Go Slow on Crimea
Why Ukraine Should Not Rush to Retake the Peninsula
The purpose of recent American diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East is simply stated. It is to stop the fighting and bring the peace effort back to the point, now nearly three years ago, when Ambassador Gunnar Jarring was setting out on his mission to help bring about an agreed Arab-Israeli settlement on the basis of a unanimous U.N. resolution. It is a measure of the deterioration since that time that these modest proposals, the results of which are uncertain as these lines are written, have generated optimism by their initial success in breaking the fixed pattern of reliance on force alone. For they came at a time of gloom over the prospects for settlement and of alarm over military events which could bring major Soviet gains or grave risk of war. Participation of Soviet pilots and missile crews in military operations had already limited Israel's mastery of the skies over Egypt and might in time shift the balance of power which now favors Israel. Once that balance is upset, President Nixon has said, the United States "will do what is necessary" to restore it.
This is, many have said, a time for urgent American decision if we are to avoid bolder Soviet moves and a worse crisis later, or a desperate Israeli decision to launch a preventive war with incalculable consequences. In the background looms Israel's actual or potential atomic capability, not to be ignored even if it bears a "last resort" label. Precipitate action spurred by a sense of crisis may serve neither peace nor the national interest. But is the present initiative for Arab-Israeli negotiations enough? Weighing policies in the present atmosphere of mixed hope and alarm requires at the very least a perspective relating the past to the future.
Ever since the war of 1948 in Palestine there has been no peace between the Arab states and Israel, so it should be no surprise if peace cannot be found now. At no time have the Arab governments been able, even under the shock of defeat, to bring themselves to the point of talking directly with Israel. At no time has Israel been willing to make concessions which might induce the Arabs to make the peace that Israel wants. Each side has chosen to interpret the ambiguous U.N. resolution of November 1967 in accordance with its own views. So also in their gingerly acceptance of U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers' proposals made last June the U.A.R., Jordan and Israel took care not to retreat from basic positions which they have long preferred to the political risks lurking in substantive concessions for the sake of compromise.
Meanwhile, in the absence of a peace, Israel finds retention of the territories conquered in the 1967 war a military necessity, wholly aside from considerations of their political future. Abdel Nasser holds a door open to political settlement but will not give up recourse to force unless he finds that the kind of settlement he wants, including full satisfaction on Israeli withdrawal, can be won by other means. The more radical Arabs of Syria, Iraq and the Palestinian organizations will be looking for ways to discredit not only the effort for peace through diplomacy but also any Arab leader who goes along with it.
Thus the attempt to get a negotiated political settlement in the near future, encouraging as the initial indications may be, will probably have but an outside chance of success. Perhaps it makes more sense to concentrate on more immediate measures to contain the conflict and reduce the danger of further Soviet gains. In any case it will be necessary to have a sound estimate of the prospects for both sides, and of the aims and policies of the Soviet Union.
Israel's leaders count on the continuing success of their present strategy. If the Arab states will not negotiate peace, then let them suffer the consequences of the absence of peace. Israel's margin of military superiority, so runs the argument, can be maintained and even increased because the gap between Israeli and Arab technical proficiency will grow with time; whatever the quantity and type of weapons obtained by the Arabs, it will make no difference because they will not know how to make proper use of them. The Israeli reply to the question of when the Arabs may be able to reverse the military balance is a confident "Never."
This strategy depends for success, however, on factors outside Israel's control. First, Israel must be able to replace its advanced equipment, especially aircraft, and for the foreseeable future it must get such items from abroad, mainly from the United States. Second, introduction of Soviet combat forces into the U.A.R. or other Arab states can cut down Israel's margin of superiority. Israeli strategy, accordingly, must rely heavily on American support both to retain its superiority over Arab enemies and to counterbalance the weight of Soviet intervention.
In the longer view, even if the Arabs prove unable to threaten Israel's security or to win back the lost territories, other serious questions will pose themselves for Israel. The prospect of unending war will compel spending a large percentage of resources for military purposes, a strain that will distort the economy and weigh heavily on the population. It may be a cliché to say that Israel will become a garrison state, but there is little doubt that its citizen army will be increasingly sacrificing civilian pursuits in favor of training for and waging war; that the demand for unity and full popular support for the nation in time of peril will limit the free atmosphere necessary to the working of the democratic political system; and that the great stress on military considerations will tend to inflate the power of those leaders who have the responsibility for the country's military security.
More serious for Israel, perhaps, will be the problem of handling the Palestinian Arabs now under its control in the occupied territories, plus predictable new difficulties in dealing with its old Arab minority. Caught between the Israeli authorities and the militant fedayeen, the Arab inhabitants are likely to be pushed into resistance, with the result that the cycle of violence and reprisal within the occupied territories will match the cycle of military operations across the borders. Even if Israel can control the Arabs fairly well by security measures, their mere presence under its jurisdiction will constitute a threat to the Israeli national state by the weight of their growing numbers. Unless they are allowed self- determination through Israeli withdrawal, Israel's choice lies between incorporating them into its political and social life or keeping them under control as a subject people. Neither choice is without grave forebodings for Israel's future.
Israel faces another dangerous prospect-increasing international isolation. Some of the admiration and goodwill in the world community gained at the time of its spectacular military victory under threat of extinction is no longer extended to a state which has taken on the role of a conquering and occupying power. Israel's uncoöperative and often contemptuous attitude toward the United Nations and its reluctance to coöperate with outside powers seeking ways to move toward a political settlement have disillusioned and alienated public opinion in the West. Even in the United States, the one power on which Israel depends, enthusiasm for its cause has cooled outside the American Jewish community. Despite the heavy support for Israel in the Senate, the general mood of turning away from foreign involvements, in the popular reaction against the Indochina war, makes no exception for the Middle East.
All these factors, which are known to Israel's leaders and people, have had but slight effect on their current policies. They are either given an optimistic interpretation or pushed aside as not convenient to talk about at the present time of struggle. The few who have opposed the hard official line may some day win more adherents to their thesis that total dependence on force as the way to surmount growing dangers and reach the ultimate goal of peace with the Arabs is self-defeating, and that the very process of unending war is changing the character of Israeli society in directions far from its original concepts. The recent flurry over Nahum Goldmann, whose differing approach to Israel's future was made manifest in these pages[i] and in his plan for a dialogue with Nasser, raised the issue of the merits of conciliation at a time when Israel has considerable bargaining power. But it was U.S. diplomacy, rather than a change of heart in Jerusalem, that brought acceptance of the Rogers proposals.
That the future prospects for Israel are clouded with doubt does not mean that Arab prospects are correspondingly bright. Time is not working for anybody. The theory that Arab numbers, economic growth and increasing competence in the use of arms will eventually overwhelm Israel has no real substance, at least not in this generation. If Arab leaders see a future more favorable than the bleak short-term outlook, that is because they persist in coloring the future with hopes and illusions.
The Arab states directly involved in the conflict are under pressure from militant Palestinians and from their own public opinion (which they did much to create) to look to force rather than conciliation. They are reluctant or unwilling to establish any durable ceasefire though they get the worst of the fighting. They concentrate their thoughts and resources on the armed struggle at the expense of many things which need to be done at home. The result is that they fail in both areas. King Hussein in Jordan and the government of Lebanon are unable to control the Palestinian fedayeen movements, with which they must negotiate as with sovereign powers. Even Nasser, though not directly threatened by the fedayeen, feels pressure to carry on the fight because he has clung to the role of leader of the Arab world.
What we are likely to see among the Arabs as time goes on is a turning of the forces of frustration and violence inward, into internal revolutions and intensification of inter-Arab strife. New governments appearing on the scene cannot be expected to be more moderate than those they replace. Certainly they will not be in Jordan and Lebanon if present trends continue. In Syria and Iraq it is established practice that each new revolutionary government promises ever more intense prosecution of the struggle against Israel. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait cannot be regarded as immune to these trends, especially after what has happened in Sudan and Libya. Their oil wealth and their economic relations with the West have given them a relatively high level of prosperity, and their financial support of the U.A.R. and Jordan and the Palestinian fedayeen may give them some insurance against radical forces, but over time they are bound to be vulnerable for the same reasons.
The Palestinian resistance organizations, judging by their methods and their ultimate aims, will only magnify the difficulties and increase the tension within the Arab world. The more radical of them are working to "liberate" not only Palestine from Zionism but Arab countries from their "reactionary" régimes, including Nasser's. These organizations feel they have nothing to lose from violence and turmoil; they gain encouragement from the continuing impotence of Arab governments and from increasing unrest among the Arabs under Israel's control.
It is often said that only the Palestinian Arabs and the Israeli can settle the Palestine problem, and this proposition may ultimately prove true. If a binational or federal solution was at least a possibility before 1948, however, it appears to have been buried under the events of the intervening years. Recently, similar ideas have been discussed in Israel and among Arab intellectuals in places like Tunis and Beirut. But the only effective leadership the Palestinian Arabs have lies in the fedayeen organizations. Probably it would take a series of cataclysmic events to make possible a real search on both sides for a basis for compromise. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Arabs have proved that they exist as a nation, or as a branch of the Arab nation, which will have to be taken into account by the Arab governments, by Israel, and by outside powers.
To sum up the Arabs' general plight, while they may take comfort in contemplating Israel's present and potential difficulties, they cannot expect alone to defeat Israel. So long as they cannot gain equality of military capability but continue to base policies on the illusion of doing so, they cannot break out of the cycle of thought and action which is self- destructive as well as inimical to reconciliation and peace. Probably it will take positive action on the part of others stronger and less tortured than themselves-say Israel, or the international community, or the Soviet Union-to turn them in more constructive directions. Of these the Soviet Union, which has fed Arab hopes but also at times restrained them, may have the crucial role to play.
The Soviet role in the Middle East is indeed the question of the day. The commitment of Soviet combat personnel to the fighting in Egypt came as a rude shock to the United States. Coming on top of the build-up of Soviet naval power in the Mediterranean, the massive arms deliveries to Nasser, the sending of military advisers in the thousands to the U.A.R. and Syria, the use of naval facilities in those two countries and perhaps in Algeria, and the signs of Soviet interest in the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean, it added force to the arguments of those who had been pointing to those events as proof of a firm Soviet strategy to dominate the Middle East and as signs of forthcoming disaster for the United States and Western Europe if they did not wake up.
The remedies proposed range from massive aid to Israel, in order to keep the Arabs and Soviets at bay, to the virtual abandonment of Israel, in order to preserve and regain positions in the Arab world rapidly falling into Soviet hands. Mr. George W. Ball has advocated a showdown with the Soviet Union not unlike the Cuban affair of 1962, to call a halt to their recklessness and compel the withdrawal of their combat units from Egypt.[ii] Israeli advocacy and inspired stories from Washington have harped on the same theme. Any proposals for American policy, particularly such drastic ones as these, should rest, of course, on the best estimate we can make of Soviet policies.
After the Six Day War, Moscow made the decision to restore its shaken position in the Arab world by rearming the U.A.R., Syria and Iraq, and by giving all-out political and diplomatic support to the Arab campaign for the unconditional withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories. The main purpose behind that decision was the same that lay behind Soviet policy before 1967: to build a political base for influence in the Arab world and for the growth of Soviet power in the Middle East, taking advantage of the sapping effect of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the American position there. Soviet willingness to see a political settlement, as evidenced by support of the U.N. resolution of November 1967, by participation in later negotiations with the Western powers, and by many public statements, should be interpreted in the light of that purpose. The Soviet leaders have ideas of their own on what a reasonable settlement would be and are willing to talk about details but not to press on the Arab states (and particularly on Nasser) terms which the latter find objectionable. It is significant that Soviet terms include the two vital points of Israeli withdrawal and Arab acceptance of Israel's existence, but the withdrawal must be total and the nature of the acceptance is left vague.
Moscow's attitudes toward the Palestinian fedayeen organizations expose a Soviet dilemma. When the fedayeen leapt into the spotlight through raids and bombings and their growing influence in Arab countries, the Soviets gave them public praise but clearly preferred to see them under the control of Arab governments rather than acting as a freewheeling force unconcerned with Soviet interests and more inclined to look to Peking than to Moscow, More recently they have given greater recognition to the fedayeen movements, talked of support, established communication with some of their leaders, and may be dealing with them through communist channels, but they have neither established a program of direct arms aid nor backed the political aim of destroying the state of Israel. The ambivalence remains. The Soviet Union is conservative in wishing to base its influence on reasonably stable Arab governments rather than risk entanglement in the revolutionary and factional struggles of the unpredictable Palestinians. But it does not want to be left behind if the latter carve out for themselves a significant role in determining the Arab future.
For the Soviets the main front in the Middle East is the battle-line between the U.A.R. and Israel; that is one point on which their view is in accord with Israel's. The entire Soviet position in the region rests on the U.A.R. and the Nasser régime. Thus in the situation of last spring when Israeli aircraft were ranging at will over Egyptian territory, bombing within a few miles of Cairo, the Soviet leaders on receiving Nasser's desperate plea must have felt they had no alternative to use of their own combat units to prevent his total humiliation and possible fall. Was this an essentially defensive move to stabilize a worsening situation or the first of a number of moves aimed at shifting the military balance, turning the tide of war against Israel, and forcing the United States out of the Middle East? Their going along with the ceasefire proposal is no solid proof either way.
Soviet policy since 1967 has been successful in that Soviet influence is stronger than ever in the U.A.R. and has made inroads in surrounding Arab countries, all without great risk of a crisis or threat of war with the United States. Yet the future holds no assurance that events will move only in that same direction and at no greater risk. The Soviets have used the Arabs but have also been used by them, and have come to depend on them. They have made heavy political and economic investments in Egypt, in Syria and Iraq, and in radical and socialist elements in general. They do not, however, dominate any Arab state. They have to negotiate with Abdel Nasser, not just give him orders. They cannot control the upheavals of Arab politics; they cannot be sure that pro-Soviet régimes or individuals will stay in power; they cannot hope for immunity from the forces of Arab nationalism which can assert themselves against Russia as they have against the West; they may find themselves blamed for economic failures despite the aid they have provided. They may also see their involvement gradually, almost unwittingly, deepened to the point of placing them at the mercy of decisions made not in Moscow but in Jerusalem or Cairo. Above all, they do not wish to be faced with the dilemmas another all-out Arab-Israeli war would pose.
Soviet foreign policy, moreover, does not exist in isolated geographic compartments. The Middle East is not the center of aspirations of the Soviet Union, to borrow the language of the abortive Nazi-Soviet negotiations of 1940 often cited to prove that it is. It is important for security reasons, being located on Russia's doorstep, and as a route to the expansion of military and political influence to the regions beyond. But the Soviet régime throughout its history has been more vitally concerned with Europe and East Asia. It would not be likely to engage its power in the Middle East without regard to aims, risks, and possible setbacks on those other two fronts, any more than it would do so without regard to crucial aspects of the relationship with the United States.
As yet we have seen no specific evidence to the effect that the dispute with China or events in Europe or the status of relations with the United States on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) or Southeast Asia have put limits on Soviet activity in the Middle East. Yet such developments as a heightening of the conflict with China, a new challenge to Soviet authority in Eastern Europe, or a crisis with the West over Berlin should lead to greater caution in Soviet Middle East policy. At the least the need for a secure rear in coping with China weighs heavily in Kremlin thinking.
The Soviet leadership will change and Soviet policy in the Middle East will not be immune to change. Though we cannot predict such matters as the factional line-ups, the record of the past justifies the following conclusions on how Soviet political leaders have seen and probably will continue to see the situation in the Middle East: (a) they will take opportunities, and even make some, to reduce American positions and influence, and will push ahead with the expansion of their naval presence in the region and their political footholds in Arab countries; (b) they will play the game of competition, however, in the knowledge that they have neither local military superiority nor overall strategic superiority; (c) they will be sensitive to American moves which affect the local balance and the relative positions of the two great powers; and (d) while polarization of alignments has brought them benefits, they are wary of its passing the point where they are deprived of freedom of choice, and they will continually reassess their support and commitments to the Arabs in the light of Soviet rather than Arab interests.
At a time of apparent American uncertainty the Soviet leaders may not be inclined to show caution until events persuade them to do so. But it is hard to see any absolutes in Soviet policy-any imperatives derived from Leninism or the heritage of the tsars-driving them to the goal of domination of the Middle East. They have a sounder sense of their own limitations in coping with Middle Eastern nations and with rival powers than do observers in the United States who speak of imminent Soviet mastery of the Mediterranean, of a joint Soviet-Arab assault on Israel to destroy its independence, of the danger of Soviet control of all the oil of the Middle East and North Africa, and of Soviet domination of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean once the Suez Canal is reopened. Could the Soviets control the Arab world after a victory over Israel any more than they control it today? We should not underestimate Soviet gains, actual and potential, but the picture of a Middle East in which Turkey, Iran and all the Arab states are serving as docile instruments of the U.S.S.R., with no other power on the horizon, belongs in the realm of fantasy.
Putting the Soviet threat into realistic perspective does not mean that the present situation is not full of danger or that the United States can afford a policy of complacency or indifference. The present moment, because of the bold Soviet move in using its own combat forces in Egypt, requires a firmness and a specificity of policy which the United States has not previously shown. But it also requires a long-range approach in which current moves and proposals will logically fit.
First come the elements of a declaratory policy, points which the United States should put on the record as its views and positions for the future peace and security of the region. They have to do with the framework of an Arab-Israeli settlement, establishing an American position that will be there for both sides and for the world to see. It may seem paradoxical to admit that an early settlement is not likely and then in the same breath propose that the principles of a sound settlement guide our current policies, but it is the only way to avoid foreclosing the future and to take account of our interests on both sides. Some major points have been put forward in the Rogers speech of December 9, 1969, and elsewhere. With due regard to the state of negotiations under Jarring's auspices, they should be completed by new statements so that the picture would look something like this:
Arab acceptance of Israel as a sovereign state and Israeli withdrawal to agreed state frontiers described below, set forth in binding obligations (the two points being inseparably linked but with some flexibility in timing to make it easier for both sides to carry them out).
State frontiers to be the lines of June 4, 1967, with certain specific exceptions: minor adjustments in the border between Israel and the West Bank (whether the latter is Jordan or Arab Palestine); special international status for East Jerusalem, the detailed legal and other aspects of which would be left to consideration among the many parties concerned; special status for the Gaza Strip (e.g. U.N. administration) for a period of about 10 years; the Golan Heights to be returned to Syria, but only after Syrian acceptance of the U.N. resolution of November 1967 and of the other points of settlement.
Demilitarized zones on both sides of the frontiers, including total de- militarization of the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sharm-el-Sheikh area; U.N. observers and peacekeeping forces in all demilitarized zones, subject to withdrawal only with the consent of the Security Council.
Acceptance of Israel's right to navigate the Suez Canal and the Strait of Tiran on a basis of equality with other states.
Recognition of the right of the Arab people of Palestine to existence as a nation and to compensation for their privations as refugees, within the framework of a peace settlement as outlined here, but with no unlimited right of return to Israel.
International guarantees of the settlement, within the framework of which there would be a U.S. guarantee to Israel.
By taking the role of advocate of a fair settlement not tied to either side and obviously not based on tactical considerations, the United States would be presenting to Israel, the Arabs and the Soviet Union an alternative to their present policies. Let these terms sink into the minds of the respective leaderships and of those in their societies who may make themselves heard in the future. The vital points among the terms are the first and the last. The first gives us the best basis for decisions, policies and actions on such specific issues as cooling off the conflict, arms deliveries to the parties, and forward movement on disputed questions such as the Arab refugees. The last point stresses the international framework necessary to any settlement, including the close involvement of the United Nations as has been the case since 1947; and the added factor, an American guarantee, may be the one thing that would make possible Israel's acceptance.
So far as an approach to the Arabs is concerned, America has less chance of influencing them than any of the other parties, but a primary task is to keep in communication with them. It must approach them against the background of a position on Israeli withdrawal which is clear, is not tied to a set of known or unknown Israeli conditions and procedures, and depends only on explicit Arab acceptance of Israel. That last point is the one which Arab governments have found so difficult to swallow, although they admit they have accepted the existence of Israel de facto since 1949. Some flexibility on how their formal acceptance is expressed is possible, but there is no getting around the basic requirement. On the other side of the equation, the U.S. position on Israeli withdrawal should help put to rest Arab charges and fears concerning past or future American support of Israeli expansion. Except for areas with special international status, Arab rights to all territories conquered in 1967 would be accepted; the "minor adjustments" would be reciprocal concessions to straighten the line as at Latrun, not cession of large pieces of territory on grounds of military security. And the United States should leave no doubt, while the question of withdrawal is pending, of its total opposition to any extension of Israeli occupation into territory beyond the present ceasefire lines.
These considerations will make no impression on Palestinian resistance leaders and others dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel. Yet it is important to see that the message gets to them and to all Palestinian Arabs, especially those living in the occupied territories. The message is a double one, half encouraging and half limiting: the United States recognizes their right to self-expression as a people, but it does not accept the proposition of the disappearance of Israel. The implication is that the Palestinian Arabs are entitled to find their future on that part of the territory of Palestine which was not part of Israel before the war of 1967.
While declarations will not present the Arabs with the fact of Israeli withdrawal, such a clarification of its position might enable the United States to widen and deepen its contacts in the Arab world and to discuss such matters as economic coöperation without raising the charge that it is trying to bribe the Arabs into acceptance of Israel's occupation or Israel's terms for peace. It is a way of giving Arab governments which may be looking for it some counterweight to overdependence on the Soviet Union.
The danger is that revolutionary turmoil and general frustration will deny to any outside power the ability to control the situation, with the result that Arab irresponsibility will provoke heavy use of Israeli force and possible further outside intervention. We will not gain by encouraging strife or mixing into inter-Arab struggles, such as by backing the conservative Arab régimes against the radicals, a strategy which has been tried and found wanting before. It is not in our interest to see the Arab countries, including those whose governments now denounce us, sink into disorder. They should know that American coöperation toward a fair settlement and in coping with economic ills will be available to Arab leadership prepared to face up to those problems.
If the United States has to show the Arabs it is not 100 percent on the Israeli side, it also has to get the same point across in Israel. Israel's leaders regard the Arab governments (especially Nasser's) and the Soviet Union as pursuing a common policy aimed at undermining and probably destroying the security and even the existence of the Israeli state. Feeling the need of American support, they have an interest in polarization of the conflict, so that Israel and the United States stand on one side opposing the Arabs and Russia on the other; not wanting America to fight but merely to hold the ring. A strong case can be and has been made that this country can best serve peace and its own interests by accepting that situation as reality, like it or not, and providing Israel with the arms it needs to keep its superiority.
The main points of the argument are the following: it is hopeless to try to appease the Arabs or the Soviets, both of whom are trying to get us to put pressure on Israel to make concessions, which will only be followed by more pressure for further concessions; Israel is capable of keeping the present favorable balance and can continue to do so with American arms aid; in playing this role Israel blocks the U.S.S.R. and its Arab clients from expanding their power and dominating the Middle East, while it encourages pro-Western states like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia to hold their own; Israel is friendly to the United States and a democracy, thus a stronger reed to rely on than the Arab states are for anybody.
Such a policy, however, has pitfalls which far outweigh its possible advantages; sharp polarization of the conflict, leaving the Soviets little choice but further commitment and escalation on the Arab side; loss of control over decisions which could bring us to the brink of war; setbacks to the chances for agreement with the U.S.S.R. on arms limitation and other matters; loss of positions, interests and contacts throughout the Arab world; increasing international isolation on this issue and alienation from NATO partners, who are disturbed about Soviet penetration in the Mediterranean and Middle East but do not see all-out support of Israel as the answer to it.
Not that past policy is an infallible guide to the requirements of the future, but undivided support for one side in the conflict, especially in a phase of warfare of indefinite duration, would be a departure from the past quarter-century of American policy. It would forsake the approach not only of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 and the Eisenhower-Dulles "impartiality," but also that of 1967-68 when we took Israel's side against those insisting on unconditional return to the status quo, taking it as a means of promoting a more durable settlement, not of establishing an alignment with Israel to protect its gains.
The crucial points of American policy toward Israel have to do with what kind of support and for what purpose. There is no denying that a balance exists in the Middle East in which Israel's power plays a part. The fact that a state friendly to the United States holds military superiority over states which have become clients of the Soviet Union has left us better off than if the balance had been reversed. Moreover, the United States has an interest in-some would say a commitment to-the independence of Israel, and if the latter's military position deteriorates, we may be confronted at a later time with desperate decisions on military intervention to rescue Israel which could have been avoided by timely support to enable the Israeli to hold their own. Faced by these factors and also by those counseling against a one-sided policy, the United States has not been sure of the principles and standards against which to measure its actions.
The soundest guidelines for that purpose are two: first, to keep in the forefront of thinking the basis on which a peaceful settlement in the Middle East must rest; and second, to move the level of military conflict downward and not upward. Thus, the United States will continue to be concerned about Israel's security, but it need not and should not give uncritical support to whatever Israel does to maintain it. Such actions as bombing close to Cairo or Damascus or heavy raids into Lebanon and Jordan achieved little other than increased Arab hostility, greater Soviet involvement, and alienation of world opinion. We are in a false position if we do not differentiate between support for Israel's survival and support for its existing strategy, between the need for a durable settlement and support of policies which by freezing the status quo make it impossible.
If the United States wishes to discourage Israel from a strategy aimed only at keeping existing advantages while trying to force the Arabs into making peace, which is but a vain hope, it has to be discriminating in its decisions on the supply of weapons. To fill Israel's periodic requests merely perpetuates a situation in which Israel finds no reason to modify its political line or its military strategy; the result is to bring the Soviets into the field to redress the balance, and that in turn brings Israeli requests for more effective weapons to contend with the Russians as well as the Arabs. This cycle of escalation must be stopped short of disaster. To check it requires American influence and pressure on the Russians and the Arabs, to the degree it can be exercised, but also influence on Israel, which can be exerted through policy on requests for arms. The United States can make some different choices of weapons to be made available: for example, fewer Phantoms and more shorter-range aircraft, antiaircraft missiles, and equipment for defense on the ground. It has already begun to relate decisions on arms requests to its own estimates, rather than Israel's, of the military balance in the area. There is no reason not to relate them to general policy considerations as well.
Similar considerations apply to the effectiveness of a ceasefire. It would certainly be desirable if the opposing forces will hold their fire and cool off a bit. But a fundamental difficulty confronts any attempt to build a stable situation or a peacekeeping structure on the inviolability of the ceasefire lines. Agreement to stop the fighting on the basis of the status quo, unless there are signs of progress in the peace talks, is bound to appear to the Arabs as a confirmation of Israel's presence in the occupied territories for an indefinite period. The sound argument to be made to them is not to accept formal stabilization of the status quo, but to accept the existence of Israel as the only way they can get back the occupied territories.
On the political side, matching a shift to a more defensive military strategy, a turn in the direction of Israel's policy could make a great contribution to the chances for settlement. It could begin with an indication of willingness to withdraw from the occupied territories (with certain specific exceptions and safeguards such as those mentioned above), on condition of formal recognition and acceptance of Israel by the Arab states. Israeli attitudes to date should leave us in no doubt as to the reception such a suggestion from the United States would have in Jerusalem. But if our government can take the inevitable domestic pressure, Israel would surely have to take full account of American views whatever they may be. More important in the longer run may be a growing discussion in Israel itself about the wisdom of the current hard-line policies.
In its approach to Israel the United States must take full account of Israel's deep attachment to self-reliance and its lack of faith in the international community when it comes to security and survival. Experiences with armistice arrangements and with the United Nations have been totally disillusioning to Israel, and the crises of 1956-57 and of 1967 have left its leaders highly skeptical of counting on the United States. That is why they put such value on the present "strategic frontiers," even though it seems to others that Israel has less security now than it had with the old pre-1967 borders. And that is why this country, in urging a settlement in which Israel would go back roughly to the old borders, should be prepared to extend a treaty guarantee to defend Israel's independence and integrity within those borders. Neither a blanket guarantee of the settlement by the U.N. Security Council nor an elaborate U.N. peacekeeping structure, both of which are necessary and desirable, would be sufficient. The U.S. government has long considered itself to have a moral guarantee to Israel's independent existence. It is quite likely that this vague commitment carries a greater risk of dangerous military involvement than would a solemn specific obligation clear to Israeli, to Arabs, and to Russians alike.
These considerations on dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict are obviously pertinent to the larger question of the threat to American security from the intrusion of Soviet power into the Middle East, and to the thesis that we are faced with a possible shift in the global balance of power, perhaps even a 1962 Cuban crisis in reverse. The United States has three kinds of objectives in dealing with the Soviets in the Middle East. One is to limit the growth of their power and keep a balance which prevents their dominance. The second is to limit their participation in the Arab- Israeli conflict so that it does not threaten Israel's independence or dangerously widen the war. The third is to preserve the channel for negotiation and the search for areas of agreement. We should not put aside any of these objectives.
It is a natural reaction to see in Soviet military moves proof that the era of negotiation is over and the era of confrontation has begun, and to reply with positive action in order to preserve or right the balance. But it seems wiser to continue the attempts to establish priority for the common interest in avoiding wider war. The aim should be to combine warnings of what the United States cannot tolerate-Soviet participation in the war on the Arab side to defeat and destroy the state of Israel-with efforts to create a pattern of restraint by both powers that will temper the extreme aims of the local disputants.
We know that the Soviet Union has not filled Nasser's every request, just as the United States has limited its support of Israel. The Soviet government says that it favors a political settlement and that it accepts Israel's right to exist. That position should continue to be tested and not summarily dismissed. If the main difference between Soviet and U.S. positions lies in the exceptions and conditions surrounding Israeli withdrawal, that surely is a reasonable subject for discussion rather than a "breaking point." If it is necessary to give the Kremlin a sign of American seriousness and determination, the way to do it is not by directly pushing up the level of the Middle East war by large new deliveries of arms to Israel, but through independent and joint moves to strengthen American and NATO positions in nearby areas such as southern Europe, the Mediterranean, Turkey and the Indian Ocean. And Turkey, incidentally, holds the power to block the Straits to Soviet ships.
When we consider what to do to hold down the fighting if the ceasefire runs out or fails, the limits of diplomacy are obvious unless the two powers are able and willing to put pressure on the belligerents. If the United States can show that its attempts to persuade Israel are serious and will have some effect, it can argue strongly to the Soviets that reciprocal moderation must come from the Arab and the Soviet side; that there is no call for the use of Soviet combat personnel in defense of central Egypt when Israel has abandoned its attacks there; and that the restriction of the warfare in the Suez Canal area to essentially defensive operations, with no decisive struggle for control of the air and no attempt by either side to cross the Canal in force, will keep the situation tolerable for both great powers and for the disputants as efforts are made to move further toward political settlement No formal agreement is necessary for such an understanding. Indeed, limitation of fighting by tacit agreement of all concerned may be more effective than a formally accepted ceasefire, which is almost bound to be violated by one side and then by the other amid general recrimination.
If and as negotiations go forward on ways of controlling and containing the conflict, the United States can buttress its arguments for Soviet disengagement by continuing to take the line that both powers should follow a policy of restraint in the supply of weapons, either by agreement or by reciprocal unilateral action. Past efforts to get Moscow to discuss the question have evoked nothing beyond statements that Israel must first withdraw from all Arab territory, and it may well be that the Soviet leaders must be faced with unpleasant alternatives before they will talk seriously. They have, however, even while maintaining the flow of arms to the U.A.R., held back on most weapons which could be called strictly offensive. The warnings and the talk should come first; increased deliveries of American aircraft for Israel or stronger demands in Moscow can come later if they prove necessary.
All these considerations essentially have to do with stopping hostilities short of the point of a big explosion while efforts toward a political settlement go forward. It is difficult enough in view of the interlocking of the local war with the big-power rivalry. It becomes almost impossible in the absence of a reasonable chance of progress toward a settlement. The idea of a comprehensive settlement, a package deal covering boundaries, guarantees, refugees, navigation rights and all the rest, has taken such firm root that governments give little thought to possibilities for partial settlement. One such possibility concerns the Suez Canal, on which a successful initiative might change some of the dimensions of the problem and jolt it out of the present impasse.
The Canal lies at the center of the conflict on the main front. Israel regards it as an essential strategic frontier, and the U.A.R. as the focus of the battle of attrition and a jumping-off place for regaining lost territory. Yet it remains symbolic not as a battle-front but as a closed international highway still important to the commerce of many nations. There has been talk of a mutual withdrawal of forces from the Canal to buttress the new ceasefire. So much the better if that can be accomplished. But why not go further and seek agreement on carrying out the clearance and rehabilitation of the Canal under international auspices, with a demilitarized and internationally controlled zone some 30 miles wide on each side, the reopened Canal to be administered by the U.A.R. (which would get the revenues after the costs of rehabilitation had been met), and Israel to enjoy guaranteed freedom of passage along with other states?
The fact that the Soviet Union would gain the means to move ships easily from the Mediterranean into the Indian Ocean is hardly a strategic change of such magnitude as to outweigh the general benefits to many nations, not to mention the more important factor of a reduction of the fighting and stabilization on the most critical front. Israel would not lose the Canal as a defensive ditch since the Egyptian army would be withdrawn from it on the other side. Egypt would have the satisfaction of seeing a limited pullback of Israeli forces, one which might be the start of a process.
Regardless of its merits and its chances of acceptance, which may be minimal, such a proposal focuses attention on the main question of the American approach to the Middle East. Is Suez our Thermopylae? Is the United States to move to a showdown with the Soviet Union on such a point as maintenance of Israel's air superiority over Egyptian territory west of the Canal as the key to blocking Soviet domination of the Middle East? Or is it going to use the present critical situation to push toward widening areas of agreement between the Arab states and Israel and between itself and the Soviet Union? If the showdown comes, let it be because the Soviets chose to wreck the chances of reconciliation and fair settlement.
Diplomacy has had a chance and has not succeeded, but it needs more chances. Egypt's and Israel's acceptance of a temporary ceasefire and a new round with Jarring, difficult decisions which meant a break with extreme elements on both sides, may provide some. In any case it is quite possible that some of the parties involved in the Middle East tangle-Israel and the Soviet Union above all-may be near or at the crest of success gained by their policies since the Six Day War. It could be somewhat different when they look down the other side.
[i] "The Future of Israel," Foreign Affairs, April 1970.
[ii] "Suez is the Front to Watch," The New York Times Magazine, June 28, 1970.