In their obsession with trying to get Israel out of Hebron, U.S. negotiators have lost sight of the broader issues that face America in the Mideast. The Jewish Arabists in the State Department who shape U.S. policy in the Middle East --Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller, Daniel Kurtzer, and
their man in Jerusalem, Martin Indyk--have behaved as if peace in the Middle East depends upon forcing the Jews to leave Hebron. The truth, however, is that the dangers to peace and to America's strategic interests in the Middle East extend far beyond Hebron.
To begin with, radical Islam is a huge and growing movement in the region. Militant Muslim fundamentalists, who despise America and Israel in equal measures, rule Iran, are battling for control of Algeria and Egypt, control a large bloc in the Jordanian parliament, and are popular throughout Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
Pressuring Israel to make concessions to the PLO will not appease Islamic fundamentalists. On the contrary, it whets their appetite. It encourages them to believe that they are on the path to victory. Hebron or no Hebron, fanatical Islam will continue to gain ground in the Middle East and threaten American interests there.
Second, there is the serious problem of Arab dictators developing, purchasing, and stockpiling non-conventional weapons which will eventually be used to ignite a regional conflagration.
A CIA report obtained by the Washington Times last year revealed that Egypt had recently received seven shipments of North Korean materials needed to construct advanced Scud C missiles. There have also been reports that two Egyptian government pesticide factories are producing poisons to be used for chemical warfare purposes. Syria, of course, has for some time been buying and manufacturing non-conventional weapons.
Jane's Defence Weekly reported last August that Syria "has the most advanced chemical weapons program in the Arab world and relatively sophisticated missiles for delivering these weapons...A range of chemical weapons is reported to be manufactured at facilities near Damascus, at the village of Safira, near
Aleppo, and at a site near Hama, with assistance from China, North Korea and Iran." Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai revealed not long ago that "Russian scientists are helping Syria develop a lethal nerve gas...VX, which can kill within seconds if a minute quantity comes into contact with exposed skin. It can also penetrate light clothing and footwear and can remain in the atmosphere for days or weeks after being dispersed."
The role of the Russians is another dangerous ingredient in the Middle East mix, one that could profoundly affect American interests in the region. According to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Russia has become the second largest arms exporter in the world.
It sold $1.7-billion worth of weapons in 1994, $3-billion in 1995, and $3.4-billion in 1996; furthermore, "during the period December 1996-January 1997, Russia signed contracts to supply $2-billion in arms and is expected to match or exceed U.S. sales in 1997."
A substantial portion of the Russian arms traffic is to the Middle East--extending the sphere of Russian influence and hastening the day that there will be a major explosion of hostilities that will threaten America's vital interests in the region.
Isn't it time that Ross et al set aside their obsession with Israel and focused some serious attention on the real threats to U.S. interests in the Mideast?
Herbert Zweibon is Chairman of Americans For a Safe Israel.