The American people cannot but be somewhat uneasy at the outcome of the Reagan-Begin visit for all the cordiality surrounding it. They must wonder what a "new strategic relationship" with Israel means. Is this in effect the first step toward a full-blown mutual defense treaty, something which Prime Minister Begin appears to favor? It will be up to the Reagan administration to assure the public that there is not more to the agreement for strategic cooperation than meets the eye -- and that any mutual security treaty with Israel would necessarily be contingent on a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement.
For the moment the proposed agreement seems to be largely symbolic. Israel and the United States already work together closely in the military and intelligence fields. The "new" collaboration calls for joint naval exercises, something already going on unofficially, and such unprovocative measures as the storage of US medical supplies in Israel and strategic planning against an outside -- i.e. Soviet -- attack. None of this seems an excessive or unreasonable commitment.
It was undertaken with such fanfare in Washington presumably for two main reasons. One was to ease the way for the President to press the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia. It seems clear that Congress can be more easily persuaded to go along with the controversial sale if the close US-Israeli relationship is reaffirmed. In an ironic twist, the administration is even planning to argue that, if the $8 billion sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia is blocked, its new strategic cooperation with Israel as part of an overall plan for defense of the Gulf region is also jeopardized.