In the Wake of War: Time and Reality in the Middle East

In her ATLANTICarticle of September on the nature of the Israeli armed forces, Mrs. Tuchman wrote as a reporter, In this one she writes as historian,viewing the Middle East situation not in the context of events just passed or events shortly to come in such places as the United Nations, but in the long chain of history. Mrs. Tuchman’s first, book, less widely known than THE GUNS OF AUGUSTand THE PROUD TOWER,was BIBLE AND SWORD,a study of the relation of Britain to Palestine up to the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

THROUGHOUT the nineteenth century no problem so persistently troubled European diplomacy as the Eastern Question, meaning the rivalry of the powers for dominance in the area from Cairo to Constantinople, where lay the strategic pathways between Europe and Asia. Then held in the decrepit and supposedly dying grip of the Ottoman Empire, the region was the focus of Russia’s drive toward a warm-water outlet in the Mediterranean, Britain’s need to control the road to India, France’s dream of empire in the East, and at the end of the century, Germany’s ambitions, spearheaded by the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway. The Question was which of the powers would succeed in becoming the favored protector of the Turk so as to gain the major influence in his dominions, keep rivals out, and be in the best position to inherit control when the Empire should break apart.

The process began, like so much else in modern history, with Napoleon, who, setting out at twentyeight to re-create Alexander’s empire from Egypt to the Indus, took Cairo in 1798, and though defeated by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile, went on by way of the Sinai Peninsula to invade Palestine. Here he laid siege to the port of Acre, whose fall he expected to open the way to Damascus and Constantinople, but he was stopped again by British naval guns and a landing force, which in support of the Turkish defense of the city frustrated the grand design. Even at the height of later triumphs he was heard to murmur, “I missed my destiny at St. Jean d’Acre.”

The Eastern Question exploded anew in the tenyear crisis of 1830—1840 around the person of Mchemet Ali, ruler of Egypt as vassal of the Sultan, who rose in revolt with intent to make himself sovereign of an independent Muslim state covering Egypt, Arabia, and Syria (then including Palestine). Russia seized this opportunity to come to the aid of the Sultan in the hope of gaining the Dardanelles, France adopted the cause of Mehemet, and Britain exerted desperate efforts, including another landing on the Syrian coast, to frustrate anyone other than a weak Turkey from bestriding the road to India.

The third stage was the Crimean War in 18551856. Precipitated by a quarrel over control of the Holy Places in Jerusalem, in reality the fight was an effort to contain Russia, conducted by Britain and France in support of Turkey. In 1860 in the Lebanon the struggle changed to an effort to contain France, led to the Levant by the imperial longings of Napoleon III in emulation of his uncle. The fourth stage followed in the 1870s when Britain acquired the Suez Canal and the Congress of Berlin was convened by the powers to limit Russia’s gains after a successful war with Turkey. Once again Russia’s old restless hunger for the south came into collision with Britain’s path of Empire. “We shall have to choose,” wrote the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury, before the Congress, “between allowing Russia to dominate over Syria and Mesopotamia or taking the country for ourselves.” In the fifth stage Britain accomplished the preferred of these alternatives — in the modified form of Mandates—upon the fall of Turkey in 1918. At the present stage Britain has withdrawn, its place having been taken by the local inhabitants, Russia plays the same role as before, while the new superpower of the West operates by fits and starts, never quite positive what its world role should be.


Before World War I no one paid much attention to the political interests of the local inhabitants, which were, in fact, not exigent. When it came to holding sparsely inhabited Palestine as the fulcrum of the wobbling Ottoman Empire, it was an influx of Jews the Western powers thought of, rather than Arabs. The first version of the idea was Napoleon’s. Having previously summoned the Arabs of Egypt to rise against their Turkish overlords, he issued a similar call on reaching Palestine to “all the Jews of Asia and Africa” to rally to his flag, restore the ancient Jerusalem, and “claim your political existence as a nation among nations.” This was statehood before the Jews had thought of it. Under the circumstances of his expedition, Bonaparte’s proclamation to the Jews was not very practical and had no consequences. The idea was later revived by Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary during the Mehemet Ali affair, who urged the Sultan to encourage the return of the Jews to Palestine, where they could be a stabilizing factor against “any future evil designs of Mehemet Ali or his successor.” This too was premature.

The Jews themselves at this time were either shut away in the ghettos of Central Europe or busy in the Western countries pursuing Emancipation, the child of that Enlightenment which was supposed to make man reasonable. Return to Palestine was not yet more than a traditional dream which had to await the coming of a Messiah. The country itself, which had once supported kingdoms and thoroughtares, temples and aqueducts, vineyards and fields of grain, had decayed during a thousand years of Arab habitation into a desolate tract, defoliated by goats. “There is not a mile of made road in the land from Dan to Beersheba,” reported an officer of the Royal Engineers who conducted a survey for the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1878. Roads for wheeled transport, irrigation, drainage of malarial swamps, sanitation, seeding, and reforestation would all be required to revive the land.

These were the conditions which met the first trickle of Jewish colonists who began to come out of Russia under the goad of the nineteenth century’s newly energized anti-Semitism. The early formulators of Zionism gave up waiting for a Messiah and asserted the doctrine of self-help. Rabbi Hirsch Kalischer of Prussia, author of The Quest of Zion, in 1860 had no great faith in the benevolence of the Western powers. He wanted Jewish soldiers to guard Jewish settlements and Jewish money raised from Jewish philanthropists to finance the purchase of land, agricultural training, and loans to settlements until they could be self-supporting, In 1881 the savage, state-instigated pogroms in Russia, followed by the May Laws, prototype of Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws, called forth a famous pamphlet by Dr. Leo Pinsker of Odessa entitled Auto-Emancipation, of which the prefix is the part that counts. The Jews must emancipate themselves, Pinsker wrote, and re-establish themselves as a “living people.” There was no use complaining about anti-Semitism; it would go on as long as the Jews were a ghost people without territory, “ghosts of a dead nation walking among the living. There is something unnatural about a people without territory just as there is about a man without a shadow.”

Impelled by the pogroms and the de-citizenizing May Laws, the exodus began, hesitantly, minutely, and without benefit of intermediary power. On purchased land sold to them as worthless by Turkish and Arab proprietors, the first Jewish colonies, small, scattered, and feeble, gained a toehold in the Jaffa area and in Galilee, where during the early years they clung, always on the edge of ruin. Organized Zionism launched by Herzl came later at the turn of the century.


The problem that no one, whether Zionists, Arab nationalists, or British, gave much thought to from the beginning was the Arab population of Palestine. Emir Hussein of the Hejaz, Sherif of Mecca, and his sons, Faisal and Abdullah, who became kings of Iraq and Jordan respectively, were primarily concerned with Arabia and the region from Damascus to Baghdad. Nor did the British during World War I regard Arab nationalism as extending to Palestine, which always had a special status in their dealings and was specifically “reserved,” both in the Sykes-Picot Treaty with France and in the pledge negotiated with Hussein’s family by the Arab Bureau under Sir Henry McMahon in 1915. When Winston Churchill as Colonial Secretary in 1922 lopped off Transjordan from the rest of Palestine to create a new state by fiat, he explicitly stated that “the whole of Palestine west of the Jordan” had been “excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.”

The Jews’ and Arabs’ present titles to Palestine have been the subject of endless dispute. To state the matter as succinctly as possible, the modern history of these titles after the fall of the Turkish Empire is the following:

1. The Mandate conferred upon Britain by the Principal Allied Powers acting through the League of Nations, and ratified by them in 1922, gave international recognition to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” as promised by the Balfour Declaration, but did not grant territorial title or statehood to anybody. The Mandate had Class A status, which meant territory taken in charge without provision for future independence. The Arabs were nowhere mentioned by name but referred to as “other sections of the population” or “various peoples and communities” whose civil, religious, and personal rights were to be safeguarded.

2. Britain having relinquished the Mandate, the UN in 1947 voted for the Partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. The Jews accepted and obtained de jure recognition of their title in 1948. The Arabs rejected Partition. In company with the armed forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, they attacked the Jews with the stated object of “forcible prevention” of a Jewish state, and were defeated. The Arab area allotted by the UN, somewhat reduced by the fortunes of war, was then annexed by Jordan (and in the Gaza area by Egypt) without ever having existed as a state. Consequently, no independent Arab state has existed in Palestine west of the Jordan since the Turkish conquest in 1072. How this leaves the question of title is a matter for international lawyers. Today, what is left of the area assigned to the Arabs under Partition, now known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is under the de facto control of Israel.


As viewed by the Arabs this history has been one of perpetual insult. They are a frustrated and resentful people. In Napoleon’s wake the return of Europeans to the Near East awoke them to the modern world and to the wine of nationalism. They found that during the long centuries of Islam’s decline, the West had passed them by, and the infidel whom they considered inferior could now impose his will upon them. Unable to close the gap and resenting imperialism, they developed a sense of grievance which has outlasted their gain of independence in the twentieth century. Filtered through this grievance, history becomes a tale of the crimes committed against Arabs by others, beginning with the perfidy of the British in failing to keep a supposed promise to set up an independent Arab kingdom from the Red Sea to the Euphrates. Since the Arabs’ own contribution to their liberation from the Turks was minimal (the Lawrence legend notwithstanding), they had no control over what happened thereafter and suffered the embitterment of dependence betrayed. Indeed, Arab history in the last fifty years would have been very different if they had played the determining role, with British help, in overthrow of the Turks instead of a token role in a British campaign.

It was only when Hussein’s family, the Hashemites, had failed to unite Arab lands and peoples under their rule, when they had been pushed out of Syria and had lost Arabia to Ibn Saud, that the intrusion of the Jews, under the British promise of a “national home,” appeared as the cause of Arab failure, a role it has played ever since.

Increasing Jewish immigration and settlement under the Mandate — bringing Western values and modern methods, planting orchards and fisheries and industries where there were none before, and making the land yield an income the Arab peasant never knew — proved an irritant which was worked up into a campaign of hostilities by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini. A cousin of the Hashemites and a man of large ambitions, he hoped to rid Palestine of both Jews and British in order to set up a kingdom of his own. The riots and massacres and battles of the 1920s and 1930s, as the foundation of the enmity which has since swelled to trouble the world, were largely the work of that gleaming-eyed old man still alive today in Cairo.


Arab culture has its own values and manners and relationships of man to man and man to the land which were satisfactory to itself — or to the ruling class — as long as it remained separate unto itself. It was not the Jews but the modern world which brought its discontents. The Jewish presence in the Arab midst was the immediate visible symbol and a daily reminder of the difference in applied capacity. As an example of better living it threatened to upset the settled order of things. Originally it had been seen by such Arab partisans as T. E. Lawrence and by the Emir Faisal himself as an infusion of Western energy and skills acting in a partnership of Semitic cousins toward a renaissance of the Middle East. Instead it proved disruptive, as the impact of the West on a more primitive society has been known to be before.

In the huge expanse from the Nile to the Euphrates, Palestine, in Balfour’s phrase, was a “small notch” and the Jews’ right to a homeland there, in Weizmann’s phrase, a matter of “relative equity,” but to the Arabs, who keep trying to play a role equal to that of the Caliphate at its peak, the Jews serve as the reason for their nonsuccess.

The shock to the Arabs’ ego when their combined forces failed to sweep the Jews into the sea in 1948 was profound. Their only defense was intransigence, a refusal to accept reality and an Eastern reliance on time: to wait is to win in the end. This explains their policy of attempting to isolate Israel by nonrecognition, boycott, blockade, severance of all contacts, and through intimidation, to prevent its contacts with other countries as well. Thus cut off, the Arabs believe, Israel can never put down roots; its people will eventually pack up and go back where they came from, leaving the remnant to be easily destroyed. The favorite analogy is the Crusaders. Did the Arabs not wait 200 years for those invaders to vanish? Why not again? The argument has bemused not only the Arabs but their Western partisans. It overlooks the essence: that Zionism is, after all, irredentism. Unlike the Crusaders, the Jews had been there before, which gives them a reason for staying. In their own minds they have come home.

For Nasser and other Arab leaders, it is impossible to admit the real lesson of the defeats of 1948, 1956, and 1967. It was unthinkable in 1948 that the Jews could have thrown back the attack by their own strength, hence the monster of World Zionism as explanation. The name, with its sinister “Z,” conjures an image of diabolical power which the Arabs see as literally controlling the UN (hence Partition) and all governments which have recognized Israel. Discrepancies, such as Russia’s recognition, they meet with a bland, sincere gaze supposed to suffice the questioner. They may be bewildered but not embarrassed.

Anglo-French participation in the Suez campaign of 1956 was all they needed to prove the dependence of “Zionism” upon imperialism or vice versa, and the Anglo-French fiasco on the Canal was enough to enable the Egyptians to overlook their military defeat by Israel in the desert and transform the whole campaign of 1956 into an Egyptian victory. There are victory monuments in Gaza and Cairo to prove it.

Last summer’s crisis acquainted Westerners with Lhe talent for fantasy that governs the Arab world — a world in which King Hussein and other leaders still found it worthwhile after the war to proclaim their people’s readiness to “fight Israel to the last drop of blood,” even though the recent opportunity to do just that was so conspicuously not embraced. Such talk may be only a liturgical ardor, which is the Arab habit of speech, but behind it the thinking is no less unreal. Hints of what they might be prepared to offer Israel in return for withdrawal, such as, by Jordan, unlimited access to the Wailing Wall, and by Egypt, free passage through the Strait of Tiran, are concessions which could be described as supererogatory.

What makes dealing with the Arabs even more uncertain is that they cannot be counted upon to act in their own best interest. The great common denominator of international dealings — a reasonable appreciation of self-interest — is lacking. This makes diplomacy in the Middle East something like playing poker against a beginner: it is impossible to say if a play represents concealed strength, calculated deception, mere vagary, or pure ignorance. Recently the Israeli commander at Qantara on the Canal, explaining the difficulty of defense against the Egyptians’ eccentric post-war shooting, said, “It isn’t always easy to contemplate what they will do next. They are unique enemies really, because I don’t think they know themselves.”

Refuge in unreality is anyone’s right, but the danger is to the rest of the world. The Arabs’ refusal to accept the proof that they cannot destroy Israel militarily and their persistence in maintaining a state of war keep coals of belligerence burning at a focal point in the world’s geography and sustain the belief that if only Israel were to vanish, their troubles would be over. In fact, their troubles are domestic and inter-Arab, and if Israel were to vanish tomorrow, the Arabs would be at each other’s throats.

This kind of unreality is fostered in the whole mystique of the underdeveloped state and nowhere more than in the make-believe UN world of onenation, one-vote. When nations are encouraged to ignore difference in capacity while they retain hostility, the result can be dangerous to everybody else. The hard reality of the matter is that the Arabs have committed themselves to an object — the elimination of Israel — which they are incapable of obtaining. They are incapable because, as was nakedly revealed last June, for all their ancient culture and modern jets, they belong, as far as the mass oi their people is concerned, to the underdeveloped, or, to use the old-fashioned and franker word, backward, nations. This is the lesson of the war. Looking at the map, one asks how it was possible that the tiny sliver of Israel with a population the size of Connecticut’s could defeat its enormous enemies, who were heavily armed in proportion to their overwhelming numbers and could attack from three sides. The improbable verdict was no accident. In the floods of discussion since then, the clash of arms is almost forgotten, but the war was in fact the real test, and the Israeli victory no magician’s trick, as it has come to seem to the Arabs and their partisans. It was valid — for the valid reason of superior ability.

The Arabs had the power, but they could not deliver. Nothing else to be seen on the battlefields was so significant as a series of huge tanks, whose raison d’être is mobility, which are designed to carry war to the enemy, dug into sandpits by the Egyptians for use as field artillery. This was from no shortage of equipment, nor from ineptness or ignorance. It could only mean, as the unreadiness of their air forces likewise suggests, that under conditions of modern warfare against a modern enemy however small, the Arabs have no stomach for the attack which figures so conspicuously in their speeches. If they did not have it in June, they are not likely to acquire it, for it is doubtful, in my opinion, that they will ever be, relatively, in a better position to accomplish their object than they were in the last crisis.

When history happens under one’s eyes one should learn something. To me it suggests that the underdeveloped nations are not closing the gap; on the contrary, the gap is widening. They cannot catch up in social progress, education, and food with their exploding populations. With the present technology of weapons, nuclear or not, numbers, even vast superiority of numbers, are not and will not be determining. Nor will possession of modern weapons without the skill and self-confidence to operate them.

The Arabs’ belief that if only they wait long enough they will overcome seems to many unanswerable. Yet population, if it outstrips food, can lead to weakness rather than strength, as in the case of India. On the other hand, Israel may, in the long run, share in the predicted decline of the West. Conversely, the degree of challenge Israel must meet merely to survive may exempt it from that fate. None of these considerations are absolute, and they raise the crucial question: time is on whose side in the Middle East?


Israel’s difficulties, both short-range and longrange, are extreme. Governing occupied territory with an undetermined political future leaves unlimited openings for trouble. Many inhabitants are afraid to cooperate for fear of reprisal if the regime should change; others conspire for change. Resettling the refugees or restoring a viable economy in areas whose normal markets are cut off is no easier, especially at a time when Israel’s own economy is depressed. Its economy suffers from retrenchment, the rigid grip of labor bureaucracy on employment practices, and the continuing need for foreign investment.

The refugees have become a stone of Sisyphus. Israel has taken 500,000 Oriental Jews from the Arab states, some recruited, some expelled, because their absorption was in Israel’s interest. The Arab refugees on the other hand were useful to the Arab states only if not absorbed, but kept in camps as living propaganda and as a source of guerrillas and infiltrators. Although the oil-producing Arab states count their daily income in millions, Arab unity has not extended to philanthropy, and the refugees for the last nineteen years have been left a charge on the international community, with 70 percent of the funds provided by the United States.

In the camps of Gaza and the West Bank they are still in their native land — that is, within the confines of Palestine, although they have lost their native homes and villages. Unhappy enough at best, this condition has been made to seem, under the whip of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s propaganda, permanently unacceptable. A young man in a refugee camp at Jenin on the West Bank, of sufficient ambition to have obtained an education and a position as chemistry teacher in a vocational school, explained that his native village was seven kilometers away, inside Israel, in the same valley of Jezreel as Jenin. Yet for him it was unthinkable to leave the camp and settle “here"; nothing else but back “there” on his native ground would do.

“They have taken our homes and must be made to give them back” is the single, insistent, recurring theme of the Palestinian Arabs. Their true misfortune is that they are encouraged by Cairo and Damascus and P.L.O. agitators to believe the aim is realizable.


The refugees became refugees when they left their homes in 1948 under the impact of the war launched, and lost, by their compatriots. Israel in the years since 1948 refused to readmit them chiefly because, while its neighbors maintained a state of war, Israel could not afford a potential fifth column of half a million people in a state of two and a half million. Now victory has laid the problem in Israel’s lap, with long-range implications profoundly disturbing to the state.

They come down to this: can Israel remain a Jewish state? It is caught in a central dilemma: to enlarge its boundaries for the sake of defensible frontiers means absorbing over a million Arabs who, outbreeding the Jews, could become a majority. To withdraw to pre-war boundaries would be to keep a Jewish majority but return to the insecurity of a position that can only be defended by taking the offensive.

With Arabs of Israeli citizenship already amounting to 11 percent of the population, and Oriental Jews numbering 29 percent, the fear of becoming orientalized already exists. In the early years of the national home some Jews, notably the distinguished first president of the Hebrew University, Dr. Judah Magnes, foresaw or believed in the necessity of a binational state. The subject of profound schism then, his ideas were rejected. Although in the new context since the war they may be revived, few Israelis today would be ready to argue openly that their country could or should give up its character as a Jewish state.

From their point of view the only desirable solution of the dilemma is the Arabs’ formal abandonment of belligerency, which would permit Israel to live more or less safely without having to extend its territory to take in an unwanted Arab population. This is Israel’s main objective — establishment of orderly relations between neighboring states — open borders, trade, commerce, contact, transit, the normal fabric of a legal peace. That is why Israel is so insistent on direct negotiation. The good offices of an intermediary, which would relieve the Arabs of the necessity of meeting the Israelis face to face and of accepting Israel’s existence by peace treaty, would be no improvement over the past.


Nations are not usually content to win wars for nothing, and in that respect there is no reason why this war should be different from all others. The victors in World Wars I and II took reparations and territory, redrew boundaries, and imposed armies of occupation (still in force) to preserve security. Should Israel do less? It has retaken Jerusalem in the spirit that France retook Alsace. As regards the rest, Israel is unlikely, unless forced, to withdraw quietly to its pre-war situation with no quid pro quo in national security.

This will not soon be forthcoming. Except for the Palestinians of the West Bank, who have begun to grope toward a solution, the Arab states at the time of writing show no visible signs of coming to any terms even remotely related to the verdict of the war. They are still searching for some magic that will cancel the result of those six days last June. Until they discover that no magic, by pretense of moderation, or others’ mediation, or Russian maneuvers, or even by Tito’s running interference, will turn back the clock, they will not recognize Israel, which is the one gain it must have.

Possibly if Nasser falls, a new leader could effect a change of opinion. The Arabs as a people are highly emotional and easily swayed. They “could be swung on an idea as on a cord,” wrote T. E. Lawrence. With little sense of participation in government, the average Arab likes to be told what to think by an admired leader. Public opinion is volatile, and the story is told of a prominent Egyptian editor to whom it was suggested that his anti-American tirades were creating an unfortunate climate of opinion just at a period of negotiations for foreign aid. “Don’t worry, my dear fellow, I can change that in three days,” the editor said. Asked if he could do the same with regard to Israel, he thought for a moment and replied, “That would take ten.”

Short of such a revolution, it is false to pretend that the impasse rests on an undying injustice to the refugees which only recovery of their native homes can resolve. On that basis we should give America back to the Indians, or at the very least, Texas back to the Mexicans, or perhaps Hawaii back to whatever Hawaiians have survived our intrusion into their land. History is full of the displacement of peoples; it closes over them and moves on, massively indifferent. That may not be justice, but it is nature. Perfect justice rarely regulates the affairs of nations, and we are doing well if we can achieve “relative equity,” which is not hard to locate as between Jews with less than one percent of the 1,200,000 square miles liberated from the Turks, and the Arabs with all the rest.

The refugees in any case are better off than most uprooted peoples since they are still in their native land, where they could settle, if politics allowed, into the same economy, agriculture, customs, language as before. The undercultivated West Bank has room for — and with introduction of modern methods, could support — them all, including the majority from the overcrowded Gaza Strip. With Israeli know-how in resettlement, with the waiting land and peoples, with perhaps nuclear power for irrigation by desalinization, and with UN (meaning U.S.) financing, here at least is an opportunity for constructive action. It has been done before, in 1924 when 500,000 Greek refugees from Turkey were resettled in Greece by an American High Commissioner under League of Nations auspices. Is capacity less today? The cost, according to estimates, might be a billion dollars — equal to the cost of running the war in Vietnam for two weeks.

Meanwhile the Arabs wait with amputated territories, Israel waits with dangerous burdens, and the question again is: whose side does time serve? The Arabs will say they don’t care how long they wait, which is another way of escaping the present. Meanwhile they have lost tremendous leverage — in the headwaters of the Jordan, the Syrian pipeline, the Suez Canal, the Sinai oil wells, and the Strait of Tiran, all now under Israel’s control.

How long Israel can hold the occupied territories without coming to some announced decision is an open question. The longer the present situation lasts, with the investment of effort in paving roads, opening schools, extending utilities and sanitation, the harder it will be to turn back the West Bank, which is the major problem. If the Arabs will not make peace, the stern irony of conquest may bring Israel territory it does not need from a war it did not want, and ultimately cost its integrity as a Jewish state.


Under this cloud the mood in Israel since the war is sober and worried. Some realize with sadness that things can never be the same as before; others believe it is time to learn to think in terms of power. The older generation, more dedicated to the founding Zionist tradition, sees no reason why Israel, given normalcy of relations, cannot function forever at its pre-June territorial size as a kind of Switzerland of the Middle East. But to fill up the Negev and ground the state firmly and preserve its Jewish identity, they insist Israel must have increased Jewish immigration from the free world. They want a population of 5 million by the end of the century. Aliya, or immigration (literally “ascent”), is the theme of speeches, conferences, exhortations every other day, with Prime Minister Eshkol, like Ben-Gurion before him, its most persistent and fervent exponent. To the preachers of Aliya this is the most urgent matter of all, and the cutting off of 3 million Jews in Russia is a greater tragedy than Arab hostility. They have convinced themselves that an inflow of 30,000 to 40,000 a year from the United States, Latin America, and other countries of the West is feasible, and with natural increase they should attain the 5 million goal and secure the Jewish character of the state.

To what degree they are self-deceived, or deceived by the Zionist organizations abroad, who must believe in emigration in order to stay in business, is a matter of opinion. What is history, however, is that the three Aliyas which went into the making of the state — from Russia, from Hitler’s Europe, and from the Arab countries — all came because they were pushed, because conditions in those countries were made intolerable. That people will leave a more comfortable for a less comfortable society minus a propellant is not the normal way of things. Officially the Israelis count on idealism, but they do not put a propellant beyond the bounds of possibility.

Whatever the solution, the Jews of Palestine have reached a third stage in their development: from dependence to independence to power. Of necessity thoughtful citizens are re-examining their country’s purpose and future. What is to be its role in the Middle East and its reason for existence? It is not, said Simon Peres, former Deputy Minister of Defense and one of the country’s most influential political figures, to be “just another little America.” But what it is to be, few in the present state of flux could say with certainty. Half a century ago Sir Mark Sykes suggested that it might be the destiny of the Jews “to be the bridge between Asia and Europe, to bring the spirituality of Asia to Europe and the vitality of Europe to Asia.” Sykes was a fervent advocate both of a revived Arab nation and of the Zionist return, and it is one of history’s tragedies that his position, which seemed natural then, should seem unnatural now.


What of the powers and the Eastern Question today? Russia’s interest, as before, is a “sphere of influence,” and though ideology may have changed, the method, as before, is to establish a client relationship; with the Turkish Empire then, with its successor states today — at least those which are politically susceptible. Russia’s aim is to extend the list by political action in the oil-rich domains, where American influence so far predominates.

As an American diplomat has put it, there are three wars in the Middle East: Arab-Israeli, ArabArab, and the cold war. Russia cannot let slip its position as the Arabs’ major friend. China is in the background, and the cold war is no longer really or only a Communist-capitalist war, but slowly transforming itself, with gaps, into an AfroArab-Asian front against the white West. Where that leaves Russia, only history will tell. It is interesting that a recent Black Power statement, though largely lunatic, unhesitatingly placed the Soviet Union among the “whites,”and an Israeli tape, made during the war when the Syrian troops broke, recorded a Russian voice crying, “The blacks arc running!”

Vis-à-vis Israel, Russia doubtless accepts its existence as a permanent reality while from time to time, to keep them happy, encouraging the Arabs in the belief that they can someday eliminate it. Israel is useful to Russia as a goad of Arab fears and antagonisms. A settled peace is not necessarily a Soviet interest in the Middle East, nor war either, but rather what the Economist has called “a little exploitable unrest.”

Since the interest of the United States, on the other hand, is a stable peace, its problem is that much more difficult. It must deal as equably as possible with both Israel and the Arabs, including the radical Arab states, however perverse their behavior. The Arabs, with their sense of injury, their unreality, their extremism, large territory, and great numbers, are a fact of life. They are there. The Israelis, on the other hand, have vocal friends, but their difficulty is that they have no leverage; they have to be on our side, they do not have to be wooed. Status as a threat or nuisance sufficient to require being appeased is an asset in international affairs which they lack.

In view of pressures by devoted partisans of either side, American policy is not simple either to formulate or apply. Aramco is the largest single American investment abroad, and oil makes larger profits than any other business in the world besides having a very large number of stockholders. The great fear of the oil companies is of nationalization, which would certainly be a consequence if the Arab monarchies should give way to proSoviet regimes.

In the long run the swell of decolonization will propel the oil companies out of the Middle East, but businessmen, being preoccupied with the present, are not historians. The oil men have had comfortable arrangements with the sheikhs and sovereigns for a long time which they do not like to see disturbed, and they deplore all this turmoil, engendered, as they see it, by the intrusion of Israel. Bent on keeping the feudal rulers in power, they want the United States to give the Saudis, Kuwaitis, and others a handle against the radicals by forcing Israel to withdraw, thus proving American friendship and usefulness — and an alternative to Russia. An effort of that kind, if successful, would only convince the radical Arab states that intransigence pays off, which would hardly improve the situation. From the American point of view, if something positive is to be gained from the late crisis, it can only be in some form of Arab acceptance of Israel as a fact of life. How far Washington is prepared to work for this or the oil lobby to sanction it is another matter.


The problems of a superpower are heavy. No matter what turns up, no matter where on the globe, American power is engaged in it as if the United States were caught on a global treadmill from which it cannot step down. The larger our establishment, with connections in every corner of every continent, periscopes in the seven seas, and aerial reconnaissance daily circling the globe, the more we respond to every quiver and feel obliged to influence every event so that it does not go against us. The penalty of gigantism is to think in too large terms, and we operate in terms of Them and Us as if that dichotomy determined all destinies. We are too little aware of variations, individualities, ancient histories, local character, and local pressures, which are the real determinants on the spot. No Pax Americana can accommodate or encompass them. We cannot make others go our way by aid or by arms or by advice which starts out with a few advisers and ends up as major war.

The connection between the Middle East and Vietnam is the evidence that gigantism is ineffective. Russia could not control developments for its clients, nor could all its vast armaments and all the Arab states defeat one small but determined country. The American hand in the Middle East crisis before hostilities was likewise unavailing. Washington’s attempt, allowing two weeks to organize a regatta for the Gulf of Aqaba, was unrealistic even if based on an Israeli assurance of a two-week leeway. No such assurance given in Washington could control a crisis situation. With both sides “eyeball to eyeball,” as were the powers in 1914, and fully mobilized at huge cost upon their already weakened economies, and with tension building up unbearably, the assumption that the dangers would wait and emotions obediently subdue themselves while Washington pursued consensus was an example of the superpower ignoring local realities. If the result proved fortunate for Israel in the end, in that Israel broke an impossible situation by unaided effort, that was not because of any policy the United States had ready.

In Vietnam, with all our weaponry, modern skills, and physical presence, America can do no better than Russia in the Middle East. We are precluded from using total military power because victory won by that means would defeat its purpose. Anything less, though it be the greatest expenditure of men, arms, and money since World War II, evidently cannot achieve what we want. In a world which contains and must continue to contain other cultures, other values, other determinations, superpower, it would appear, has its limits — which is just as well. A world with a single set of values is neither possible nor desirable — nor necessary for security. We could well afford to get off the global treadmill from time to time, for if superpower cannot give us confidence in our own society, and the strength to put it in shape, it can do nothing.

Next month John S. Badeau, director of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute and a former ambassador to Cairo, will discuss the Arabs and their state of mind.