The clash of interests

November 14, 1990

Almost from the moment the Persian Gulf crisis began nearly four months ago with Iraq's blitzkreig annexation of Kuwait, both the Bush administration and Israel have sought diligently to avoid drawing Israel into the conflict. But the politics and geography of the Middle East made it inevitable that it was only a matter of time before Israel's interests would come into the picture. That moment apparently has come in a showdown over the question of whether the United States will sell some $20 billion in equipment and weapons to Saudi Arabia -- which has suddenly become America's principal Arab ally against Saddam Hussein but which is still perceived as an implacable enemy by Israel.

In a report which got less attention than it deserves, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported an acerbic conversation last week between President Bush and a group of American Jewish leaders who were lobbying Congress to veto the proposed Saudi arms sales. In conversations apparently pieced together by Israel's ambassador in Washington, the newspaper reported, President Bush is said to have angrily told the delegation that "the subject on the agenda is the security of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia. If you object to the weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, I will appeal directly to the American public and explain who is with us and who is against us."

You don't have to be very sophisticated at reading between the lines to see the menacing nature of such a statement, and frankly we have serious doubts that Bush ever made such a comment in those precise words. It just doesn't sound like something an American president would say to a group of American Jewish leaders. Nevertheless, the report does underscore that American interests and Israeli interests at times are going to be in conflict -- probably to an increasing degree as the illusion of Arab "unity" evaporates.

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