The State Department voiced surprise Thursday at Israel Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s criticism of the U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf.
Rabin, at a press conference Wednesday in Jerusalem, charged that the United States has been manipulated into supporting Iraq in its eight-year war with Iran, with the result that the Soviet Union has “become the only superpower that can talk to both parties” in the Iran-Iraq war.
“We certainly would disagree with his assessment and we’re surprised at his criticism of our policy,” State Department spokesman Charles Redman said. “All states in the Middle East, including Israel, which has been singled out frequently as an enemy of the government of Iran, should be concerned about Iran’s hostile behavior and expansionist goals.”
Although Israeli leaders have made it no secret that they favor Iran in the Gulf war, Rabin’s remarks were believed to be the first public criticism of the U.S. policy by an Israeli government official.
The defense minister hinted that the West, including the United States, may have fallen into a trap to take action against Iran for the benefit of Iraq.
As Rabin saw it, the U.S. and European navies entered the Gulf conflict due to Iranian attacks on civilian oil tankers — actions that were only in retaliation for Iraqi attacks on Iranian oil storage installations and ships.
Iraq had certain objectives when it started the war and later “globalized” it, Rabin said. Iraq hoped to knock Iran out by attacking its oil installations on the eastern shores of the gulf. Failing that, it sought to draw Iran into attacking pro-Iraqi installations and tankers on the western shores.
This forced the United States to take actions against Iran, to Iraq’s benefit, Rabin said.
He contended that the Western fleets do not “protect the Iranian right of free navigation, which is under attack by the Iraqis. They protect only the right to navigation of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the oil princes of the western side of the Gulf that might be attacked by the Iranians in response to the Iraqi attacks.”
He said that if Israel had to choose a winner in the war between its two sworn enemies, it would prefer Iran. As he had stressed during his visit to Washington last summer, Rabin explained that Iran will be a “bitter enemy” of Israel as long as the Khomeini regime is in power.
But he added that Iran was a friend of Israel for the 28 years before the Khomeini regime and could be again “once this crazy idea of Shiite fundamentalism is gone.”
Rabin also contended that the Iran-Iraq war has produced some political benefits for Israel and may even help advance the peace process with Jordan.
Among the advantages was the fact that the Arab world, particularly Syria, cannot now count on Iraq to join an Israel-Arab war, “whatever some crazy Syrian might think,” Rabin said. In addition, he said, the Gulf war has created “total disarray” in the pro-Soviet camp, allowing Egypt to rebuild its relations with the Arab world, damaged by the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979, without harm to Israel.
Furthermore, Rabin said, Baghdad’s dependence on Jordan for logistical support has provided King Hussein with considerable leverage in peace moves toward Israel. However, this situation might not last and Israel must take the initiative now in the peace process with Jordan.