Israel's American supporters, who have long tried to get the Bush administration to pursue a tough line against Iraq, are now deeply uneasy about the shape U.S. policy on the Middle East is taking, fearing that the United States's new Arab alliances will lead to a tilt away from Israel.
Israel's advocates still support the administration's response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and welcome moves that could weaken Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "We remain completely in support of what they've done in the gulf," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. "That's an issue on which there's complete consensus."
But behind the consensus lurks the worry that over the long run, America's newly strengthened alliances with Saudi Arabia and Egypt will take priority over America's ties with Israel and lead to increased American pressure on Israel to reach a settlement with Palestinians over the future of the West Bank.
For the Israel lobby, there is a bittersweet quality to the current situation. For months before Iraq invaded Kuwait, Israel's backers stood almost alone in warning the Bush administration about the dangers Saddam posed to stability in the Middle East. Saddam's invasion effectively won the argument for the pro-Israel forces and produced the anti-Iraq policy they were seeking. But that policy is now taking a form that leaves Israel's allies anxious.
Alfred H. Moses, chairman of the board of governors of the American Jewish Committee, cast the concern as a question. "Will the emphasis in the future be more on protecting oil in the gulf than on protecting Israel in the Mediterranean?"
Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.), one of Israel's staunchest congressional supporters, said he worried that Israel's role as "the cornerstone of American policy in the Middle East will be eroded both by the massive flow of arms to the region and by the United States's growing closeness to regimes that continue to deny Israel's right to exist."
"Opposition to Iraq is one thing," said Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Eighty thousand American troops side-by-side with Saudis, Syrians and Egyptians is another."
The qualms of the pro-Israel community will have their first practical effect on congressional skirmishing over the administration's plan to sell $6 billion to $8 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia and to forgive Egypt's $7 billion debt to the United States.
Almost no one expects the administration's proposal to founder, and this alone suggests how much the world has changed since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In the past, Israel's supporters have been quite successful in limiting arms sales to Arab nations.
This time, Israel's friends are likely to settle for a plan to balance arms sales to Arabs with new sales to Israel so that the Jewish state can maintain what Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) called "qualitative superiority." There is also talk of partial forgiveness of Israel's debts.
At the heart of the pro-Israel critique of the new Arab arms purchases will be the argument that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait showed how easy it is for arms sold to "moderate" Arab states to end up in the hands of "radical" states -- as U.S. arms sold to Kuwait ended up in Iraqi hands.
"I have heard no argument that this weaponry will constitute an effective deterrent against an Iraqi invasion," Berman said. "I'm more concerned that these weapons will become part of an Iraqi arsenal. What happened to the weapons we shipped to Kuwait?"
Schumer predicted that Congress would try to put strings on the Arab arms sales, but said he worried that these would prove ineffectual. "The strings can be snapped by the country that owns the weapons," he said.
Israel's supporters are not entirely gloomy. Their hope is that America's new ties with the anti-Iraq Arab states will make it easier for the United States to push them toward recognizing Israel. And they feel that Saddam's actions more than vindicated their early warnings.
When the Israeli government and Israel's American supporters began their warnings about Saddam earlier this year, these were seen -- even by some of Israel's American friends -- as an attempt to divert attention from the Palestinian campaign for a homeland and to reduce pressure on the Israeli government for negotiations on the future of the West Bank.
"At the time, there was concern among a number of people that the worries about Iraq were an attempt to deflect answering questions about the peace process," said David Ifshin, a Washington lawyer and Democratic activist who has long toiled in the pro-Israel cause. "As it turns out, their concerns about Iraq were obviously prescient."
Levine and Hoenlein argued that Saddam's invasion and its fallout -- including support for Saddam from the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization -- buttressed many points that Israel's supporters have been making for a long time.
Levine said the invasion should "disabuse Israel's critics" of the idea that the Jewish nation's alleged intransigence toward the Palestinians was the primary cause of instability in the Middle East, when in fact the main cause was Arab radicalism.
And Hoenlein said the Palestinian response should increase American wariness about the PLO leadership and even of King Hussein of Jordan. "Many who have been suggested as potential partners for peace have shown their true colors in supporting Saddam Hussein," said Hoenlein.
But Israel's supporters are concerned that whatever gains Israel may make in the short term will be lost in America's new Arab alliances. Ifshin said that Arab countries that supported the United States now might "present a bill later" and "pressure the United States to put pressure on Israel on the West Bank."
Stuart Eizenstat, who was a top aide to former president Jimmy Carter, said Israel's supporters had broader worries.
Eizenstat noted that for more than a decade, Israel's U.S. supporters had successfully promoted a policy that cast Israel as America's "principal strategic ally" in the Middle East, a nation militarily capable of defending U.S. interests in the region. They did so, he said, in order to base Israeli-American friendship not simply on "indefinable moral, sentimental, democratic values" but on the harder ground of coinciding military interests.
Israel's supporters, he said, fear "that all this is going to be thrown away and that the real strategic alliance will be with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Syria." Schumer said that the Iraqi conflict was laying the basis for exactly the sort of realignment in the Middle East that American friends of the Arab world had long been seeking. "It's a State Department Arabist's delight," Schumer said.
Eizenstat said he did not share these fears, partly because the strategic relationship with Israel was based on an East-West rivalry that no longer exists and that an alteration in Middle Eastern alliances was thus inevitable long before Iraq invaded Kuwait. Eizenstat said the U.S.-Israel ties would remain strong for the reason they have always been: Shared values between the two countries -- including the value of democracy.