After the Persian Gulf war ends, Israel may reach an accommodation with the Arabs, including the Palestinians, says a University of Utah scholar who recently returned from Israel.
Laurence D. Loeb, an anthropology professor who left Israel on the day the war started last week after a 10-day academic conference, believes the change in the balance of power created by the destruction of Iraq's offensive capability might result in peace moves.The conference was held in Hertzilya. He stayed there and in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.
In an interview at his office in the U.'s Stewart Building, he said that when the war is over, there is a potential for Arab countries in the region "to make an effort to get along better with Israel, and that in fact might help with the Palestinian issue."
Israelis view the Palestinians within the overall context of the Palestinians' relationship with other countries, Loeb said. So when the war ends, that relationship presumably will be changed. In that case, should a peace conference be held to settle many remaining Middle East problems, such as what to do about the Palestinians?
Loeb said such a conference could turn into a forum in which other countries pressure Israel to make concessions, and that this wouldn't be much assistance. However, he said, there could be a movement toward settling many issues, in which Israel meets one-on-one with other Mideast states.
A new relationship may be developing between the United States and its Arab allies in the region, and possibly this country could use its good offices to facilitate a better relationship between the Arabs and Israel, he said.
"Peace is never accomplished by forcing your will on another people. Peace is basically accomplished by accommodations on everybody's part."
When he was in the country, he thought Israelis were concerned about the threat of terrorist bombing by Iraq - a threat that later materialized in Scud missile attacks - "but they're confident they can deal with the war and the bombing."
People were instructed in the use of gas masks and air-raid shelters. "Some, with great bravado, said, `I refuse to use a mask in any case."'
Loeb said instructions on the use of gas masks were broadcast hourly on television in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. "I can now do it blindfolded," he said.
Asked why Saddam Hussein hasn't used chemical weapons in his attacks on Israel, he said it's possible that a poison gas warhead is too large for a Scud missile. Such warheads could be loaded onto one of Iraq's 24 bombers, if any remain airworthy, but this hasn't happened.
Why it hasn't, he said, is "hard to say. You know, Israel's response to a gas attack would be devastating."
The country has a capacity to defend itself, Loeb said. An attack by Israel on Iraq could be catastrophic, he added.
Israel wishes it could be left alone in peace, he said. The country doesn't have a direct interest in a war with Iraq, but "I think for the first time in history they felt they weren't facing an enemy themselves.
"I think they were comforted to have a very strong ally (the United States) in dealing with a crafty and dangerous opponent."
At some point, Israelis will respond to the attacks that have been launched against them, he predicted. If many more casualties had been inflicted in the attacks, the Israelis would have been more anxious to respond soon.
Asked about the mood there, he said there is some fear, but "it depends on who you ask and where you are. Among the more religious population there is less fear. They feel that God watches over them."
He agrees with the general feeling in Israel that "it's going to be a quick war. American forces, if they're properly used, should be able to end this relatively quickly . . . I don't see this war going on much beyond the end of March."
Loeb believes that if it drags on much longer than that, President Bush will find himself in political trouble. Americans may lose patience after about 10 weeks of warfare.
"There is a tendency to think this is a war for oil," he said. Protesters and the media have painted this picture, but he disagrees. Oil is only one small factor in the conflict, he said.
"I'm a little more idealistic than that. I think this is an attempt to stop a man who's a petty dictator," Loeb said. He called Saddam ruthless, brutal and willing to sacrifice tens of thousands of his own citizens to achieve his goals.
"His potential for mischief is enormous," Loeb said.
He said people should imagine what would have happened in the present confrontation if Israel had not knocked out Saddam's nuclear reactor in a 1981 raid. "We'd be facing a foe that was extremely powerful," who could threaten the safety of the entire Middle East, he said.
While he was there, he saw that Israelis think of themselves as self-reliant, and have "a presumption that they will persist, they will survive."
In fact, he was amazed to find that on the eve of the gulf war, Israelis' attention was turned to helping find host families for the nearly 250,000 Soviet Jews who have immigrated there recently.
"In all of this turmoil about war they're looking to this next step," he said. "They're looking beyond that. And I think that's very healthy."
Few of the new arrivals speak Hebrew. They spend hours in briefings at the airport, learning about Hebrew, and are given some money and issued gas masks. "Most of them said, `Gas mask, big deal.' " They were much more concerned about jobs and the other everyday adjustments to living in a new country.
The day before the war started, children were kept home from school out of concern that schools might be targets for Iraqi attacks, he said. "I was staying at a cousin's house - a young son had stayed home from school that day."
Since he was home, he wanted to go out and buy a pair of athletic shoes. So finally he and his mother took off to get them. His mother joked that this could turn out to be an expensive war for the family.