LONDON (Jan. 1)
For Israel and the Jewish people the 1970s were the decade of trial and triumph. The Jewish State not only withstood a sustained challenge to her existence but finally achieved peace with her biggest and most dangerous neighbor. Despite all the other dangers which still confront her, there fore, she enter the 1980s with a positive balance sheet.
The two outstanding events of the decode for Israel were the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in November, 1977. It was the Yom Kippur War which gave Egypt the assurance to negotiate with Israel. Yet the two events belong to different chapters in the history of the Middle East.
WAR AND PEACE
The Yom Kippur War was the climax of the Arab world’s military attempt to vanquish Israel with Soviet support. The pact with Egypt marks the start of her acceptance as one of the Middle East nations.
At the height of the Yom Kippur War and in the preceding years; Israel risked not only war with the Arab states but also with the Soviet Union. Only a world-wide military alert, by the United States thwarted the Soviet Union’s plan to strike against the Israeli forces who had entered Egypt proper after then counterattack across the Suez Canal.
Although most Soviet military advisers had been ousted from Egypt the year before the Yom Kippur War, Egypt’s initial military successes were due largely to the dense concentrations of anti-aircraft missiles which Russia had installed along the canal in breach of the cease-fire which ended the Suez war of attrition in the summer of 1970.
In those bitter summer months of 1970, too, the Israel air force clashed with Soviet aircraft as it struck at strategic targets deep inside Egypt. Many Israelis began to compare their fate with that of Finland which fought a crippling war with Russia on the eve of World War II.
However, a wider conflagration was averted and while Israel emerged strengthened, the Soviet Union finally lost her position of influence tr. Egypt, which under Sadat’s leadership, became a firm ally of the United States.
OLD DANGERS AND NEW DANGERS
Nevertheless, the decade saw the revival of old dangers and the birth of new ones. Terrorism become a world-wide phenomenon in which the Palestinians gave a lead to many other disaffected groups. Hijacking became the nightmare of every airline passenger. Its most spectacular manifestation was in September, 1970 when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine captured three airliners and blew them up on Dawson’s Field, an old RAF airstrip in the Jordanian desert.
This prompted Jordan’s crushing of the Palestinian terrorist movements and created the “Black September” movement which ushered in a new spate of world-wide terror, culminating in the massacre of Israel’s athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. But from this, too, Israel emerged with a positive balance sheet. Her protection of her national airline, and her stunning rescue of captured Israelis at Entebbe, Uganda, in July, 1976, were shining examples of heroism to the rest of the world.
The negative side of the Israeli balance, was headed by the resurgence of world-wide anti-Semitism, clocked as anti-Zionism. It was fuelled by the official creed of the Soviet Union, as well as by a rampant Islamic fanaticism, which finally broke loose in the overthrow of the Shah of Iran at the beginning of 1979. In November, 1975, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism and Nazism, the movement which had sent six million Jews to their deaths.
Chaim Herzog, Israel’s Ambassador at the UN, told the General Assembly that this episode would merely strengthen. Zionism while weakening the United Nations. It certainly did strengthen the internal cohesion of the Jewish people, however, even though the Western countries voted against the resolution. The anti-Zionist resolution has had a damaging effect on Israel’s image in the West.
NEW PARTY IN POWER
Internally, Israel’s major event occurred in the summer of 1977 when the Labor Party, which had ruled the country since independence, was swept from power. Menachem Begin, the former anti-British freedom fighter and head of the Herut Party, became Prime Minister. To the surprise of his detractors, he showed skill and flexibility his negotiations with Sadat and President Carter which earned him, together with Sadat, the Nobel peace prize.
The change of regime was also living-proof of the authenticity of Israel’s parliamentary democracy. However, this is overshadowed by her chronic economic crisis. Inflation, heading for 200 percent, could yet jeopardize her political stability. The 1970s yielded for more failures than successes. Despite their fabulous earnings from oil the Arab states not only failed to defeat Israel, but offered their greatest political setback with the “defection” of Egypt.
They tried to preserve the fabric of Arab unity by transferring the headquarters of the Arab League from Cairo to Tunis. But, as Sadat remarked last week, the Arab rejectionists are busy rejecting one another. Lebanon, once the Arab world’s playground and marketplace, has been dismembered by civil war.
The only success in the Arab struggle against Israel is the Palestine Liberation Organization’s growing prestige. It has managed to secure seats on all major international organizations and to be accepted as a legitimate representative of the Palestine Arab people. However, this is an ephemeral gain.
Israel continues to reject the PLO as a partner in peace talks and despite its growing contacts with several West European countries, it is still held at arms length by the United States. The PLO has also on increasingly tense relationship with many Arab states. It has allied itself with the unstable revolutionary regime in Iran, which is the natural enemy of the Saudi Arabian royal family and the ruling families of the other Arab oil sheikhdoms, until now the PLO’s paymasters.
TRIUMPH OF SOVIET JEWRY
Outside Israel, the major success of the Jewish people occurred inside the Soviet Union. Inspired by the 1967 Six-Day War, the Soviet Union’s three million Jews revolted against 50 years of enforced assimilation and began to demand for the right to settle in Israel.
The first signs were visible at the end of 1969 when a group of Georgian Jews signed a collective letter which reached the West. in the next few months, Jews in European Russia joined in the chorus and the “Jews of Silence” became the “Jews of Protest.”
At the end of 1970 come the Leningrad trials of a group of Jews who had planned to hijack an aircraft out of the country after being refused permission to emigrate. Following world-wide protests, the death sentences of two of them — Eduard Kuznetsov and Mark Dymshits — were commuted. Only three of the original Leningrad prisoners are still in prison — Yosef Mendelevich, who is Jewish, and Yuri Federov and Alexei Murzhenko, both non-Jews. All the others have reached Israel, including Kuznetsov and Dymshits who were released in the spring of 1979 in exchange for two Soviet spies arrested by the Americans. In the meantime, more than 200,000 other Jews succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union. Mass went to Israel but an increasing number have gone to North America.