Political fallout from Israeli strike on Baghdad reactor spreads around the globe; Moscow uses raid as stick to beat US
There's no mystery, Moscow says, in Israel's bomb attack on an Iraqi nuclear facility: The Americans did it; or, more precisely, they must bear ultimate responsibility as israel's superpower ally no matter how vehemently they condemn the attack for the record.
The Israeli air strike is the latest element in a Soviet- American battle for influence in the Middle East.
The bombing strike, provoking universal Arab condemnation, was seen by diplomats here as likely to hurt US stock in the region, at least in the short run. This, most assuredly, won't upset the Kremlin.
But the initial assessment of Moscow diplomats was that the controversy around the attack would not substantially boost Soviet influence in the region -- the Kremlin's gains would probably be limited to some easy propaganda points. In this area, the Soviets are dealing from strength. Even the most moderate of Arabs do not hide their resentment of what they often term Washington's "blind backing for Israel."
Israeli military moves tend to reinforce this resentment, hardly on encouraging prospect for a US administration seeking curbs against Soviet influence in the Arab world.
Within hours of Israel's June 8 announcement of the Baghdad air strike, the official Soviet news agency began highlighting foreign reports that US-made aircraft were involved in the attack. By late June 9, the agency directly implicated Washington in what it termed "undisguised and arrogant aggression against the sovereign state of Iraq."
The attack, Moscow said, "was taken not without Washington's sanction. . . . It is obvious that this latest act of international piracy has been backed by the present American administration," the news agency said.
A later dispatch quoted a US report as saying the attacking Israeli planes had flown over Saudi Arabia, and said it was "hard to believe" US radar planes based there had not detected the Israelis.
The Soviets dismissed public US condemnation of the assault as "obviously designed to delude world public opinion regarding the true stand of the US administration, as well as to soften the anti-American reaction of the Arab countries."
Diplomats here had little doubt that this kind of talk would strike a responsive chord in the Arab world, which at least on the surface is united in condemnation of the Israeli attack.
The perceived obstacle to long-term Soviet gains from the incident was that, below the surface, there seemed no indication the Arab would was any more united than before.
The Soviets could theoretically check what Moscow perceives as a bid for expanded US military and diplomatic influence in the Mideast -- on two fronts.
The first is military. The question here is whether the latest Mideast controversy will provide a catalyst for a rapprochement between Moscow and Baghdad. The capitals are linked by a 1972 friendship pact. But recently, and particularly since the Soviets declared "neutrality" in the Iraq-Iran war, the treaty has become, quite literally, a piece of paper.
The Soviets' latest formal ally in the main Arab-Israeli arena is Syria, Iraq's neighbor and traditional rival.
For all this to change much, diplomats here suggest, Iraq would have to find a palatable way out of the war with Iran, bury suspicion of local communists and of Moscow, and probably make up with the Syrians. The first item is seen as conceivable, the others much less so for the time being.
The other front involves not guns but briefcases. Soviets have been trying to draw closer to Arab regimes that the Americans would like to line up against Kremlin influence in the Mideast. But most diplomats argue that, if and when overall Arab-israeli peace becomes feasible, the Americans will be the superpower at center stage. This, the theory goes, is because US aid to Israel gives the Americans leverage in prying concessions for the Ar abs.