"To them I was a wild man," wrote Ezer Weizman, Israel's likely next defense minister, in his recent autobiography. "A senior commander who claimed that we have the right to Hebron and Nablus and all of Jerusalem and that we must endeavor to implant that right by force of arms if there is no other alternative . . . that anyone who claimed [otherwise] was sinning against Zonism. They viewed me as a national desperado."
That was Weizman's assessment of why Israel's Labor party establishment didn't want him to become chief of the army 10 years ago.
And although purposefully ironic and exaggerated, Weizman knows that the account stands today as a apt description of the way some people both in Washington and In Israel feel about him and his boss, Menachem Begin, now that the Likud Party stands at the threshold of power.
The 54-year-old Wezman, a former chief of the Israeli air force and a nephew of Israel's first president, Chaim Weizman, is the number-two-man under Begin in the Likud's Herut faction and is destined to become defense minister. As such, he is likely to form, along with Begin and perhaps Moshe Dayan and Yigael Yadin if they join the next government, the inner circle of Israel's foreign policy decision-makers.
"I would say to Washington, 'you disagreed with the Labor party's proposals and you will probably disagree with ours, but at least you will understand them.'" Weizman said in a recent interview. He believes that, rather than entertain illusions, it would be better for Washington, Israel's closet ally, to face up to the fact that while territorial concessions by Israel on the Golan Heights and the Sinai to achieve peace are a possibility, giving back the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not, as far as he is concerned.
Under those circumstances there will be major difficulties in trying to gain the confidence of the United States, which makes no secret of its contention that a willingness to cede territory on the West Bank is vital if a Middle East peace agreement is to be reached.
If forced to cede the West Bank or Gaza, Weizman said, Israel would be forced, in another war, either to strike first pre-emptively or rely on the American 6 the Fleet to come and save Israel. Neither course would be agreeable to the Americans, he said.
There are some who say that, after a coalition government is formed, Israel's new leaders will have to modify their views on ceding terridory. Did not David Ben Gurion withdraw from Sanai 20 years ago after having proclaimed it as part of the "great Israeli kingdom?"
It cannont, however, be assumed that men like Weizman and Begin will easily bend principles they have held so long so Zionism and security.
Weizman says that the previous Labor government's stated willingness to surrender territory on the West Bank of the Jordan was disingenuous.
"For the last 10 years the Labor government has wanted to stay on the West Bank and they invented the Allon Plan, which nobody accepted.
"Wouldn't it be more fair to the Arabs to say to them,' Look,we have to settle in the Jordan River Valley first of all for security reasons - I won't go into historical reasons - and 75% of our people want it that way. Since destiny has caused us to live next to each other, let's find a way to live side by side."
"The Arabs find it very hard to swallow that we are here at all, but they will have to swallow it or something will blow up again," Weizman said. "Unfortunately the Americans don't see it that way. But I think the Arabs would say that "all Israeli leaders are the same but at least the Likud speaks the truth.' They are already saying it."
The West Bank and Gaza Arabs, more than a million, could eventually become Israeli citizens under Likud's plan to settle the Jordan River Valley if that upset the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs it could be corrected by Jewish immigration, Weizman said.
As for the Americans, Weizman says, "I hope that if we put our defense problems honestly on the table I think it will be possible to convince Washington halfway if not the whole way. I would hope we can convince them that our way is the right way, because if we are forced to bend backward too much it could be we will have to fight for our existence. We have seen many countries disappear since World War II."
Weizman's fears mirror the deep distrust that many Israelis hold for Arab intentions. There is disbelief that today's Arab leaders have really changed their minds and are sincere in wanting peace. It is still too dangerous to give them the West Bank because th leadership in all Arab countries could change over night, many feel.
Weizman is one of the more colorful of Israel's new political leaders. he flew for the Royal Air Force is World War II. When the war of independence came in 1947 Weizman was instrumenta in building up the Jewish state's fledgling air force with Messerschmidts and Spitfires supplied by Czechoslovakia. He still owns a black Spitfire, which he flies occasionally.
Weizman rose to become chief of Irael's air force and was one of the architects of the victory in 1967 when the air force won the Six-Day War in a few hours by catching the Arab air forces on the ground.
Weizman's opposition to Israeli policy during the "war of attrition" beginning in the late 1960's offers a clue to his strategic thinking today. Contrary to a cease-fire agreement, Egypt brought up antiaircraft missiles close to the Suez Canal. Israel found itself under considerable international pressure not to let these violations by Egypt upset the peace.
At the time Weizman recommended "sending in ground forces to seize footholds on the western bank of the canal, including the capture of Port Said, and by intensifying and extending our bombing raids." His proposals were not accepted.
When the 1973 war came, the antiaircraft to the canal played a major role in helping the Egyptians storn across the canal. "The Yom Kippur War was written on the wall during the 'war of attriton,'" Weizman still says today. He does not intend to repeat what he sees as a tragic mistake.
"Long before October 1973," Weizman wrote in his autobiography last year, "i had said that the next war will decide whether we have secured the fruits of the Six-Day War or lost them. Under present international circumstances we can keep, those gains only if we occupt Damascus, Cairo, and Amman. The Yom Kippur War came. We lost the fruits of 1967 and were left with the pulp."
There should be no alarm that Weizman or a Likud-led government is going to advocate occupying Damascus, Cairo, and Amman. The Likud, like all Israelis, hopes to avoid another war. But the Likud intends to keep what is left of the fruits of the 1967 war and as the majority partner in any future coalition, the Likud's views will necessarily predominate.