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October 16, 1987 - Image 28

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-10-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Is Soviet Union Changing
Its Stand on Israel

DR. ALON BEN-MEIR

yen before Secretary
General Gorbachev
came to power, the
Soviet leadership had con-
cluded that severing
diplomatic relations with
Israel in 1967 to placate its
Arab clients was a major
political mistake. It locked
the Soviets into policies and
commitments towards their
Arab 'clients from which they
could not easily extract
themselves.
For the past two decades,
the Soviet Union has been
blatantly hostile toward
Israel. It supplied radical
Syria and Libya with tens of
billions of dollars in arms;
supported numerous shadowy
terrorist organizations which
struck at Israel; sided
numerous times with the
Arab states in their effort to
expel Israel from the United
Nations; and, more recently,
worked diligently to reunite
the PLO and further
radicalized that organization.
The irony is that during the
past 20 years this Soviet
policy did not win new Arab
friends; in fact Soviet stature
among its Arab client states
deteriorated. Iraq has become
disillusioned with the Soviets
for not stopping the flow of
weapons to Iran and for not
exerting sufficient pressure to
end the war. Egypt expelled
20,000 Soviet advisers in
1972. Colonel Qaddafi of
Libya has had second
thoughts about Soviet com-
mitments to his security in
the wake of the American
strike on his country. Even
the PLO felt betrayed by the
Soviets in the aftermath of its
stunning defeat in Lebanon
in 1982.
Only Syria remained out-
wardly close to the USSR,
and that relationship rests
precariously on the health of
President Hafez al-Assad.
Gorbachev, unencumbered
by the pitfalls of his
predecessors, has initiated a
new Middle East policy far
more sensitive to the chang-
ing psychological, political
and military conditions of the
region. These changing cir-
cumstances include: the tacit
acceptance of Israel as a
sovereign state by the re-
maining confrontation Arab
countries; the establishment
of peace between Egypt and
Israel; the rise of fundamen-
talism in Iran; and the conti-
nuing war between Iran and
Iraq. All have created a new
political equation that calls

E

for greater sensitivity and
political sophistication not
only toward the Arab states,
but toward Israel as well.
Gorbachev's astuteness and
political initiative have
already paid considerable
dividends: the leasing of
Soviet oil tankers to Kuwait;
persuading Assad of Syria to
meet with Saddam Hussein of
Iraq; uniting the PLO's con-
flicting factions; supporting
Jordan in its plea for an inter-
national peace conference; ex-
panding cultural ties with
Israel; increasing the im-
migration of Soviet Jews to
800 a month; and giving

During the past 20
years this Soviet
policy did not win
new Arab friends;
in fact Soviet
stature among its
Arab client states
deteriorated.

Egypt an additional 25 years
to pay $3 billion in military
credits.
Most recently — not
withstanding the current
political and military turmoil
in the Persian Gulf — the
Soviet Union has reached a
general agreement with Iran
to cooperate on large-scale
economic projects and to
widen their political
cooperation.
For the Soviets, then, a
resumption of diplomatic ties
with Israel is only a small
part of a new, cohesive Middle
East policy designed to project
Soviet power and influence
within this strategic region.
The new Soviet initiative is
aimed at consolidating rela-
tions with its Arab radical
clients — Syria, Iraq, Libya —
and opening the door to
moderate Arab countries
such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait. Moreover,by
establishing direct diplomatic
relations with Israel, the
Soviets can now exert greater
pressure on Israel on such im-
portant issues as Israel's
medium-range missile
development program its
arms shipments to Afghani
resistance fighters and its
position on Palestinian
rights.
More importantly, Gor-
bachev's potential gain from
Soviet rapprochement with
Israel transcends the Middle
East. Eager for a major

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