NEW YORK (Jun. 27)
The surprise resignation of Secretary of State Alexander Haig and President Reagan’s appointment to succeed him of George Shultz, president of the Bechtel Corp., the giant San Francisco-based engineering and construction firm, is causing great concern among friends of Israel in the United States.
Compounding the concern over the naming of an official of a company that does billions of dollars of business annually with the Arab countries, and Saudi Arabia in particular, is that Haig’s resignation Friday came as Israel was consolidating its victory over the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon.
Haig has supported Israel’s contention that the results of the “Peace for Galilee” operation provides an opportunity to reunite Lebanon with a stable government in charge and with all foreign troops — Syria, the PLO and Israel — off its soil. But the reaction of joy at Haig’s resignation in the Arab world shows that there is a perception there that United States policy in the Middle East will harden toward Israel and thus it will be more difficult to get Arab support for a solution in Lebanon that will exclude the PLO and the Syrians from that war-torn country.
‘TRUE FRIEND OF ISRAEL’
In fact while both the White House and State Department are maintaining a diplomatic public silence about the reason’s for Haig’s sudden decision, reports are circulating that one of the major causes is his clashes with National Security Advisor William Clark, who has been advocating that the Administration take a harsher line with Israel over Lebanon.
Haig was considered by the American Jewish community and by Israel as “a true friend of Israel.” This was the sentiment voiced after the resignation by both members of Premier Menachem Begin’s government and opposition Labor Alignment leader Shimon Peres. Haig always considered Israel a strategic ally and the U.S. ‘s most important ally in the Mideast.
This is not the view of Shultz who has had close ties with the Saudis during his years with Bechtel. While Shultz has not expressed many views on foreign affairs, he has spoken out on the Mideast. In on interview during the 1980 presidential campaign, he said the only differences he had with Reagan were on the Mideast and specifically referred to a speech then candidate Reagan made to B’nai B’rith International in September, 1980 supporting Israel.
In that speech Reagan called Israel “a major strategic asset to America;” labelled the PLO as “terrorist,” and said “Jerusalem is now and will continue to be one city, undivided.”
The 61-year-old Shultz was believed to be Reagan’s first choice for Secretary of State in 1981. But he withdrew when it became apparent there was strong opposition to the naming of two high-ranking Bechtel officials to major Cabinet posts. Caspar-Weinberger was an officer of Bechtel when he was named Secretary of Defense.
Weinberger has been considered the leading critic of Israel in the Administration. His views, that while supporting Israel’s security, the U.S. must seek other friends in the Mideast, is one that Shultz is expected to share.
The strongest public statement so far against the appointment has come from Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif.), who called it “bad news for Israel” and “bad news potentially for the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East.” A member of the Foreign Relations Committee which is expected to begin confirmation hearings on July 12, Cranston said he will question Shultz closely about this business ties to Saudi Arabia.
However, there is little question in Washington about Shultz’s integrity. He served in the Nixon Administration as Secretary of Labor, director of the Office of Management and Budget and finally Secretary of Treasury and is highly regarded by both Democrats and Republicans.
TILT TOWARD SAUDIS
While Shultz is almost certain to be confirmed by the Senate, there will be questions about his attitude. He is expected to support the tilt away from Israel and toward Saudi Arabia and other “moderate” Arab countries that Weinberger advocates. He will presumably support Weinberger’s proposed sale of arms to Jordan and the Saudis.
Perhaps even more important will be the change in the operations at the State Department. Haig kept Mideast policy under his own tight control keeping the Department’s Middle East experts on a tight rein. Shultz is expected to give them more leeway which, if past experience is any indication, should lead to a pro-Arab tilt.
Meanwhile, Haig is still silent about the reasons for his resignation except for his remarks in his letter that the Administration’s foreign policy has moved away from the “careful course” he and the President had originally planned.
HAIG LOST TO CLARK
But it is clear that Haig who has had well-publicized clashes with such people as Weinberger, United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Vice President George Bush and others finally could take no more when he saw that Clark, his former Deputy Secretary, was now overruling him on matters of foreign policy. Haig had always maintained that he should be the Administration’s voice on foreign policy.
Haig lost out to Clark last week when the Administration decided to tighten economic sanctions against the Soviet Union. Ironically, Shultz seems to support Haig on this issue.
But Haig was also losing out on the Mideast to Clark. At the end of Reagan’s trip to Europe, Clark overruled a decision by Haig to go to Jerusalem even though it had been announced by Israel earlier in the day. White House Counselor Edwin Meese pointedly told reporters at the time that the President’s special envoy, Philip Habib, was already in the Mideast and was doing a good job.
Haig seemed to be winning against Clark and Weinberger, who wanted Reagan to get tough with Israel over its continued fighting in Lebanon, when Reagan met with Begin at the White House last Monday and then issued a conciliatory statement.
But later in the week things went against Haig. He was reportedly angered that Clark appeared to be sending messages to the Saudis that Begin had assured Reagan that Israel would not take west Beirut. White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes made these assurances public last Thursday.
Haig, like the Israelis, believed that these White House signals would only deter the PLO from surrendering and prolong the conflict.
The future of U.S. Mideast policy, as well as all of its foreign policy depends more on Reagan than it does on Shultz. White House officials have been stressing that Shultz is a team player which they claim Haig was not.
The Israelis, and Begin in particular, believe Reagan is a friend of Israel. With the top national security officials, all fellow Californians — Clark, Shultz and Weinberger — the President now has a close knit team in which he can devise an effective Mideast foreign policy. If the policy turns against Israel then Reagan will have to bear the brunt of the responsibility. But if he continues the present course there is hope that not only Lebanon will be restored but that progress can be made toward autonomy to the benefit of Israel and the Arabs as well as the U.S.