The Muddle with Middle East Policy

The 97th Congress ended the last days of 1982 with an absurd flurry of filibusters, marathon sessions, and last-minute deal-making. Almost lost in its confused shuffle to complete the 1983 federal budget was a vote on foreign aid expenditures in which Congress raised military aid to Israel to $1.7 billion, $500 million more than the level requested by President Reagan.

Total military and economic aid to Israel this year will now be $2.5 billion. With the passage of this expenditure, Israel has surpassed the wartime government of south Vietnam as the largest single recipient of U.S. aid in history. The aid increase was yet another personal defeat for the president, whose lobbying efforts to stop it had been bumbling and confused; but more importantly, it was a serious setback for any prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon last June, the Reagan administration has groped for a policy to deal with the new situation in the Middle East. Originally the administration, despite occasional disclaimers, took a positive view of the invasion, and there is some reason to suspect that it was undertaken with the prior approval of our government.

Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon insists that he warned U.S. officials of the impending invasion during a visit to Washington in late May of last year. And Pentagon records show stepped-up shipments of military supplies to Israel during the early months of 1982, when the invasion was being prepared, as well as unusual increases in the U.S. naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean just before the June attack.

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