Between the fourth and the twentieth days of this month of June Israel's armed forces stormed north into Lebanon leaving a trail of death and desolation in their wake. At the end of two weeks of fighting they had driven some 6,000 surviving Palestinian irregulars into the western part of Beirut.
There had been resistance, but it was ineffective. The Palestinians were no match for the Israelis. Nor were the Syrians who more or less kept out of the way after one air battle in which they lost perhaps as many as 60 planes while Israeli planes knocked out all of the Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries in the area.
Israel has come a long way since a British government committed itself to the establishment in Palestine ''of a national home for the Jewish people.'' That phrase comes from the Balfour declaration of 1917 which contemplated the settlement of Jewish communities in Palestine, but not what has happened since. The Balfour declaration had a second clause which said:
''. . . it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. . . .''
The British government of 1917 did not contemplate a Jewish state in Palestine which would become the major military power in the area.
Israel is today at a new peak of power and influence.
It has decreed that Iraq must not achieve a nuclear capability. It has enforced that decree by bombing an Iraqi nuclear reactor nearing completion.
It has decreed that the Syrians must not retain the high ground of the Golan Heights, enabling them to overlook, and sometimes shell, Israeli settlements in the valley below. It has enforced that decree by seizing the Golan Heights.
It has decreed that Palestine refugees from Israel and from the occupied lands of the West Bank must not live in refugee camps in southern Lebanon and in those camps develop military formations dedicated to an attempt some day to regain their own lost homelands and pursue that purpose by guerrilla and rocket attacks. It has enforced that decree by stamping out those camps and settlements.
Israel has now decreed that there must be no more ''foreign'' military forces in Lebanon. That means that Israel wants all Palestinian and Syrian armed units out of Lebanon, leaving Lebanon in the hands of elements which would be sympathetic to Israel and to its interests.
There is reason to think that Israel will enforce this decree on its northern neighbor as it has enforced its earlier decrees on other neighbors. This particular decree could be nullified if the government of the United States in Washington would say no. There is no apparent intent in Washington to say no.
This means that what the British of 1917 intended to become a place in which Jews might find protected homes and rest from persecution has become instead a powerful regional imperial state able to dominate its neighborhood.
An imperial state is one which can and does dominate and influence its neighbors. For example, Denmark is not imperial. It does not dominate any of its European neighbors. Vietnam is imperial. It does dominate its neighbors Laos and Cambodia. In that same sense Israel is now the dominant power in its own area - probably just about as dominant as the Jewish state was in the same area in the time of King Solomon.
There were reasons why the Israelis sought and used their military power. The Arabs were hostile to the new Jewish state and resisted it at every turn. Israelis feared for their survival.
But how permanent is today's triumphant imperial Israel?
Its influence has not been built by earning the good will of its Arab neighbors. The power has been based on intimidating them with superior military weapons and prowess. It has made more enemies, not fewer, by its latest exercise in military conquest. And its power is derived from an outside source.
Israel's major weapons come from the US. Israel's economy is sustained by subsidies from the US. Israel's power, besides its own dedicated armed forces, is built on Israel's influence in Washington. It depends on Washington, just as Vietnam depends for major arms and for economic survival on Moscow. Neither Israel or Vietnam could dominate their neighborhoods if the support of their major patrons were withdrawn.
Both Israel and Vietnam would be wise to study the story of what was once the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. It flourished for a time (1099 to 1187 A.D.) by making friends with neighboring Muslim states. It was also sustained by subsidies and new recruits from Europe. The time came when it made the mistake of warring against all its Muslim neighbors.
And when that time came Western Europe had other interests absorbing its energy and manpower. The subsidies ended. The Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem passed from the pages of history into the songs of the troubadours.
Israel and Vietnam are regional powers today. But have either any local friends to help them if their great sponsors some day lose interest or sympathy?