When Push Comes to Shove: Israel flouts U.S. diplomacy with an attack on Beirut

Israel flouts U.S. diplomacy with a ferrocious attack on Beirut

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But the most serious strains were between Washington and Jerusalem Some 40 American Jewish leaders met with Bush, Shultz and Weinberger at the State Department las week to assess the damage. The general tone was most reassuring," said one participant. "The officials issued a complete denial of even the consideration of sanctions against Israel." That assessment was disputed, however, by both White House and State Department aides. Officials who oppose curtailing aid and arms tear that Reagan may impose sanctions if he feels crossed by the Begin government just as he ignored advice not to place an embargo on equipment for the Soviet gas pipeline to Western Europe. Said one official at the State Department: "Just because it would be counterproductive diplomatically does not mean Reagan might not do it. Begin should remember the pipeline."

The U S.-Israeli tension was evident when Shamir went to Capitol Hill last week to testify. "We're all friends of Israel " Democratic Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts informed him, "but I've got to tell you, support here is seriously eroding." Such sentiments, lawmakers said were a reflection of discomfort with Israel around the country. Said Republican Senator Dave Durenberger of Minnesota: "I sure hear it back home, 'Stop fighting a war against little children.'" Congressman Dave Obey agrees. Says the Wisconsin Democrat: "People come up to me and say, 'Good God, what are you going to do to stop this business?'"

The stability of the Middle East and the credibility of American diplomacy hinge on whether words or rockets settle the status of the P.L.O. in West Beirut. For all the demands that the U.S rein in Israel, the Administration has neither the means nor the right to control its ally, or, for that matter, any other country. Israel is a sovereign and fiercely independent state whose aim is to defeat the P.L.O. terrorists who have been operating out of Lebanon. To a large extent the fate of America's Middle East policy is in the hands of two of the toughest and most single-minded menn in the world: Yasser Arafat and Menachem Begin.

— By Walter Isaacson. Reported by Douglas Brew and Johanna McGeary/Washington

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