"Jordan may be the first loser since Iraq invaded Kuwait, but Israel is going to be the biggest," a key Washington-based Israeli strategist told us, confirming a grave new world for his country.
He and other Israeli leaders, consequently, were not surprised by U.S. condemnation of Israel for the killing of Palestinians at the Temple Mount. It follows a policy shift made unavoidable by the Gulf crisis and the end of the Cold War. Israel's vaunted role as Washington's "strategic partner" blocking Soviet penetration is a non sequitur.
But Israel's new problems with its greatest benefactor do not end there. If Israel's war policy against Iraq, ironically similar to Saudi Arabia's, persuades President Bush to attack, American soldiers and Marines will do the job. That is an unpleasant reality for the pro-Israel bloc in Congress and the American Jewish community, which no longer can claim never having sought the help of American troops, only arms, to protect Israel's security.
Israel's sensitivity at being forced to the sidelines as Bush manipulates anti-Saddam strategy is evident in the silence of AIPAC. The formidable American-Israel Public Affairs Committee has mounted no campaign against U.S. condemnation of the Temple Mount carnage. Facing the new U.S.-Arab alliance formed by Saddam's seizure of Kuwait combined with the end of the old Soviet Mideast threat that gave Israel its special political clout, AIPAC is too smart to storm James Baker's ramparts.
In the new context of the Gulf crisis, Israel is under heavy pressure from Bush and Secretary of State Baker not to get entangled in war. That would force such Arab members of the anti-Saddam alliance as Egypt to walk out of Bush's new coalition.
Thus Israel's publicly announced policy that Saddam must be destroyed can only be accomplished by Americans. "We Jews are worried sick," an American Jewish leader in New York told us. "It cannot be allowed to appear that Israel wants American boys to do its work against Saddam."
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir understands the dangers of putting Israel into this political cul-de-sac. But his apparent fear of Saddam's long-range missiles and chemical weapons is so strong that he recently sent private word to a few highly placed American friends that Israel itself may have to attack Iraq before the end of the year if the United States does not.
Included among those close friends is industrialist-oilman Armand Hammer, who has advised Shamir in the strongest terms to give up all such ideas. Bush administration officials who are aware of the exchange doubt Shamir would threaten the American connection by launching an air attack against Saddam.
This shows that the unprecedented constraints imposed on Israel by Washington have disarmed it in the highly sensitive area of its greatest expertise -- secret operations. In 1981 the surprise Israeli air strike against Iraqi nuclear installations, while publicly criticized here, was seen for what it was: a brilliant stroke based on expert intelligence that had complete success. There is no way Israel could repeat that operation today without risking a suicidal break with the United States.
With Moscow now getting friendly with Israel and with the United States in the Persian Gulf holding the hand of erstwhile Soviet surrogate Syria, the "strategic partnership" policy that dominated Ronald Reagan's relationship with Israel has become a joke. It can no longer serve as the foundation of $3 billion annual grants to that country.
Israel will not come to grips with its highest concern in the grave new world it now confronts until Bush's coalition has found a way to enforce all the U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iraq and Saddam and kick his troops out of Kuwait. Bush will then be presented with due bills from Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Syria's Hafez Assad and others.
They may insist that the United States exert equal fervor to enforce similar U.N. resolutions, now 23 years old but inoperative, on Palestinian self-determination. George Bush may find it hard to say no.