QUESTION: Which Mediterranean government shares all of Ronald Reagan's views on international terrorism, the present danger of Soviet advance, the hypocrisy of the United Nations, the unreliability of Europe, the perfidy of the Third World and the need for nuclear defense policy? Question: Which Mediterranean government is Ronald Reagan trying, with the help of George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger, to replace with a government led by a party which professes socialism and which contains extreme leftists?
If you answered "the government of Israel" to both of the above, you know more about political and international irony than the President does.
Dotted around the Mediterranean are reglmes which are dangerous and unorthodox from his point of view. There is Papandreou in Greece, there is Mitterand in France and there will soon be (if the pundits know their jobs) Gonzalez in Spain.
None of these governments is 'likely to offer to host the Rapid Deployment Force. Begin does. None of them is likely to hire Milton Friedman as an economic adviser. Begin does. None of them subscribes to Claire Sterling's view of "terror international". Begin does. None of them shares advisers with the Committee on the Present Danger. Begin does. None of them gives arms and aid to the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala. Begin does. None of them hires people who have written tough articles for Commentary magazine. Begin does. None of them lives with the certain knowledge that the president of the United States would like them to drop dead. Begin does.
Ronald Reagan, who is a twin soul to Begin on all of the above, yearns for the mushy social democrat Shimon Peres. He pines for his wise rule and his pliant policy. He has paid him the highest compliment that one politician can pay another -- by borrowing his peace plan (presumably with acknowledgements) lock, stock and barrel.
Could Begin receive a clearer signal? Could he care less? Will he tell Reagan to do what Reagan would have told him to do if their positions were reversed? The answers to these great Levantine imponderables are inscribed among the mysteries. They are about as hard to unravel as the instructions for screwing in a light bulb.
The Socialist International, in whose ranks Peres and his party sit along with the Sandinistas and the British disarmers have hardly been grateful enough for this sudden patronage. It must be the only destabilisation in postwar history that is designed to benefit them. Such a splendid demonstration of Reaganite even-handedness ought (oughtn't it?) to mollify European fears about sovereignty and independence. Pity that it hasn't had that effect yet. These things take time.
Time, of course, is just what the president doesn't have in the Middle East. He has to assure all kinds of different Arabs that the Peace for Galilee operation was an Israeli freelance effort and that he only heard about it on the news when they did. He has to keep those telephone calls coming. He hoped, and still hopes, for at least a scapegoat resignation (if the bullock-like figure of Ariel Sharon can be compared to a goat). So far, all he has got for his pains is a great squiring flea in the ear and a few more blots on the settlement landscape, plus a talking-to from Begin about how he underestimates the Russian threat. (How he does what?) And what's a body to do? The Israel electorate might be so disobedient as to return Begin to office. And having right-wing friends in the army is no use to you if you want to install the Labor Party in power.
It's all very sad. As the president gazes into the Middle Eastern mirror of his own favorite policies -- tough talk, big sticks, antiterrorism and antiappeasement -- he obviously doesn't like what he sees. Is it conceivable that he will go on believing that what's bad for Israel is food for the United States. You bet it is.