Israel's strike against terrorists: a signal for Washington, too?
Israel's strike at the alleged perpetrators of the bombing of the United States marines seems meant partly to push the idea of US-Israeli ''strategic cooperation'' long favored by the Israelis.
Since taking office, the Reagan administration has blown hot and cold on the idea. Some US officials have been concerned that too close or formal a security ''consensus'' with Israel might complicate ties with key Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia. This concern was particularly evident in the aftermath of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon but has seemed to recede somewhat in recent months.
Israeli officials denied suggestions that the air strike early Wednesday on Syrian-controlled eastern Lebanon was unleashed in league with, much less at the behest of, the Reagan administration. [US officials said they had no advance notice of the strike, Reuters reports.]
A brief announcement said that Israeli jets had ''attacked a terrorist base . . . [that] served as a training camp belonging to Iran-affiliated organizations.''
Militant Shiite Muslims have been publicly accused of the bomb attacks last month on US and French forces in Beirut. A Tel Aviv newspaper last Friday quoted Israeli military sources as saying Shiite extremists had also been responsible for the similar attack Nov. 4 on Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.
But at least by the time the Israeli bombers went into action, the Israelis had publicly limited themselves to accusing Syria of having ''instigated'' that attack. The very day of the assault, Israeli jets responded by bombing what were termed Palestinian ''terrorist'' emplacements in Syrian-controlled parts of Lebanon.
Though Wednesday's attack may well have been meant as further retaliation for the bomb assault on Israeli headquarters, it also carried the ''bonus,'' from the Israeli point of view, of demonstratively striking at the groups Washington has blamed for the Marine tragedy.
Western diplomats also pointed out that Israel moved at a time when Washington's resolve to retaliate had been diluted. And while separate US retaliation remains possible, Mideast analysts sense Washington is concerned not to risk confrontation with Syria - a key actor in any move to stabilize the situation in Lebanon and facilitate the marines' eventual withdrawal.
The Israelis, too, have recently stressed they want to avoid any major confrontation with Syria. Although Wednesday's strike hit very near Lebanon's eastern border with Syria, the Israelis seem to have figured that Syria is equally uninterested in a full-scale war.