Victor Cygielman: Has U.S. policy in the Middle Eastern conflict
been fair to the different parties?
Moshe Arens: I doubt whether fairness is the appropriate term in
order to describe a government's policy. Every government has
interests. The United States has its interests and U.S. policy is
motivated primarily by the need to ensure them. I don't know
whether you can describe it as being fair to other people in the
Is it fair to Israel?
As I said, I don't think fairness is the question. The United
States and Israel have certain common interests and part of the
U.S. interest is to maintain that very special relationship with
As far as Israel's interest is concerned, have you noticed a
change for the better or the worse in U.S. policy since
For the better. In 1948 there were many people in the U.S.
establishment who thought that Israel was going to lose the war and
it was not in the U.S. interest to provide backing to a country
that was going to lose. It would also create a relationship of
enmity with the Arabs. This was seen by those people as a losing
proposition, as backing the wrong horse. Some wanted to postpone
the creation of the state. There were others who said Israel would
be a Soviet satellite and since the people in charge here were
Socialists and felt a degree of empathy with the Soviet Union, why
should the U.S. provide backing?
All that has changed. The U.S. concluded, first, that Israel is not
a losing horse, that it can defend itself and is not going to be
defeated by the Arab states; second, that Israel is a democracy and
did not become a Soviet satellite - on the contrary, some of the
Arab countries became allies and clients of the Soviet Union while
Israel became an ally of the United States. These were the reasons
why the relationship between Israel and the U.S. has greatly
improved over the years.
Would you see a different approach by Republicans and Democrats
No. We have had good friends in the White House in times of
Republican administration, the most recent case being Reagan, and
under Democratic administration, the most recent case being
Clinton. Both are very good friends of the State of Israel, which
is an indication of the fact that the U.s.-Israeli relationship -
in fact, the alliance between Israel and the United States ¬is
recognized as serving U.S. interests by Republicans and Democrats
It has often been said that the main U.S. aim is to ensure the
regular flow of Middle Eastern oil to the U.S. and to the rest of
the industrialized world. If that is the case, wouldn't it be
better for U.S. interests if Israel, as a source of permanent
tension with the Arabs, had not been born or would cease to
I think it is in the U.S. interest to arrive at a settlement, to
reduce or put an end to the friction which exists in the area. But
I don't think it is in the U.S. interest to do that at the expense
of Israel's existence. Why? Because Israel and the United States
share common values, they are both democratic countries, with
common ideals. In the world in which we live, common values
inevitably make for common interests.
The latest example of this was the Gulf War . Saddarn Hussein
was an enemy of the State of Israel. For many years he was not seen
as an enemy of the U.S. and he received considerable support from
the U.S. before the Gulf crisis. He looked to them like a guy one
could talk to and do business with. But sooner or later it was to
turn out that he was not only an enemy of Israel but also of the
United States. He is a totalitarian leader using totalitarian
methods. He had no respect for international boundaries, and didn't
mind using force to achieve his objectives, which is characteristic
of totalitarian leaders. Inevitably, this led him to a clash, not
only with Israel, but also with the United States.
In the volatile environment of the Middle East, I think the United
States feels that it is a very good thing for them that the State
of Israel is over there, a strong state militarily, some have said
the biggest aircraft carrier that the U.S. has in the area. When
people in America consider possible dangerous eventualities which
may arise in the Middle East because of these totalitarian rulers
and their capricious behavior, they see it as a good thing that
Israel is there and is strong.
On Iraq and Saddarn Hussein I would add that this is today the
major Middle East problem in U.S. policy and it is unfinished
business, left behind in the Gulf War by George Bush's serious
mistake in not finishing what he started. Finishing the job would
have taken another 48 or 72 hours. Instead, Saddam Hussein is still
thumbing his nose at the U.S. and the U.N., in possession of
biological weapons which are a terrible danger to everybody. Unless
the U.S. handles this adequately, it is going to send the wrong
signal to the entire Middle East and to other totalitarian
It is surprising to me that Saddarn Hussein seems to enjoy sympathy
and support from many of the Arab countries. He wants to maintain
weapons of mass destruction and one would think the other Arab
leaders would also see it as a danger to them. It is also morally
wrong. It looks as if the Arab leaders are rather hesitant to
support the U.S. position. Saddarn Hussein is similar to Hitler and
the U.S. should see to it that he leaves power in Baghdad. As long
as he remains, with weapons of mass destruction, the world is going
to have a very serious problem.
President Clinton has hinted that the deadlocked
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks made it difficult for him to rally
against Saddam Hussein the 1991 coalition of the Gulf War. In this
context, is Israel becoming a burden to the U.S.?
If I am right in saying that a strong Israel is in the interest of
the U.S., then Israel is an asset and not a burden. This is the
reason for the relationship, for the assistance Israel gets from
the U.S. because it is considered an asset and the u.s. wants to
support this asset to the extent this is possible.
Now, like everything else in our world, no one thesis explains the
whole story. The U.S. would like to see a strong Israel, but one
that lives at peace with the surrounding countries, which finds a
resolution to the Middle Eastern conflict. But the U.S. doesn't
want a resolution of the conflict that would destroy Israel.
The perception of the conflict and what it takes to resolve it, of
course, looks different from Israel and from the U.S. There has not
yet been born a U.S. president who will tell an Israeli prime
minister that you are making too many concessions and this is
dangerous for you. If the Israelis are prepared to make
concessions, the president will be only too happy.
Accordingly, whether the president is Republican or Democrat, he
finds it easier to go along with an Israeli PM who wants to make
mncessions, like Shimon Peres or the late Yitzhak Rabin, than with
an Israeli PM like Binyamin Netanyahu, Yitzhak Shamir or the late
Menachem Begin [all of them Likud¬Ed.]. The latter had a
"risk-averse" approach, didn't want to take too many risks and,
therefore, didn't want to make too many concessions.
So everything else being equal, it's natural for the U.S. president
of either party to prefer dealing with an Israeli government that
is prepared to make concessions. He may sometimes become a little
frustrated and a little angry with an Israeli government which says
no, these concessions are too dangerous for us. However, this does
not basically impair the relationship between Israel and the
Do you imagine a situation of tension, deadlock, and violence
maybe leading to a new Arab-Israeli war, in which U.S. friendship
for Israel would be overturned?
It is not on the cards, not feasible, not to be anticipated or
expected that, were Israel to be in danger, it would not enjoy the
support of the United States, This is because, over and above the
sympathy for Israel in the U.S. government and general public, it
is in the basic interest of the U.S. that Israel remain strong as
an asset to the U.S.
Whatever Israel's policies? In the event of war, escalating from
the conflict with the Palestinians?
Whatever Israel's policies. If there is to be another war, which I
hope won't occur and which I don't expect, it is not going to be
Israel's fault. It will be aggression, as in the Gulf War when
Saddam Hussein launched missiles against Israel. If the Arab states
were to come to the aid of the Palestinians, which I don't think is
likely, they may say they have good reason, but it would be
aggression, not acceptable in international law or by the U.S. The
U.S. would do everything to help Israel fight off such aggression.
Probably the leaders of Arab countries like Syria and Egypt are
aware of this.
Do you see a danger in Israel being allied with the radical
Christian right (Jerry Falwell) which is pro-Israeli in the Middle
East and anti-Semitic in the U.S.?
First, Falwell is not anti-Semitic. He may be considered on the
right of the political spectrum, but he is not anti-Semitic.
Menachem Begin, in answer to similar questions, used to say he
would meet with anyone who is a friend of Israel and supports
Israel. I have yet to meet the person who is an anti-Semite but a
friend of Israel. It is a contradiction in terms and it certainly
isn't true of Falwell. There may be differences between his circles
and American Jews over schools, etc., but at the moment, in terms
of real interests today, these people are very strong supporters of
Israel and it would be wrong for any Israeli PM, Likud or Labor, to
say we don't want to have anything to do with you or to meet with
you. Not only would this be politically stupid, since we enjoy
their support, it would not be morally correct.
Do you see any difference in the U.S. dealing with a Likud or a
I don't think so. There is a natural preference for Israeli
governments which are prepared to make concessions and, generally
speaking, as far as the U.s. is concerned, the more concessions the
better, on the assumption that whatever government is in power in
Israel, it will look after Israel's security interests. That is not
something for the U.S. to worry about, they can rely on the Israeli
Contrary to European countries and other allies of the U.S., the
U.S. has not recognized the Palestinian right to self-determination
or statehood. Why, in your opinion, does a country which in the
days of President Wilson invented the concept of self-determination
in 1918, lag behind in this aspect?
First, you should ask people in the U.S. rather than me. But I
don't think that, in principle, anyone in the U.S. or in any
democratic country in the world, supports unlimited exercise of
self-determination. If every national or ethnic group has to be
allowed statehood, this would lead to world anarchy, a break-up of
many countries in the world, possibly including the United States.
The U.S. also has a majority of certain ethnics in southern
California (Mexicans and Latinos) so could self-determination not
lead to a break-away? This is not a principle which anybody can
In certain circumstances, it seems right to grant the right to
self¬determination, maybe to statehood, to a certain ethnic
group located in an appropriate manner geographically. The U.S.
policy is not unreservedly to support or promote the establishment
of a Palestinian state. Under certain circumstances, the U.S. would
not be opposed to it, but I can understand that at the present time
it is not their policy to promote this unreservedly, especially
since they know this is not Israel's position either. It's quite
appropriate that countries which have a very strong relationship -
Israel and the U.S. have an alliance - are very careful about
openly taking positions contrary to those of their allies.