Israel is actively preparing to fight what senior Israeli defense officials privately describe as "a war of annihilation" against the Egyptian and Syrian armies if the Carter administration's new Middle East peace effort fails.
Israeli strategy in any new war will be to destroy the two main Arab armies so quickly and completely that the Arabs will not present a military threat to Israel for the next 10 years, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and other Israeli officials have told visiting Americans.
This strategy was basically set before Menahem Begin's Likud coalition ended the Israeli Labor Party's 29-year rule in May. But U.S. analysts feel that Begins' government has put its own stamp on Israeli war strategy since coming to power.
The refinements flow in large part from the differences in attitudes toward Washington of the ousted Labor government, which placed a higher premium on staying on good terms with the United States to ensure arms supplies, and of the Begin administration, which masks neither its growing fears of President Carter's Middle East policy nor its readiness to use Israel's current overwhelming military superiority to fight a war without American help or advice if necessary.
Refinements in planning since May reportedly emphasize the use of the great military depth to crush Arab armies before the United States can intervene to bring about a cease-fire, as the Nixon administration did in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
A rapid victory would free Israel from having to depend on the United States for the kind of massive resupply airlift that triggered the Arab oil countries' embargo of 1973.
The flow of arms supplies under the Ford and Carter administrations has virtually eliminated any immediate need for the kind of airlift that angered the Arabs in 1973. With U.S. approval, Israel has stockpiled enough weapons, ammunition and fuel to fight a three-front conventional war for 30 days before needing fresh supplies from the United States, American experts estimate.
Despite political differences with Begin over the Palestinian role in the new peace effort, the Carter administration has not tampered with the pipleline of heavy weapons that has become the most vital link in the American-Israeli relationship.
Last week the Pentagon released $50 million worth of Cobra helicopter gunships mounted with anti-tank missiles for shipment to Israel. Since April the Pentagon has cleared nearly $150 million in shipments that included M-60 tanks, 155-mm howitzers and armored personnel carriers.
But Carter administration officials concede that the continuing arms flow and the "binding" commitments they have given that it will continue have not quieted Israeli apprehension.
Since Arab armies caught them by surprise and took advantage of their defensive strategic posture in 1973, the Israelis have been determined to have both the capacity and the political freedom to strike first and ferociausly if war threatens.
Labor Party leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said publicly that by destroying the Arabs militarily for seven to 10 years, Israel would be able to get through a period when Arab oil and money could be used to squeeze concessions from Israel.
For Begin's military strategists, the political lifespan of the Carter administration is rapidly becoming an equally important planning factor. While he has spoken little in public on the subject, the sharp-tongued Weizman has made no secret of his view that Israel's continuing buildup is designed in part to make its armed forces invulnerable to pressure from Washington.
"The Israelis have gone on the offensive, and have designed an 18-month $2 billion pipeline of new equipment that will keep them in that posture into the 1980s," says one American official. "If we were to try to exert the kind of pressure we used in 1973 to keep the Israelis from destroying the Egyptian Third Army, the Begin government could and probably would tell us to mind our own business."
Henry A. Kissinger exerted enormous pressure to get the Israelis to accept a cease-fire and halt their drive to smash the entrapped Egyptian Third Army in the Sinai in 1973. Kissinger argued that the Egyptians would be able to engage in serious negotiations only if they were not humiliated on the battlefield.
Officials in Washington estimate that on a scale of 100 equaling their military capabilities in 1973, Israel today stands at 160, Syria at 100 and Egypt, after its complete break with the Soviet Union, at 80 to 90.
The first serious test of the Carter administration's attitude toward the continuing Israeli military buildup will come in late November when Defense Minister Weizman comes to Washington with an arms shopping list described as "staggering" by one official who has had glimpses of preliminary requests.
The Israelis are expected to seek weapons transfers that will significantly increase their technological and firepower advantage over the Arabs. They will also repeat requests for co-production agreements for new weapons systems, and will press for a second shipment of 20 F-15 jet fighters within the next year and specific Delivery dates for 200 or more F-16 fighters in the early 1980s.
The fears felt by Israelis and their American supporters on the Carter administration's reliability were clearly evidenced in a press release issued this week by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. The release called for a Pentagon investigation of an "anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish" article in the current issue of Armed Forces Journal magazine by a former Defense Department official.
Asserting that the article may contain classified information, the Anti-Defamation League's press release cited views that linked the article to "a mentality which is becoming more and more widespread in the Department of Defense and the State Department - that our strategic interests lie with Arab oil and petrodollars, thereby converting Israel from an asset to a liability."
The article was written by Anthony H. Cordesman, civilian assistant to Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Ellsworth during the Ford administration. Cordesman, who has left the Pentagon and now works in the Department of Energy, writes that Israel has become "a militaristic state whose military buildup has gone far beyond the requirements of defense."
Moreover, he gives a detailed breakdown in tables of Israeli military requests for the future, which he asserts "will create an Israel" that will be able to defeat Arab armies before the great powers can intervene."
Cordesman, who had no comment on the B'nai B'rith charges; refers in the article to a secret Israeli buildup plan known as "Matmon B," but credits his statistical data to Analytical Assessments Corp. a Los Angeles-based private research firm that works on Middle East topics for U.S. government agencies.
Abraham R. Wagner, head of Analytical Assessments, said in a telephone discussion that his firm had drawn the figures used in the article from unclassified sourches as the Institute of Strategic Studies of London, and had used them in an unclassified research paper done for the Congressional Budget Office in 1976.
But informed sources said that the estimates of future requirements appeared to have been so close to secret, official Israeli figures that Israel is deeply concerned about the possibility of a leak.
The tables printed by Armed Forces Journal show Israel asking for a threefold increase in armored personnel carriers, up to 9,200 by 1980, and seeking to raise its tank force from 2,200 to 3,300 by the same year. This would give Israel a greater total of tanks than the United States has deployed with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Europe, Cordesman said.