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The Arabs change their strategy

Those Israeli bombs which fell on June 6 greatly improved Menachem Begin's election prospect at home in Israel. There was another fallout from those bombs which was not included in Mr. Begin's calculations. It will have longer-term results.

Have you noticed that Iraq has not retaliated in kind?

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Instead of using the old "eye for an eye" formula against Israel, Iraq joined the United States in drafting a UN resolution which was not even punitive. The Iraqi government was more eager to put itself on the side of the US than to exact its pound of flesh from Israel.

The explanation comes in two parts. The first is obvious, the second subtler -- and more important.

The first is that Iraq has ever since 1973 been shifting its orientation from Moscow toward the West. The shift began when its new oil profits found more attractive goods on Western than on Moscow shelves. It was accentuated when Moscow proved reluctant to provide more weapons for use in Iraq's war against Iran. The Soviet have tried to remain neutral in that war, presumably to keep their options open toward Iran.

What use oil riches if Moscow has no goods? And what use is a friendship treaty with Moscow if the Soviets decline to aid Iraq in its war against its own old enemy Iran?

This has left a wide open opportunity for Western merchants, Western ideas, and US diplomacy. It was seized. It flourished in the nonpunitive censure of Israel. The burgeoning progresses. Secretary Haig and US Ambassador of the United Nations Jeane J. Kirkpatrick have become rivals for the credit for the new chumminess with Iraq. The Reagan White House backs Mrs. Kirkpatrick. She is called a "heroine" at the White House because she negotiated that deal with the foreign minister of Iraq.

So the picture left from the episode is not the usual one of the US holding a protective shield in front of Israel against vengeful, bomb-hurling Arabs clamoring for Israel's destruction.

Instead, we have a most unusual picture of the US in closer diplomatic association with an Arab country than with Israel.

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This is the most dramatic expression yet of a change in Arab strategy toward Israel which has long been preached by some of the more moderate Arabs, led by President Sadat of Egypt. The object of this new Arab strategy is to dispel from the Middle East situation what has for 30 years been Israel's most powerful advantage against the Arabs.

That advantage has been the doctine of implacable Arab hostility toward Israel.

On the basis of that doctrine the US Congress every year votes Israel the largest subsidy (on a per capita basis) which any country in history ever paid to another. And on the basis of that doctrine the US makes available to Israel its latest and best weapons enabling Israel to be the military master of the Middle East, a position attested by the ease and success of its June 6 bombing attack on Iraq.

Israel has been the winner in all four of its wars with its Arab neighbors, and substantially increases its territories at Arab expense in three of those wars. Only in the 1956 war did the Israelis fail to gain territory, and that was only because after the fighting was over President Eisenhower forced them to get back out of the Sinai peninsula which they had overrun quickly and easily in the first phase of that war.

But in spite of repeated Israeli victories and the steady expansion of territory under Israeli control the popular picture persists of a fragile and vulnerable Israel about to be overwhelmed by hordes of angry Arabs bent on Israel's destruction.

The Arabs themselves have frequently fortified the picture and the doctrine. Iraq in fact considers itself still to be in a state of war with Israel. Only Egypt has formally accepted the existence of Israel and its right to continued existence.

Suppose that all the Arabs changed their tactics and their strategy, recognized the existence of Israel, and followed Egypt down the road to peace with Israel. They would wipe out the doctrine of implacable Arab hostility toward Israel. And they would wipe out the basis for America's annual subsidy to Israel. The propaganda advantage would shift from Israel's side to the Arab side.

Iraq's collaboration with the US in producing a nonpunitive response to Israel's bombs is only one step down the road of a new Arab strategy.Arabs may not be able to keep on that road, but if they do t he Middle East will never be the same again.

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