IN JUNE 1982, right after Israel invaded Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin asked for a private meeting with President Reagan in the White House. They finally agreed to meet with only U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis and Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arens present.
Wolf Blitzer, the Washington correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, tells what happened once the four men were alone: "Reagan took several three-by-five cards out of his inner suit pocket. He then began to read a lengthy prepared statement outlining the U.S. position regarding the war in Lebanon." When the president stopped reading, "the prime minister responded with a lengthy, impassioned and off-the- cuff statement of his own. . . . After he finished, he assumed Reagan would then react. . . . But, as if on cue, as soon as Begin concluded his opening statement, White House Counselor Edwin Meese appeared at the door to announce that the other members of the U.S. and Israeli delegations were already assembled. . . . The prime minister was stunned.
"Begin and Arens left the White House very disappointed. They suspected that Reagan's aides did not have enough confidence in their own president to let him enter into a free exchange with the visiting Israeli leader . . . 'This is the president of the United States of America,' (Begin) told a close associate. 'It's unbelievable.'"
This book examines candidly Israel's relations with the United States, Israeli dependence on American financial and military aid and the American reaction to this need -- and the role of American Jews in the high-tension scene. Blitzer knows the players and has written a readable guidebook through this power-dominated, billion-dollar, often neurotic maze.
But Blitzer has a problem. He is a Hebrew-fluent American who represents an English-language Israeli newspaper, and, according to the evidence in this book, struggles over whether he is a participant or a reporter. To report impartially is difficult for a journalist who claims that he gave Egyptian President Sadat the idea for his historic trip to Jerusalem.
Blitzer argues that although the United States has given and lent Israel $20.6 billion between 1973 and 1982, that was only one-fourth of what the United States spent on NATO in 1981 alone. This kind of irrelevant comparison is simply the advocacy of the converted.
Blitzer spends a lot of the time analyzing the psychological reactions to hypothetical expectations. He threatens that if the United States suspends arms and economic assistance to Israel, this could trigger an Israeli "preemptive strike against the Arabs before self-defense became impossible." He also predicts that an Israeli-Syrian war would spread to include the super-powers, because the Soviet Union "cannot afford to see its allies, using equipment that it designed to intimidate potential opponents, humiliated once more." These are partisan warnings.
He connects the Lebanon invasion and the terrorist destruction of the U.S. Marine barracks at Beirut airport this way: "More than ever before, Americans are finally coming around to recognize the special character of the region. America's own experience in Lebanon was quite bitter and eye-opening. The United States has since packed up and left Lebanon. But Israel, even after withdrawing from Lebanon, has to exist in that difficult part of the world." This parallelism suggests that in Blitzer's view the American reasons for being in Lebanon were the same as those of Israel's 1982 defense minister, Ariel Sharon.
Blitzer goes further: "The United States, of course, is a much bigger country. Thus, the number of U.S. service personnel killed in Lebanon, while no less tragic, did not have the personal impact on 220 million Americans as did the deaths of 600 soldiers among the 4 million Israelis." This body-count comparison is just insensitive.
He recognizes that Israel has become "hooked" on U.S. financial aid and thus vulnerable to the displeasure of U.S. policymakers. He faces this problem with an Israeli's confidence in the political power of American Jews. B
LITZER discusses at length the American Jewish
organizations that seek to help Israel. He says that
since the 1973 war the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) "has emerged as the glamour organization of the American Jewish community." "It is the only Jewish organization officially registered with the U.S. Congress to lobby on behalf of legislation affecting Israel." AIPAC is important in his view because "one legislative slip-up on a subcommittee vote or a parliamentary maneuver can cost Israel hundreds of millions of dollars."
He saves a special attack for former Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut for criticizing Begin in 1978. As Blitzer explains, "Senators concerned about their image as strong supporters of Israel might now point to Ribicoff's position when they explained that they wanted to continue to be counted among the firm friends of Israel, while taking positions inimical to its interests." Blitzer's dubious premise is that any criticism of an Israeli government is bad. And he stretches his point by writing that "most Jewish members of Congress accepted their special responsibilities." Clearly, he is suggesting the unacceptable: that a member of the United States Congress of the Jewish faith has a special responsibility toward Israel.
Here Blitzer seems to get to the core of his thesis: all American Jews should support the policies of any Israeli government in office. "After an Israeli government -- Labor or Likud -- formally adopted a stance," he writes, "the Jewish community in America was quickly brought into line."
Carrying the story of his years in Washington up to date, Blitzer's final chapter on "Reagan and Israel" asserts that Reagan's hardline anti-Soviet posture has sustained his support for Israel. Blitzer says simply, "Israel is in the American camp; many of the Arab states, led by Syria, are Soviet- backed."
In the end, Blitzer quotes President Reagan as justifying arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states and at the same time assuring Israel that the United States will maintain its qualitative edge over its potential Arab enemies. Blitzer closes his book with this cynical sentence: "There seems little doubt that Reagan actually believes what he says." Impartial reporting is not Wolf Blitzer's purpose here.