Begin-Sadat summit to keep wary eye on Soviet thrusts
The summit meeting between Egypt's President Anwar al-Sadat and Israel's Prime Minister Menachim Begin -- to be held in Aswan, Egypt from Jan. 7 to 10 -- was originally scheduled to chart the next phase of peacemaking between the two countries.
But the Soviet thrust into Afghanistan has put the Israelis on the alert. Experts close to Prime Minister Begin assume that Mr. Sadat is no less alarmed by Moscow's provocative action than Mr. Begin.
They therefore expect the two statesmen to revise the priorities of their agenda and explore thoroughly two aspects of the situation in their area:
* How Israel and Egypt can best help to arrest Soviet expansionism in the Middle East.
* How the two countries can help prevent the further growth of extremist radicalism in the region.
Israeli analysis of the significance of the Afghan crisis goes further than the apprehensions already expressed by Washington. While agreeing that the Soviets could spread out into Pakistan, Israeli experts regard the possibility of an eventual move into Iran, or any other weakened Middle Eastern country, as equally possible.
Such Soviet expansion could come at any future date when the United States once again was preoccupied by some incapacitating problem.
The appraisal here adds that even if Moscow does not continue expanding militarily into the Middle East, the Afghan walkover is establishing the Soviets as an irresistible force in many a mind. True, worldwide protests are loud and promise to become louder. But otherwise, the patriots at the capital of Kabul are left alone to face the determined invader.
On the Middle East scene, the Soviet action in Afghanistan, and the Western response thereto, is being evaluated as an encouragement to enemies of regional stability. For Messrs. Sadat and Begin, this opens the prospect for additional threats to their peace efforts. And for the West, and particularly the United States, this development is expected to cause further obstacles in fostering or even exercising their legitimate interests in the Mideast.
As recently as last summer, Messrs. Begin and Sadat discussed each other's evaluation of Soviet ambitions in this region. They also exchanged thoughts about the growth of extremist forces in the Middle East. The first such discussion was held at their meeting in Alexandria, Egypt last July; the second was in Haifa, Israel two months later.
At Aswan, these talks are expected to be carried further. Few people here think yet in terms of establishing an Israel- Egypt axis, as was suggested on one occasion by Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. Hope is expressed, however, that a thorough airing between President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin could lead to increased coordination in regional matters.
The conclusions that may be reached at Aswan could also, if handled with sufficient discretion, stimulate Western thinking and positions. It has been known for some time that Mr. Sadat and Mr. Begin, temperamental though they are, would welcome a more dynamic policy by Washington in this part of the world.
Preoccupation with grand strategy, however, is not expected to deter either of these Middle Eastern statesmen at Aswan from putting the final touches to the normalization of relations between their two countries.
This work is scheduled to start on Jan. 26, one day after the Israelis return the last stretch of the Sinai Peninsula west of the El Arish-Ras Muhammad line.
On that day, diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt will be established, first at a consular level, and one month later by exchanging full-ranking ambassadors.
At the same time, Cairo is supposed to end 32 years of economic boycott against Israel; the borders will be opened for land, sea, and air traffic; and Egypt is to cancel the anti-Israel clauses it used to insert in all international agreements it concluded.
From then on, the official countdown for gradual normalization will start. The process will be measured by such moves as trade ties, tourist traffic, cultural exchanges, and general good neighborliness. If this process works well , as is expected by Mr. Begin, the Israelis will return to Egypt the last third of the Sinai by the spring of 1982.
Despite their cheerfulness over prospects for bilateral relations, the two leaders are expected to deal with controversies, too, at Aswan.