- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Make-believe letters from one national leader to another are frequently helpful in jogging things along.

The New York Times' foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman is a master of the genre. But his latest effort on Feb. 6 inadvertently portrays President Bush as sadly lacking in the institutional memory department.

In an imaginary letter addressed to Arab leaders, Mr. Friedman has Mr. Bush telling them that when they made clear to Israel's silent majority they were interested in real peace in return for real Israeli withdrawal, they got exactly what they wanted from Israel. Hello.

Mr. Friedman, not Mr. Bush, has apparently forgotten that the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, in January 1971, in his first interview after succeeding Gamal Abdel Nasser, said he was prepared to "sign a final peace treaty with Israel" in return for an "Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 war borders and a just solution to the Palestinian problem."

The Israelis didn't take Sadat seriously about peace until he went to war in October 1973 to prove he was serious about peace. Welcome to Middle Eastern geopolitics.

Then Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel, responding to Sadat's January 1971 offer, said Sadat was nothing but "a Soviet puppet who is incapable of telling the truth." She also said in the same interview, headlined in the International Herald Tribune, that there was no such thing as "the Palestinian people, who are a figment of your [this reporters] imagination."

The beloved Golda scoffed when told that Sadat loathed the Soviets he had inherited some 18,000 Soviet military advisers from Nasser and in July 1972 he stunned the world by giving Moscow an ultimatum that gave the Soviets 10 days to clear out of Egypt. Moscow complied.

But this wasn't good enough for Golda. So Sadat was jollied along with a series of half-measures Sisco plan, Rogers plan that kicked the can of total withdrawal for total peace, and went nowhere. The Egyptian president then resolved to give the region "shock therapy." Israeli intelligence told Golda Meir that Sadat was bluffing, that Israel could defeat Egypt with one hand tied behind its back, and a rumored oil embargo was an empty threat "because what are the Arabs going to do with their oil drink it?" Such was the conventional wisdom.

Unbeknownst to Israel, Sadat had obtained a pledge from Saudi Arabia's King Faisal that, in the event of Egyptian reverses on the battlefield, the oil weapon would be unsheathed. Egypt and Syria launched their simultaneous all-out attacks across the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights in early October 1973. No sooner did Gen. Ariel Sharon launch a brilliant counterattack on October 15 that took Israeli forces across to the west bank of the canal and threatened Cairo than the Arab oil embargo was declared.

The shock therapy worked. Henry Kissinger quickly stepped into the breach, saved the Egyptian 3rd Army from total annihilation, negotiated a cease-fire and began his shuttle diplomacy that led to the first Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. Sadat did not get the Israelis to budge by being Mr. Nice Guy. The world was up in arms about a quadrupling of oil prices and the Israelis realized how their miscalculations had led to a needless and mindless casualty toll of 3,000 young Israelis.

The region is now headed back to the geopolitical equation that prevailed 30 years ago an arrogant Israeli prime minister at the head of an overwhelmingly powerful and self-confident Israel, and a weak, toothless Arab world. But there are plenty of Arab radicals who are convinced that only shock therapy will get the Israelis off the West Bank and Gaza, as it got them out of Sinai in 1974-75.

Another oil embargo? Doubtful. A major explosion in the oil installations of the Gulf? A distinct possibility. So is a small rubber Zodiac speedboat with terrorist frogmen pulling alongside a supertanker in the Strait of Hormuz. They wouldn't even have to be holy warriors on their way to join Allah and the 72 virgins the Koran promises them. Sticking limpet mines to the hull on a moonless night is not necessarily a suicide mission.

Without terrorism, the Palestine Liberation Organization would still be dismissed as a figment of someone's imagination, as Golda Meir once suggested. Without terrorism (e.g., the Stern and Irgun gangs), the Jews of Palestine and the survivors of the Holocaust might have had a much longer wait for their own state.


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