Israel wary of European negotiating role

January 04, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

JERUSALEM -- Israel is worried that the latest diplomatic flurry to solve the Persian Gulf crisis may succeed but will leave it facing the consequences.

Its leaders are particularly wary that a European-led negotiating effort might tie a settlement to Palestinian independence.

"Obviously, any American diplomatic leadership is preferable to European leadership," said Dore Gold, an analyst at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv.

Israel is concerned that a negotiated settlement might get Iraq out of Kuwait but nothing more. This would leave Iraq with a huge army and chemical weapons.

"If a diplomatic deal is worked out where the U.S. pulls out and leaves Iraq's missiles and military intact . . . the obvious target becomes Israel," said Gerald Steinberg, a strategic analyst at Bar-Ilan University.

Israeli officials in the last few days have dropped pointed reminders of their concerns. While largely abiding by Washington's wishes to stay out of the gulf rhetoric, Israeli leaders are starting to clear their throats for attention.

In a speech this week, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir restated his view that the crisis would not be over until Iraq's ability to attack Israel with chemical and conventional weapons had been removed.

Other government officials have stressed the point in briefings and yesterday offered up an expert on terrorism who warned of a "sophisticated and elaborate terrorist network in the United States and Europe" that would remain unless Iraq's "terrorist infrastructure" was destroyed.

"Now is the moment of truth to deal with this problem," asserted the expert, Yonah Alexander.

A negotiated settlement might notdo that. Some of Mr. Shamir's advisers believe military action is inevitable, although they stop short of publicly saying they want the United States to go to war.

The Israelis feel they have even less weight with which to make their points with European than with U.S. negotiators.

"Israel does not have much control over the situation now. It has limited amounts of influence, and none in Europe," said Mr. Gold.

He noted that European Community leaders now trying to start negotiations have talked approvingly of following any gulf settlement with talks on Palestine.

Israel has bluntly rejected this "sequential linkage." Its leaders feel they have President Bush on their side in that rejection.

But "the general Israeli sense is that Europeans have such a long tradition of appeasement, they cannot be trusted," said Avner Yaniv, a strategic expert at Haifa University.

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