrian military resurgence, but it cannot produce stability in Lebanon, if that can be achieved at all. Stability has to come primarily from the Lebanese themselves, free of occupation though realistically not entirely free for some time of Israeli and Syrian influence.

While an Israeli decision to withdraw has become more difficult in light of Bashir Gemayel's assassination, an indefinite occupation is likely to become more unpopular at home with each new complication and inevitable loss of life. The mounting financial costs, the need of reservists to get back to their jobs and help develop the economy, increased friction with the United States and Europe, and further exacerbation of Egyptian-Israeli relations all point toward ultimate phased withdrawal.

But Begin is also under strong pressure to show clear results from the Lebanon operation. Therefore, two principal conditions will have to be faced to secure Israeli agreement to withdraw along with Syrian and PLO forces: security arrangements for southern Lebanon guaranteeing Israel's northern communities against attack; and some practical arrangements for peaceful relations with Lebanon, including the end of the state of war, open borders, and free flow of trade and tourism. Begin has linked these elements, and while Israel no longer appears to be insisting upon a peace treaty with Lebanon, a less formal written agreement providing much of the above substance will be required for Israeli assent to withdraw.

During the fall of 1982, Israel insisted Arab negotiations be held alternatively in Beirut and Jerusalem, which the Lebanese could not accept in light of the longstanding Arab refusal to recognize the Israeli position in that city. Finally, in December, talks between the Israelis and Lebanese, under the aegis of the United States, got underway, in part on the basis of a memorandum of central points apparently negotiated directly between Sharon and Lebanese leaders. Although the two sides remain far apart on many issues, the underlying factors favoring withdrawal seem to make agreement likely sometime in 1983, with the United States continuing to play a central role through Ambassadors Habib and Morris Draper.


The Reagan proposals of September 1 quelled much of the public outcry among the Arabs for the time being and gave new hope, or at least helped ease the despair, in the Arab world. They moved the focus from crisis control to the peace process and from primary concern over the Soviet strategic threat to the underlying indigenous problems of the region, brought the Palestinian issue to center stage, and shifted the focus on the peace process from Egypt to Jordan.

The proposals are a framework, not a blueprint. They are based on several fundamental assumptions: that Israel and Jordan have a common interest in assuring that the ultimate arrangements in the West Bank and Gaza be neither a threat eastward to Jordan nor westward to Israel; that Jordan has no more interest in having a Soviet-Cuban base in the occupied territories than does Israel; that Israeli annexation is ultimately a prescription for war, not peace; that the concept of an exchange of land for peace is at the heart of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and remains valid today; and that negotiations must deal with Israel's security as well as recognition.

In the most basic sense, the importance of the Reagan high-risk but necessary strategy to reassert diplomacy over force lies in the major political debate, dialogue, and ferment it has stimulated in Israel and the Arab world. The American course requires changes of conditions and views in both places, a time-consuming evolutionary process. Unless reasonably early progress can be made, events on the ground may tend to foreclose the fresh diplomatic opportunities which have developed in the aftermath of Lebanon.

In Israel, the debate will be multi-dimensional: under what circumstances Israel should withdraw from Lebanon; whether its security can be better assured by continuing the current Begin policy of increased de facto control of the West Bank and Gaza-or by pursuing, as suggested by the Labor Party, a possible territorial compromise with Jordan if the opportunity develops. These two critical questions will be debated within an environment of the Commission of Inquiry's report and some deterioration in the economic situation, which has escaped closer scrutiny during the war in Lebanon.

The outcome of this debate is not likely to be determined in a definitive way before an Israeli election, perhaps in the latter half of 1983. And the results are unpredictable at this point. It would be a mistake to assume that Prime Minister Begin will be turned out of office at an early date. Begin is a tough political leader. He has strong backing throughout the country, particularly among the Sephardic Jews who tend to be both conservative and strongly nationalistic.

Moreover, the Labor Party continues to be seriously split between Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin factions, and some hope is being expressed that President Yitzhak Navon will decide to throw his hat into the ring as a compromise leader who might be able to unite the party, challenge Begin dynamically, and make deep electoral inroads among Sephardics. The Labor Party has not been able to gain any political advantage from Israel's real anguish over the Palestinian massacres or to exploit its option for a negotiated territorial peace with Jordan in the absence of a clear decision by King Hussein to this end.

The Administration did not make its proposal on the assumption it would necessarily lead to Begin's early defeat. It recognized the high probability of a rejection from Begin, since he is committed to Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza. But it was also fully aware that yeast would be added to Israeli politics by putting forward a set of reasonable ideas as a catalyst for the peace process. The move was also posited on the assumption that the incentives for any Israeli government to negotiate would be overwhelming if an explicit opportunity developed from the Arab side.

There is a majority consensus in Israel today in favor of Jerusalem as its capital. There is also a majority in opposition to an independent Palestinian state, but there is no majority for annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, primarily because of concern that adding over a million Arabs to a unitary state of Israel could alter fundamentally the Jewish character of the state and weaken seriously the inextricable link between U.S. support and Israel's security. There is a majority in favor of peace, for pursuing it further, and which sees the Reagan proposals as containing both acceptable and unacceptable elements. In the political struggle in Israel, the developing views of the Administration, the Congress, public opinion generally, and of the Jewish community in the United States will have an ongoing impact. Involvement in each other's domestic affairs has been a reality in both countries as long as the special relationship has existed.

Arab positions are, of course, crucial, both in themselves and for their influence on the direction of the Israeli internal debate. Meeting almost immediately after the Reagan proposals, the Arab summit in Fez in September reiterated previous positions-an independent Palestinian state, the PLO as sole representative of the Palestinian people, and the dismantling of Israeli settlements and total Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories. There was no mention of the U.S. peace proposals. There was also reference to U.N. Security Council guarantees of peace among all states in the region, including a Palestinian state, and by implication also Israel-a retrogression from the original "point 7" of the earlier Fahd plan of 1981, which had called less ambiguously for peace among all states of the region. The price of unity was this least common denominator. While it was not a realistic basis for negotiations, it was the first time since Israel was created 34 years ago that the Arab nations had come forward with a set of proposals which hinted at coexistence and seemed to favor the diplomatic over the military option. Certainly it was a far cry from the "three No's" of Khartoum in 1967.

For the rest of 1982 diplomatic efforts and public statements centered on whether Jordan's King Hussein could get sufficient support from the Arabs and Palestinians so that he would be prepared to enter into negotiations pursuant to the Reagan proposals. These would have to be within the context of explicit recognition of Israel, and would be looking toward the U.S.-supported outcome of satisfying Palestinian rights through a self-governing West Bank and Gaza ultimately linked to Jordan.

King Hussein is a survivor, a shrewd pragmatist. He has good reason to be wary and cautious. He has over 900,000 Palestinians in the East Bank. He is viewed in the Arab world as a friend of the United States, but has distanced himself somewhat from Washington, having been unwilling to support Camp David or become a participant. He is an accepted member of the Arab world, and his position in the area has been reinforced by his support of Iraq in its war against Iran. He has maintained contact with the Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza and retains some measure of good will.

Hussein wants peace with Israel, but not at any price, since the current status quo is not intolerable for Jordan. Economically, his country is doing reasonably well. Despite the numerous Palestinians, there is no serious internal threat. Externally, Jordan and Israel for years have cooperated informally to assure that no guerrilla or terrorist attacks were launched from the West Bank and Gaza against either. Jordan does not want Cubans or Soviets on its borders; Syria is a sufficient concern. With one of the best armed forces in the Arab world under the command of an outstanding and loyal soldier, General Zaid Bin Shakir, Jordan has force to use in the West Bank and Gaza if necessary to deal with potential threats.

Hussein was deeply disappointed that U.S. diplomacy produced disengagement agreements with Israel for Egypt and Syria in 1974 and 1975, but not Jordan. And it is an open secret that contacts with Israeli leaders have convinced him that even if a Labor government under Peres or Rabin or Navon were to supplant Begin at some future date, there is a wide gap between Jerusalem and Amman as to how much territory would be returned for peace and about effective security arrangements. Hussein has become increasingly more pessimistic over possible territorial terms of settlement as Begin and Sharon have increased their control over the West Bank and Gaza. And he has some doubts regarding the staying power and determination of the United States to proceed under pressure.

Hussein has always wanted to know "what light is at the end of the tunnel," and the Reagan proposals provide him for the first time with the U.S. preferences. There is a sense of urgency and a realization in Amman that if the opportunity provided by the Reagan initiative is not grasped, a year or two from now it may not be available. Hussein knows full well that the history of the Middle East has been one of lost opportunities, and he feels time is not on the side of the Arabs.

Hussein's worry that there may be little left in the West Bank and Gaza to negotiate in a year or two is not fantasy. Israel now holds or can take, on the basis of its legal approach, more than half of the land in the West Bank. In a well documented report, Meron Benvenisti, the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, and his social science colleagues have shown how far the process of Israeli de facto control of the West Bank has gone, including a government-encouraged move to develop suburbs in close proximity areas. Hussein agrees with Benvenisti's description of the current situation in the West Bank as "five minutes to midnight."

Amman assumes no early overturn of the Begin government and sees weaknesses in the leadership of the Labor Party. The intricacies of intra-Arab politics are equally inhibiting. Up to now Hussein has had a red light from the Arab world. The Arab summit meeting at Rabat in 1974 dealt Hussein out as the negotiator and named the PLO the sole representatives of the Palestinian people. Fez did not change this formally, limiting itself to appointing a committee, including Hussein, to explore further the Reagan proposals.

Jordan is not Egypt, and Hussein now wants a clear green light. He is unlikely to get this from a divided and frustrated Arab and Palestinian leadership. He is more apt to get only a yellow, cautious light regarding the Reagan initiative, an ambiguous, informal acquiescence by his moderate Arab brothers, but not their formal approval. While the Israeli desire for explicit Arab commitments is understandable, at the same time indirection and ambiguity too often are as far as a divided Arab world has been able to go.

Where do Arafat and the PLO fit into the future scheme of things?

First, there is no future for the kind of PLO of the past, of non-recognition and reliance primarily on military means. Israel and the United States will not deal with the PLO on this basis, and to their credit the moderate Arabs are trying to change the stance of the Palestinians. If the Arabs continue to view the PLO as a major expression of Palestinian nationalism, aspirations, interests and rights, the challenge for them is to bring about a change.

Second, Yassir Arafat's conduct since he left Lebanon reflects both military and political weakness. PLO fighters dispersed in nine Arab countries are not in the foreseeable future a military threat to Israel, and the PLO has lost much of its past leverage within the Arab world and ability to play off the radicals against the moderates. The limited verbal support the PLO received from the Arabs and the Soviets has reminded the world once again that individual Arab state interests often have priority over Palestinian rights and interests.

Third, the majority of Israelis and Arabs want peace based on coexistence and live-and-let-live. The Arabs are tempted by the Reagan proposals. They have not come to the full realization, which one hopes will evolve, that the Arab states have the upper hand in relation to a tenuously existing PLO devoid of an independent base and under control of the individual nations in which its members reside. The point to be underscored is that the decision relevant to entering the peace process rests primarily with the Arabs at this point, and King Hussein principally; the PLO does not have a practical veto.

Fourth, the PLO remains an umbrella organization, often unable to control the actions or positions of its components. It is not a unified independent entity, and while Arafat has emerged from the Lebanon war as still the strongest and most visible leader, he has yet to prove he can commit the rest of the organization.

Fifth, Arafat is pursuing the Jordanian connection, not the Syrian one. It is U.S. recognition, support, and acceptance he seeks. He is being realistic in this regard since Jordan is the focus of Washington, and if Arafat is to become part of the peace process, that is the door he must open. But at the same time, it must be recognized that while Arafat will maneuver, he is unlikely to give Hussein a free hand. It is not in the interest of the King to make this a precondition of moving ahead with negotiations, but at the same time his position will be strengthened to the extent he can have some degree of understanding with Arafat.

Against this background, an in-depth dialogue between Hussein and Arafat during November and December was an important prelude to the King's meetings with President Reagan in December. In this dialogue Arafat was acting without formal approval of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO's diffuse governing body. As one Council member is reported by The New York Times to have said: "Arafat is off on his own. If he comes up with something he will try to sell it to the rest of the leadership. If not, you will hear him singing a very different song very soon."

In his talks with Hussein, Arafat did not deviate fundamentally from his insistence on an independent Palestinian state. As Arafat put it: "We have agreed with our Jordanian brethren that the future relationship between Jordan and Palestine should be confederal. It is a relationship between two nations, each of whom has its special identity within a union and not one state." On the question of Reagan's proposed linkage between Jordan and any future Palestinian entity, Arafat has indicated there should be "a special administrative relationship," the precise nature of which remained purposely vague. This would appear to be an Arafat attempt to satisfy the part of the Reagan plan calling for an association between Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza, while avoiding directly the delicate point of whether any entity would be an independent state, as Arafat wants, or something less as Mr. Reagan has proposed.

A second element in the Hussein-Arafat dialogue which emerged relates to who will represent the Palestinians in any negotiations. Arafat has leaked information that he is disposed to consider two possibilities: an Arab delegation made up of representatives from several Arab countries and a PLO official; or a Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating committee with a revolving chairmanship. Another possibility, less acceptable to the PLO, would be a negotiating team made up of Jordanian and non-PLO Palestinian figures, the latter taking their instructions from the PLO Executive Committee.

On the fundamental question of recognition of Israel, Arafat held tightly to the Fez conference formula, which implied Israeli recognition only ambiguously, and continues to hold out for mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO-which no foreseeable Israeli government is likely to accept. Likewise, he continues to demand total Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories; there is no realistic possibility of getting this from any Israeli government, nor would the United States support total withdrawal.

In the dialogue, Arafat gave no new mandate to Hussein. He did ask the King to explain the PLO view to President Reagan and to report back, and a PLO representative was in close contact with Hussein during his stay in Washington.

Perhaps predictably, Hussein's talks with President Reagan and senior U.S. officials produced no breakthrough on early negotiations. The principal move forward was on the question of the relationship between an ultimate Palestinian entity and Jordan, although there remains a clear difference between Hussein's concept of a West Bank-Gaza self-governing entity subordinate to Jordan, and Arafat's notion of a confederal nexus which provides for separate and equal status between the West and East Banks or two independent states or entities acting independently except in key areas of defense and foreign affairs. But Hussein was not ready yet to commit himself (or the PLO) to fundamental recognition of Israel, and appeared to assume that the PLO itself would take over leadership in the West Bank and Gaza, rather than, as the President's proposal envisages, the Palestinian Arab leaders residing in the territories. Thus, there are major difficulties even on these subjects, and the talks did not get into other crucial problems such as how much territory would be returned, where the borders would be, and the nature of the security arrangements.

As the meetings made clear, there is a long way to go. The Arab position has not reached the point where the U.S. Administration would be faced with the most difficult part of its strategy: either convincing Begin to shift from his present direction toward annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, to a willingness to negotiate a territorial compromise with Jordan; or pursuing an active campaign to help bring about a change of government in Israel.

But diplomacy will continue, and at the end of 1982 the President and Secretary Shultz made it clear that the United States would persevere in efforts to hasten the peace process and get a momentum going. There are a number of things the United States can do to nudge the procedure, but none can be decisive in assuring early success.

The earliest possible agreement on the withdrawal of all extraneous forces from Lebanon would be generally reassuring and give an added measure of confidence and credibility to U.S. diplomacy. The Administration must continue to reiterate its resolve and its categoric opposition both to an independent Palestinian state and to Israeli de facto annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, including its opposition to any further settlements there. Syrian opposition to the Reagan proposals might be eased by holding out the prospect of another Reagan initiative calling for Syrian and Israeli negotiations over the Golan Heights under the aegis of the United States-a proposal that would not necessarily be unwelcome in Jerusalem.

Toward Jordan, a modest, ongoing economic and military assistance program could also help reassure the King, and continuing quiet encouragement of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to be supportive would also be helpful. And toward Israel the United States should avoid a cut-off or reduction of economic and military assistance for the time being at least, since such a change would merely unify all political parties against U.S. policy and weaken substantial political forces and conditions, currently at work in Israel, favorable to a territorial compromise with Jordan if the opportunity develops.

These are the elements of a steady course; there is no realistic alternative.


The events in Lebanon and the differences over the Reagan initiative have strained Israeli-American relations and have been disturbing for many American Jews and the diaspora. Recent public opinion polls reflect a less hostile general American view toward the Arab position than in the past. Among American Jews some of the earlier hesitancy to criticize Begin's policy publicly has been set aside. There is deep anxiety, however, that despite President Reagan's long record of commitment to the state of Israel, America's traditional policy of support for Israel might change. There is pride that a democratic Israel has launched a full scale investigation by a Commission of Inquiry, but worry that the report could erode Israeli's unique moral position in the world. A number of American Jews have been making a distinction between Begin's policies and America's commitment to Israel's security, which has served well both Israeli and American interests. There are disturbing examples, too, of anti-Semitism, which are contemptible and have no place in the drama being played out in the Middle East. At the same time, the majority of Jews worldwide understandably continue to want to avoid getting directly involved in the internal politics of Israel. They strongly prefer to let the leaders of Israel proceed unhindered in the belief they know how to ensure the country's security better than outsiders.

Over the years there have been numerous differences between Israel and the United States, but these have been viewed by both parties as well as the Jewish diaspora as primarily family quarrels which time would help resolve. Indeed, for the most part this has been the case. The nature of the current U.S.-Israeli strains unfortunately has dimensions and perceptions unique in the history of the special U.S.-Israeli relationship.

First, there is a lack of the overall coordinated strategy which marked relations for years. The United States must bear some responsibility for the current state of strained relations, because it has not been as clear and precise as it needs to be in indicating to Israel the areas of agreement and disagreement between the two countries in the complicated situation which exists. The near-exclusive emphasis on strategic consensus early in the Reagan Administration gave Israel the impression that the United States was not too concerned over the stalemated autonomy talks. There has been a tendency to undulate between harsh criticism and undue accommodation toward Begin's policies. This has confused both the Likud and Labor in Israel and tended to confound the Arab world as well.

Second, under the Begin government there has been a pattern of independent actions seen as unduly provocative and insufficiently sensitive to U.S. interests in the area.

Third, Begin's word in Washington currently has diminished credibility. It started with the misunderstanding over whether at Camp David he had committed himself to refrain from additional settlements for only three months or for a longer period, as former President Jimmy Carter insists. It has been magnified over Israel's role in Lebanon. The initial U.S. understanding was that Israel sought to free southern Lebanon from PLO threat. Strains were further intensified when Israeli forces moved into West Beirut, contrary to assurances conveyed to Ambassador Habib and given by the United States to the Arabs if the PLO agreed to leave.

And as press reports began to characterize David as Goliath, some of Israel's staunchest supporters were asking, for the first time, some fundamental questions. Had the Israeli margin of military advantage resulting from enormous U.S. support gone too far? Had it contributed to a well coordinated Israeli-American strategy or encouraged Israel in a more independent course? Was a myth developing in Israel that it could ultimately go it alone, that the link between Israel's security and the United States could be loosened, and that the survival of Israel could be independently assured without full access to U.S. and Western technology, credits, and aid over the next quarter-century?

By the same token, as the vividness of the war in Lebanon receded and the emotionalism ebbed, there has developed an appreciation in the United States that the changes in the area following the Israeli military action in Lebanon have brought new opportunities for U.S. diplomacy and for the Lebanese. There is keen awareness that the anguish in Israel over the Christian massacres in Lebanon is genuine and perhaps greater than anywhere else. There is understanding that Israel itself will determine democratically what responsibility its leaders share, that America's commitment to Israeli security is in the mutual interest of both, and that the Reagan Administration is friendly and sympathetic, with no threats having been made to reduce or end essential assistance.

Nonetheless, the danger signs are apparent in Israeli-American relations. The sounds are only in the muted and faint background decibels in Washington. It is in the mutual interest of both Israel and the United States to make an unprecedented effort to assure that a pattern of understanding and cooperation is reestablished. Strains in relations could deteriorate into a U.S.-Israeli confrontation undermining the interests of both.


Developments in the area this past year have once again confirmed the centrality of the U.S. role as the only power acceptable to both sides. The strength of America's position in the Middle East and Gulf is based primarily on its capacity and ability to produce positive political results. The development and maintenance of a credible military presence there is a necessary bulwark for indispensable U.S. diplomacy, not a substitute for it.

In Lebanon it is U.S. diplomacy that must produce in 1983 agreement on withdrawal of all extraneous forces. It is U.S. support which is the key in helping the central authorities to develop an effective armed force that can eventually maintain internal security on its own in an environment of greater confidence, which only the Lebanese themselves can produce. It is U.S. economic support, as modest as it is apt to be, that must help rebuild the country. And, above all, there is continuing reliance on U.S. diplomacy to help calm matters if there is a recrudescence of violence.

U.S. options are limited in relation to the Iran-Iraq war, but the necessary wait-and-see posture at least has the virtue of not foreclosing future opportunities as changes will inevitably occur in both countries. In the meantime, U.S. bilateral assurances to Saudi Arabia are critical, as is continuing support for closer Egyptian-Saudi ties as the most effective intraregional counterpoise to Khomeini's ambitions in the Gulf.

On Afghanistan, continuing U.S. insistence that the conditions laid down in three U.N. General Assembly resolutions-total Soviet withdrawal, Afghan self-determination, and real nonalignment-be met is a sensible policy. Increased U.S.-Pakistan strategic cooperation is necessary, but the United States should continue to urge Zia to ease his internal situation. At the same time there is need to recognize that India is the strongest regional power in the subcontinent, and it would be desirable for the United States to deepen the dialogue with India as a follow-up to President Reagan's discussions with Prime Minister Indira Ghandi in July 1982, if only to assure India that aid to Pakistan is not directed at it, nor is the United States seeking to fuel historic Islamabad-Delhi suspicions and animosities.

The overriding immediate need is for the United States to press for early progress in resolving the current Palestinian phase of the Arab-Israeli dispute in the changed, more favorable conditions and environment following the war in Lebanon. Time is an important factor if diplomacy is not to be dwarfed. President Sadat was fond of saying, "all the cards are in your favor." The United States faces another paramount test as to whether the power and influence it can bring to bear is commensurate with its interests and responsibilities.

Events in this past year have illuminated boldly the disparity in the respective roles of Washington and Moscow in the area. Moscow did less than in any previous Arab-Israeli war. Its activity was largely tangential: an exchange of letters between Brezhnev and Reagan; political support of Arab moves at the United Nations, which expectedly were ineffective in influencing the course of events in Lebanon; resupply of Syria after it had suffered huge losses and had agreed to a cease-fire; an insistence with its Syrian ally that the problem was Syrian pilots and Israeli manpower superiority, not faulty Soviet equipment; willingness to reaffirm its commitment to Syria's defense under the Friendship Treaty, but no go ahead to Assad to escalate the Lebanese conflict; and only verbal support to Arafat and the Palestinians once Begin made it clear the Israeli target was Beirut and the PLO, not Damascus.

There were many reasons for Moscow's reticence. It has come to view the Middle East and Gulf as unstable, unpredictable, and an unreliable environment for pressing Soviet interests; a divided Arab world could no longer be used as the Soviets tried to do earlier, in a Nasser-led radical nationalist Middle East pointedly directed at U.S. and Western interests; the Israeli military superiority in Lebanon was manifest at the outset; Arab leaders failed to support the Palestinians; oil-producing Arab nations are oriented to the West economically and today can act more independently of Soviet influence than in the past; the anti-Soviet orientation of Khomeini is a factor; there is also reduced Soviet influence in Iraq, and Moscow finds itself in an uncomfortable position between Baghdad and Tehran and Damascus; there is concern that Assad of Syria might not survive; and there is suspicion in the Muslim world resulting from the continuing Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

There are other major reasons for Soviet inaction in the area which emanate from its own internal situation. While during the Brezhnev era the U.S.S.R. achieved nuclear parity with the United States and a better standard of living for its citizens, today the Soviet orbit is in acute difficulty-a society of low motivation with vital sectors of its economy in serious trouble, a seed of democracy in Poland, a restive Eastern Europe, a fundamental cleavage with communist China, and a drain in Afghanistan and Cuba-these problems preoccupied Brezhnev and face the successor leadership under Communist Party General Secretary Yuri Andropov.

The maintenance of the relatively favorable position of the United States in Mideast diplomacy will depend ultimately on whether both sides can be brought to the negotiating table, concentrating on the Palestinian issue realistically, and whether Washington can produce positive political results. The Arabs in particular know the Soviets can help them make war, but only the United States can help them make peace. The Soviets are unlikely to expend much prestige and resources in the near term in the area, and Andropov's prime focus is to prevent U.S. deployment of its cruise missiles and Pershing II's in Western Europe, and slow down America's defense buildup.

For the time being, the Soviets are more apt to limit themselves primarily to supporting the leaderships in the Middle East friendly to them. The U.S.S.R. will continue to support publicly the position taken by the Arabs at Fez, and downgrade the Reagan proposals, but will not be effective in influencing Hussein away from the new U.S. diplomatic direction.

Historical perspective is important. De Gaulle once said diplomacy can only alleviate, not solve. Cease-fires alleviate, peace solves. For over 30 years there was no recognition, no contact, no negotiations, no progress on the Arab-Israeli dispute. In the short time span of the last eight years, however, U.S. diplomacy has led to three disengagement agreements, the Egyptian-Israeli treaty, and Camp David. Now it is being tested anew in Lebanon and on the Palestinian issue. The characteristic of Mideast diplomacy is that it has moved on a step-by-step basis from the difficult to the more difficult.

American activism in the peace process has a deterrent effect on violence in the area. American realism and optimism as an operational principle is a necessary psychological antidote to pessimism, despair, frustration and fear, and America's determined and persistent involvement and leadership is indispensable. The parties cannot do it by themselves.

The object has to be to make irreversible the momentum and force for peace in the area. Nobody can be sure this is realistically achievable. It is worth the continuing try, if for no reason other than there is no better alternative.

2 See Yitzhak Shamir, "Israel's Role in a Changing Middle East," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1982, p. 791.



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  • Joseph J. Sisco, currently a partner in Sisco Associates, a management consultant firm in Washington, was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 1974 to 1976, Assistant Secretary for Near East and South Asian Affairs from 1968 to 1974, and Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs from 1964 to 1968.
  • More By Joseph J. Sisco