Rarely in the 33 years of the Arab-Israeli conflict have the Arabs felt as dominated militarily by Israel as they do today. In the "eye for an eye" atmosphere of the Middle East, acts such as the July 17 bombing of Beirut or the June 7 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor might have prompted retaliation in the past. But today, Arab leaders and western diplomats say, despite superior economic position due to oil wealth, Arabs are forced into a moderation born of their inability to do otherwise.
Tactically, strategically, and to a degree, politically, the Israelis are in command. The Israeli Army is equipped with the latest American and Israeli-built equipment. The F- 16 fighter gives Israel control of the skies from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. The likely existence of an Israeli nuclear force serves as a constant, unspoken deterent to Arab acts that could push Israel too far -- into what one Lebanese analyst calls "a nuclear Masada."
"Arab thinking now," says a western diplomat in Amman, Jordan, "admits that it is impossible to fight Israel. Unfortunately, the Israelis know that, and therefore they are acting with impunity."
Arabs interviewed last week by the Monitor say this situation has developed for two reasons: (1) Disunity in the Arab world. (2) Superior armaments -- and the inclination to use them -- in Israel.
Almost every non-Egyptian Arab blames Anwar Sadat for weakening the Arabs politically and militarily. "Would Israel have done this (the raid on Iraq's reactor) if Egypt had been standing by?" a Jordanian official asks. "We are forced into defensive positions and the Israelis can practically dictate to us."
In Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq newspaper and political references to "the traitor Sadat" are as frequent today as they were when the Camp David accords were signed in 1978, say longtime observers.
Western diplomats are concerned that instead of becoming more palatable with the passage of time Camp David is, to Arab eyes, proving itself more dangerous. This translates into pessimism on the part of American diplomats who have been trying to arrange some sort of continuation of Camp David, possibly involving Jordan's King Hussein. Jordanian officials say, and Western diplomats concur, that Mr. Hussein grows farther away from US policy aims with each new Israeli escalation.
British diplomats say even a European initiative on the Middle East -- which British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington is pushing as head of the European Council of Foreign Ministers -- is a virtual no-go for at least another year.
With Egypt out, Syria and Jordan neutralized due to clear Israeli military dominince, Iraq tied up with its war with Iran, and the Palestinians in Lebanon continually pummeled by Israeli air and artillery fire, there seems to be no military counterweight to Israel. What little could be mustered by the remaining "front line states" -- Jordan and Syria -- must be seen in relation to continuing inter-arab inharmony.
Though, subordinated for the moment, basic problems exist between Jordan and Syria, Syria and Iraq, and pro-Western and pro-Soviet Arabs. These prevent a pooling of resources against Israel.
The pre-emptive destruction of the Egyptian Air Force in the early hours of the 1967 war was considered decisive for Israel. Israel is building a fleet of 75 US-supplied F-16s, 40 F-15s, and an assortment of domestically and joint US-Israeli manufactured high performance aircraft. Military analysts say for its size, Israel has one of the most powerful militaries anywhere after the superpowers.
The policy of pre-emption against the Palestinians in Lebanon led last week to Palestinian retaliation: rockets were fired on northern Israeli settlements. It was after this that Israeli jets bombed the densely populated Beirut neighborhood in which the PLO makes its headquarters. Lebanese officials estimate 300 persons were killed in the bombing raid.