Israel has now made its formal request for an extra $800 million in aid for the current fiscal year (on top of $2.6 billion already given) and for $4 billion in fiscal 1986. That would be a huge amount of money -- it's all in grants too -- even if the United States were not trying to trim its own budget deficit. The White House is plainly willing to endorse the whole sum. Congress, where Israel's strength is evident, may be where the action takes place.
The Israelis argue, of course, that they are democratic, friendly and strategically useful, considerations which, they say, outweigh whatever drag the Israeli connection imposes on some American interests elsewhere in the Middle East. But they have yet to make the requisite substantial case for this particular aid increase.
On the economic side, the Peres government has installed a hesitant wage and price freeze but has not attacked the indexation, subsidies and import dependency that constitute major structural flaws in the Israeli economy. Implicitly confessing that they have not mustered the political will for these difficult tasks, Israelis ask that new economic aid be held essentially at current levels.
It is on the military side that they seek the principal increases. Here the rationale is to preserve Israel's traditional qualitative edge even as large quantities of ever higher-tech weapons flow into the region, often from the United States. The American response, we think, should focus less on hardware for Israel than on trying to package arms flows into the region as a whole in a way that diminishes anxieties, rather than increasing them.
Equally important is the requirement to link arms supplies with diplomatic efforts to ease the disputes that produce the craving for arms. At the moment,the United States has no peace initiative going in the Middle East. There are a half-dozen reasons for this policy of American neglect, all of them reasons of convenience, none of them finally convincing. It should be established as an iron law of American policy that arms should be transferred into zones of tension and conflict only when there is a parallel political strategy to treat the tensions. This is what the administration needs to do in 1985, while a responsive Israeli prime minister -- the very one the Reagan plan was designed for -- remains in power.