Peace in Israeli Eyes


August 28, 1991|By BEN WATTENBERG

Tel Aviv -- Consider three ''peace processes.''

One, in Western Europe, has been incredibly successful. No one worries about Germany attacking France, or Italy invading Greece. That peace process involved two world wars within 40 years.

A second peace process is under way, between the nuclear superpowers. After a 45-year Cold War, real peace may be at hand.

The third -- perhaps -- is just beginning in the Middle East.

It's said that myopic generals tend to fight the last war. Wise political leaders are said to ''learn the lessons of history.'' Curiously, the thought is roughly the same.

Ariel Sharon, a general and political leader, sees relevance to Israel in the way the Cold War ended. General Sharon represents an Israeli outlook that will have to be at least partially accommodated as the peace process moves forward.

General Sharon asks: How did the Cold War end in peace? How did America come to prevail? And he answers: America did it the right way, staying strong and resolute until democracy surfaced in the land of its adversary.

That's not what's happening in his part of the world. ''The Arabs still hate the Israelis,'' he said. ''The same dictatorships are still in place.''

General Sharon believes the lack of democracy is a military concern. Democracies, with built-in checks and balances, cannot easily launch surprise attacks.

General Sharon also notes that America pursued arms control while dealing with the Soviets. But in the Middle East, he says, there is an arms race, not arms control.

Syria has two different Scud models, a growing arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and a huge tank force. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt are getting Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters and F-16s, each with modern systems.

General Sharon, now the Israeli housing minister, says his country is spending less on defense, in part to finance the settlement of Soviet Jews now arriving in Israel.

So General Sharon asks: If waiting for democracy and pursuing arms control was the way America came to peace with its enemies, isn't that the wise road for Israel?

Now, some of this is debatable. For example, given recent experiences, the Saudis have a clear reason to want defensive armaments.

But General Sharon's is an Israeli perspective. He stresses that what may be ''defensive'' or ''tactical'' weapons elsewhere, can be ''strategic'' against Israel, where the distance from the Jordan River to Jerusalem is only 20 miles.

General Sharon is often the regarded as excessively hard-line. Yet many of his views are rooted in recent history. America did indeed win the Cold War by waiting for democracy. Moreover, Western Europe got peace only when the whole area finally turned democratic.

And, of course, General Sharon is above all an Israeli nationalist. He surely must have noted something else about those other peace processes. They didn't end neutrally. One side ended up winning.

Ben Wattenberg is an American Enterprise Institute senior fellow.

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