JERUSALEM (Jul. 21)
Israeli diplomats and other analysts here and abroad have been taken by the sudden cease-fire in the 8-year-old Iran-Iraq war.
The dramatic announcement from Teheran Tuesday that it had accepted U.N. Security Council Resolution 598 calling for the cease-fire has provoked profound anxieties in Israel.
After years of not-very-subtle, nudge-and-wink suggestions by senior policymakers and others here that continuation of the conflict in the Persian Gulf was essentially to Israel’s advantage, Israelis are confronted by the prospect of peace between two battle-weary but battle-hardened regional powers, both fiercely hostile to the Jewish state.
Government officials did little to allay the newborn fears. Admitting they had not anticipated the new developments, Cabinet ministers mulled over the strength of the Iraqi army emerging triumphant from the crucible of war.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir spoke of “a new era,” and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres ruminated about “two previously preoccupied powers now with time on their hands,” which, he seemed to intimate, could only lead to mischief.
Israeli and other diplomats at the United Nations in New York said the end of the Gulf war will shift regional tensions back to the Arab-Israel conflict. Within a few years, the analysts said, Iraq may pose a major threat to Israel.
Iraq has been officially in a state of war with Israel since 1948, and now possesses more than half-a-million well-trained, combat-experienced soldiers.
In addition, Iraq used chemical warfare against Iran, which poses a new threat to Israel.
Iran, meanwhile, will be able to devote more resources to Moslem fundamentalism in the region once its war with Iraq ends.
In Jerusalem Thursday, Zeev Schiff, the respected defense commentator of Haaretz, accused the government of “wasting the eight good years” when Iran and Iraq were locked in mortal combat, and “paralysis of strategic thinking.”
Schiff was implying that Israel should have used the room the Gulf war afforded it to maneuver for more energetic efforts to reach peace terms with Jordan and the Palestinians.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, more than any other commentator, put the events in perspective without alarm or complacency.
He agreed with analysts such as Schiff that Israel “missed opportunities” in the context of diplomacy with Jordan, but said the end of the Gulf war would not mean immediate strategic dangers for Israel.
For one thing, the defense minister said, neither Iraq nor Iran will be in a position to deploy their forces against Israel for months or perhaps even years to come.
If nothing else, their mutual enmity and distrust will require each of them to maintain deterrent strength along their common border, even after the fighting ends, Rabin pointed out.
The societies of both countries will moreover want to enjoy an interlude of peace after eight years of hardship, suffering and danger.
Finally, each of the combatants must rebuild its shattered economy before it can embark on new military adventures against a relatively distant foe, Israel.
Rabin said he would not be asking for increases in Israel’s defense budget right now.
But he made clear that the end of the Gulf war will, soon enough, mean the end of this “luxury” of reduced military budgets for Israel.
Iran, meanwhile, bruised and battered by its war with Iraq, may seek to prove to its citizens and to the Moslem world that it is a force to be reckoned with by stepping up support for Hezbollah, the fanatical Lebanese Shiite “Party of God.”
Rabin and other defense officials said Israel will be watching its northern front very closely.
Meanwhile, at the United Nations, Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar announced Wednesday that he was sending a military team to Iran and Iraq immediately to work out a basis for implementing the cease-fire resolution.
(JTA U.N. correspondent Yitzhak Rabi contributed to this report.)