What price for an 'outrage'?
Israel's 10-hour bombing and shelling of west Beirut last Thursday, Aug. 12, was judged by the President of the United States to have been an act of ''needless destruction and bloodshed.'' He said that the deed, which obviously caught him by surprise, was an ''outrage.'''
The President's sense of outrage was presumably accented by the fact that 12 days earlier he had declared that ''the bloodshed must be stopped.''
On that occasion he also declared it to be ''absolutely imperative'' that the cease-fire remain in place.
Clearly those reactions by the President to the Israeli bombing of Aug. 1 did not restrain them from the even heavier and more indiscriminate bombing of Aug. 12.
On that last occasion the number of civilians killed was estimated by Lebanese police at 156. Wounded were estimated in the hundreds. Most hospitals had to be closed either from bombing or from lack of supplies and staff.
The President called it all ''needless'' by which he meant that the agreement of the PLO forces to leave west Beirut had already been secured by US Ambassador Philip Habib.
The bombing and the destruction did not speed the departure of the PLO. In fact it almost succeeded in preventing the agreement.
What then is the net long-term effect of the commitment of this ''outrage''?
Even while the bombing was going on Israeli officials were busy to the south converting much of southern Lebanon into a de facto part of the Israeli political and economic system.
Civil administrators had taken over management of public affairs in Sidon which is the main political and commercial city in southern Lebanon.
Israeli coinage had been introduced. Israeli goods were being offered in the markets and shops.
So far as the daily life of the average citizen is concerned southern Lebanon is already as much a part of the Israeli political and commercial system as are the West Bank and Gaza.
Will the ''outrage'' change Israel's ''special relationship'' with Washington?
There has not been talk in Washington of sanctions. White House spokesmen have said the subject has not been seriously considered or discussed.
There is no reason yet to believe that the President has modified his declared promise to maintain Israel's ''quantative and qualitative military advantage'' over its Arab neighbors.
Israeli government officials claim that there is no crisis in US-Israel relations and that the incident is already in the background and will have no lasting effect.
If a similar ''outrage'' had been committed by a country in the Soviet political system, there would already be reprisals and sanctions.
If Israel can do this and suffer no punishment in Washington, then there is indeed a special relationship which so far as the Reagan administration is concerned has been undamaged by the deed.
And if the above is a valid conclusion then there is reason to assume that Israel will proceed now along its chosen path of consolidating its grip on southern Lebanon and on the West Bank and Gaza.
In the absence of any punishment by Washington there is no practical reason for Prime Minister Begin to desist from his program for rounding out Israel's strategic and political frontiers.
But is there no price at all to be paid for this act of ''needless destruction and bloodshed''?
In the long run, probably some price.
Israel's military might and Israel's economy rest on American subsidies which in turn rest on popular sympathy for Israel. That in turn rests on sympathy for a people who were once, some 40 years ago, the victims of one of history's greatest horrors -- the holocaust at the hands of the Nazis.
But who today is the victim of political oppression and military terror? The Arabs of Palestine have just been deprived of most of their own duly elected mayors. They have little or no machinery of their own for their own political expression. Their kith and kin in Lebanon are being driven farther away from them. They have just been subjected to a military ''outrage.''
Is the above going to erode popular sympathy for Israel in America?
And will such erosion weaken support in the Congress in Washington for the next round of American military and economic subsidies to Israel?
Israel gets more aid from the United States than anyone else. There is no proposal from the White House to reduce this American generosity.
But public opinion could change the pattern. I wonder if it will.
It does seem evident from the record, and from current Israeli troop deployment, that Israel will continue to use the military power which America provides for further action in Lebanon unless there is a penalty for the invasion of Lebanon and it attendant ''outrage.''