Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 24, 1986, Page 2


Middle East Dance Macabre

A surreal situation in South Lebanon: frenzied jitterbuggers jerking to a Stravinskyesque waltz. Two thousand Israeli soldiers rampaging around looking for two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, looking for a needle in a haystack. What a contrast with 20 years ago. All was sweet music when Israel first triumphed decisively over the Arabs in 1967. A sling shot and a smooth stone in the hands of a Biblical David struck down mighty Goliath armed with his dagger. Yes. Sophisticated U.S. fighter bombers flown by Israeli Davids struck dead Egypt's Air Force. Even before it left the ground. Victory was complete. Exultation the mood. And all so easy.

The Gaza Strip, Sinai, the West Bank and Golan Heights fell with hardly a struggle. The Arab Goliath was really no match for the Israeli David. Israel was and always would be militarily superior to any possible combination of Arab enemies. Hadn't America said so, and wasn't American military technology, given liberally to Israel, the best in the world?

The only dark note in the otherwise euphoric 1967 waltz was the USS Liberty, a floating electronic listening platform. Israeli planes tried to sink her and wipe out evidence of planned aggression against Syria, but succeeded only in killing 34 American sailors and wounding another 171. A tragic mistake, Israel claimed. The Israel Lobby provided a chorus of support and the U.S. went along with the cover up. But a discordant note, barely audible to the human ear, had inserted itself into the American Israeli harmony. Was some unhealthy flaw inherent, a portent of future trouble?

October 1973 was disturbing, damned shocking, given existing assumptions. The U.S. and Israel had been agreed that Israeli military forces could whip any combination of Arabs. Yet Egypt and Syria hit the Sinai and Golan by surprise, inflicting terrible casualties on Israel. Israel ran low on tanks and aircraft, but a gigantic military air bridge from the United States and West Germany finally turned the tide. American military officers had been unhappy about denuding their units of equipment. But the Israel Lobby in Washington stifled all objections. Israel could at least assuage its unease over near defeat with the reassuring knowledge that The Lobby would always come through in the pinch. And to hell with the cost to the United States.

The Egyptian and Syrian attacks may have been sneaky and underhanded, but they had rewritten the musical score. The U.S. and Israel still believed that Israel could defeat any combination of Arabs. But better build up the standing army to 100,000 or 110,000 troops. Given differences in population, that's like the U.S. supporting eight million citizens under arms. A crushing burden for a small nation, but no matter. Sovereignty and self determination in Palestine were only for Jews, not for Palestinians. Under no circumstances could the Palestinians be given anything. Self determination? Over our dead bodies.

So give back Sinai to Egypt, and sing the praises of Israel's generosity. Promise something vague about autonomy for the West Bank, while speeding up Jewish settlements and augmenting plans to absorb the area for good. Camp David had brought forth a sour note, a public spat between President Carter and Prime Minister Begin. Rather embarrassing, but the Israel Lobby had supported Begin and not Carter. This was reassuring. Carter had been a pain really. Thought he understood the Bible, but he just couldn't pick up the beat of the U.S. Israeli symphony.

Lebanon and 1982. Everything had been so carefully planned. The United States had tacitly said okay. The Israeli Army had shot forward to Beirut. Like the Army of old. But guerrillas inside the city refused to surrender. The Army couldn't be expected to take on a ragtag band of commandos in a game of urban warfare. Naturally this required raining bombs down upon Beirut. From land, sea and air. For 40 days and 40 nights. Plus one. Yes. The world just didn't understand. The Lobby in America had reliably rallied around, but still criticism from the American media had been heavy. Who would have thought they could be that unfair? Didn't they recognize justified self defense when they saw it?

Everything started to sour. The Syrian Army had been stubborn. Sabra and Shatilla camps had been attacked. A few hundred Palestinians had been massacred by the Phalange. But Israel was blamed. The good news was that the PLO left Lebanon. The bad news was that Lebanese Shiites then started attacking the Israeli Army. Even women. Unfortunately the U.S. Marines were truck bombed in Beirut and the American Embassy car bombed twice. What kind of warhad this become? A strange and wild rhythm began to impose itself. The Israel Army could beat all the other armies around. But the Army now had to fight people, often just single, solitary fed up to here with it individuals. Men, even women, outraged enough to blow themselves up just to get a few Israelis. And the attacks continued even when Israel demonstrated its good faith by gradually pulling back. Was this strange new music the dread People's War that revolutionists talked about?

The melody and lyrics were still sweet, but a few dissonant chords began to dominate the music. Besides, there were too many dancers on the floor. Feet were getting stepped on, and things were heating up. The old trioUncle Sam, the Israel Lobby and Israel had all but imperceptibly become four. Uncle and Lobby were still one each, but Israel had somehow spawned a double. A doppelgaenger, physically indistinguishable from Israel, but with iron in the soul. Sad to say, Doppelgaenger, D.G. for short, and Lobby seemed to have eyes only for each other.

When Uncle sang of Friendly Persuasion, Lobby had ears only for D.G.'s rag of Never Again. When Israel turned to Uncle, D.G. said listen to me, only me. Thou shalt have no other ... Or Else. Thus Prime Minister Peres says Okay on arms for Jordan, wanting to give peace a chance. But D.G. says Hell No and the negotiating rug is pulled out from under King Hussein. Both D.G.and Lobby had such heavy feet and such awkward rhythm that dancing with them was becoming a menace to Uncle and Israel. Especially since the dance was becoming ever more frenetic as the strains of the old music became twisted beyond recognition in one discordant cacophonous heap.

D.G. was really getting out of hand. The incident of the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers illustrated this. D.G. rampaged into the so called "security zone" in south Lebanon with 1500 to 2000 troops, with trucks, armored cars, tanks and helicopters. Villages were shot up, Lebanese prisoners taken and, according to news accounts, civilians brutalized during interrogation.

The rampage involved aggressive fights with Shiite Amal militia units, who only wanted to ease tension and rebuild their pillaged and plundered area.

Perhaps 20 Lebanese were killed and five Israelis. The kidnapped soldiers were predictably not recovered. Finally D.G. withdrew the invaders, citing, in the words of the Israeli Army chief, "hostility" towards the rampage by the southern Lebanese. Astonishing. As if such a reaction had not been predictable. Truly astonishing. Given the misery of Israel's economy and the painfully obvious premium on such bestial irresponsibility.

Uncle excited hostility, too, because D.G. used his weapons in this and other rampages. Uncle's shins were bleeding from D.G.'s iron booted kicks. His citizens were getting killed and kidnapped, as D.G.'s embrace tightened in this Middle Eastern Dance of Death. It had been bad enough when no one could tell Israel and D.G. apart. Now some were having trouble distinguishing between Uncle and D.G.

Who'll stop the music?

Andrew I. Killgore, former U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, retired after 32 years in the Foreign Service. He is now a political and economic consultant in Washington, D.C., and also president of the American Educational Trust.