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Haig Departure Worries Israelis

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Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s resignation has raised fears here that America’s long term policies towards the Middle East conflict may veer away from Israel. Beyond the present context of the war in Lebanon, there is apprehension here that George Shultz, President Reagan’s nominee to succeed Haig, may add his weight and voice to what is seen here as a pro-Arab trend within the Administration.

Spearheading this trend according to Israeli observers, is Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the traditional “Arabist” lobby within the State, Department.

What worries Israelis the most, transcending party lines, is that those forces within the Admin- istration seen here as potentially unfriendly are the very ones who adhere to a tough line in U.S. Soviet relations. This tends to undermine Premier Menachem Begin’s oft-stated argument that Israel is a strategic asset to the U.S. and the Western world in terms of the conflict between the power-blocs.

The Weinberger school, some Israeli observers fear, sees the moderate Arab states, rather than Israel, as the preferable “strategic asset from the American point of view. There is also the personal element in policymaking.

SHULTZ’S EARLIER FRIENDSHIP FOR ISRAEL NOTED

Officials here reassure themselves and the public that U.S. policy is determined by interests not personalities. Yet the obvious rapport between Haig and Begin will be missed and one can never really know what value and effect it had on policy making. Simcha Dinitz, a former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, commented last night that Begin’s demonstrative “embracing” of the Secretary of State “Didn’t do Haig much good.”

Both Dinitz and another former Ambassador to the U.S., Yitzhak Rabin, recalled that the Secretary designate Shultz, had been favorably disposed to Israel when he served as a member of the Nixon Administration. He was Secretary of Labor, head of the Office of Management and Budget and Secretary of Treasury.

“Of course I know his subsequent business involvements may have changed his mind,” Rabin said on a radio interview. But he hoped that would not be the case.

There is no clear knowledge here as to what role the Lebanon war and the policy disputes surrounding it played in Haig’s departure. But Rabin cautioned against “ignoring” that aspect of the saga. Israel, it is reliably understood, knew several hours in advance that the Secretary’s departure was imminent. But the precise linkage, if any, between that foreknowledge and the cease-fire decision Friday around Beirut is not yet established.

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