Israelis brace for worst: Hussein staying in power

December 10, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun Karen Hosler of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

JERUSALEM -- With no clear outcome to Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in sight, Israeli officials are contemplating a worst-case possibility in which Saddam Hussein survives the crisis with his military forces intact and pressure increases on Israel to accept an international peace conference that it now rejects.

Some of the basic ingredients of such an outcome have emerged recently, beginning with the announcement by Mr. Hussein, the Iraqi president, that all foreign hostages in Iraq and Kuwait were free to leave. His announcement fed hopes that he might agree ultimately to a peaceful withdrawal from Kuwait.

At the United Nations, the Security Council is debating a resolution calling for an international conference to reach a "comprehensive" Middle East peace, including the final status of Israeli-occupied lands and the fate of Palestinians living there. A vote on the resolution has been scheduled for today.

For Israeli officials, the Iraqi announcement and the Security Council debate are parts of a diplomatic and military nightmare that, in the worst case, would leave Israel more isolated than before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and facing an undiminished military threat.

Yesterday, however, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir pulled back from earlier warnings that Israel might act unilaterally against Iraq if Mr. Hussein emerges from the current crisis with his military intact.

Instead, he said, he expects global pressure on Iraq to continue until some means is found to contain the threat of Mr. Hussein's chemical, biological and, potentially, nuclear weapons, as well as his million-man army.

"I don't think that the world can live with such a machine intact," Mr. Shamir said in New York, where he was interviewed on CBS's "Face The Nation."

Mr. Shamir also said he did not believe that the United States would change its position on the U.N. resolution for an international peace conference, and Secretary of State James A. Baker III confirmed that U.S. diplomats were "vigorously opposing" it.

U.S. diplomats have lobbied unsuccessfully to remove any mention of an international conference from the resolution. The United States has been attempting to avoid having to choose between using its veto -- and thereby angering Arab states -- and allowing the resolution to pass -- thereby angering Israel and risking Israeli defiance of the measure.

But Mr. Baker, interviewed yesterday on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley," emphasized that U.S. opposition to such a resolution is based on the implied linkage between the Persian Gulf crisis and the Palestinian cause.

Mr. Baker said the United States has long been willing to consider an international peace conference on the Arab-Israeli conflict "at an appropriate time" if it is "properly structured."

Despite the strain in U.S.-Israeli relations that grew out of the stalemate over the occupied territories and has worsened with incidents of violence there, Mr. Shamir dismissed the suggestion that the United States is beginning to tilt away from Israel.

"There could be some difference of views, but I don't think that the United States will change its position about the international conference, for the best reason that this is not the way to get peace," the prime minister said.

"An international conference will only be able to impose a solution on us, but we will not accept it. . . . It's a non-starter."

Security specialists say that international pressure for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement is increasing just when Israelis see the possibility of such a settlement as less likely than at any recent time.

"There's an inherent contradiction in the situation," said Dore Gold of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. "Regionally, the conditions are less ripe than ever for moving forward a peace process over the West Bank and Gaza. But globally, the pressure for moving forward is increasing all the time."

Just when pressure is increasing for Israel to give up the West Bank, for example, that territory has new allure for Israel's military as vital maneuvering room in case of conflict with Iraq and a potential cushion against the effects of any future political unrest in Jordan.

Israel is counting heavily on a continued U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf to prevent the worst-case possibilities from happening.

If there is a diplomatic solution that allows Mr. Hussein to stay in power, analysts say, U.S. forces would be Israel's insurance against future Iraqi threats.

"Otherwise, we're back to where we were militarily before he invaded Kuwait -- when he was talking about destroying half of Israel," said Gerald Steinberg, an analyst at Bar Ilan University.

"If those troops are going to be removed, then Israel is going to be very nervous."

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