Does the United States owe Israel for not jumping into the war in the Persian Gulf?
Jerusalem certainly thinks so. It is seeking $13 billion in special aid over the next five years - $3 billion to cover Israel's war costs, including the tourist business lost because of the fighting, and $10 billion to cover the cost of absorbing Soviet immigrants.The extra funds are being sought even though it's in Israel's own interest to stay out of the fighting and avoid inflaming Arab animosities toward Israel. But Israel still deserves special consideration.
For openers, Israel's needs are real. Iraqi missile attacks have damaged 1,350 apartments and caused more than 100 casualties in Israel, including three elderly people who died of heart attacks in the raids. Washington has advised Americans and others to stop traveling to the Middle East. Estimates of the cost of resettling an estimated 1 million Soviet Jews over the next five years range from $22 billion to $40 billion - more than Israel's gross national product.
Besides, the United States forgave Egypt $8 billion in debts in order to secure its support for the allied effort against Iraq. Meanwhile, Germany is providing $170 million to Israel.
Under the circumstances, it would be more than just awkward for the United States to start tightening its purse strings even though the extra aid for Israel is bound to help thwart efforts to whittle down the persistent federal deficit.
But the vast expense of resettling Soviet Jews should be considered a separate issue. Yes, the United States has long championed the right of these people to leave the Soviet Union. While financial help with their transition would be consistent with that policy, it should take the form of loans, not outright handouts. That's because these immigrants, after initially exerting a drain on Israel, will eventually add extra vigor to their new country's economy.
Finally, any increased American aid should be provided on the understanding that after the war in the Persian Gulf is over, Israel will join in redoubled efforts to build peace in the Middle East.