21 JUNE 1975, Page 10

Middle East

Time to stop the chess game

Nicholas Ridley, MP

It is possible to look at the current state of tension in the Middle East in two entirely different ways. Either it can he regarded as solely the concern of the Jews and Arabs, and analysed in terms of their relative military strengths, and their domestic political pres sures..Or it can be regarded as the chessboard upon which the super-powers are playing, with Russia cynically advancing her Arab pawns in order to embarrass America, hoist as she is on her dilemma of Whether to save Israeli pawns, or her supplies of Arabian crude oil. It is hard to see how she can save both.

That of course is exactly what that modern Jehu. Henry Kissinger, was trying to do. His spectacular dashes between Cairo and Jerusa lem, Damascus and Rhyad, with his bulletproof motor car inside his jumbo jet, were designed to patch up a temporary peace between Jew and Arab, which would effectively put Russia into stalemate, The Kissinger policy was the product of American ennui with military involvement in world affairs, of the hope that diplomacy would somehow make the whole problem go away, of the impossible choice between crude oil supplies and Israel. It was an initiative doomed to failure, and it failed. One can only hope he isn't sent to try again by President Ford.

If there had been any peace agreement which Presidents Sadat and Assad could make with Prime Minister Rabin, it could have been made without the help of the flying doctor. But the reality is that the political situations in Arabia and in Israel do not yet permit any agreement.

Israel is occupying the West Bank, the Sinai. • and the Golan Heights, and the Arabs are as determined to win them hack as the IRA are determined to win hack Ulstr. That, at least, is the official position of Arab leaders, who find in these territorial deprivations an excuse for keeping large military forces, in order to distract attention from the domestic shortcomings of their undemocratic socialist regimes. Israel, equally stubbornly, is deter mined to yield no conquered ground of strategic importance, unless she can be convinced that the strategic threat to her

existence is removed. The threat, after all, is to the very survival of the, nation. On three sides she has enemies, and on the fourth side the sea, not unlike the situation in Ulster. The important point is that the territory in dispute is of strategic military value only: no fish swims in the Dead Sea, there are but few blossoms on the Golan Heights and the Sinai is a god-forsaken dust bowl.

No one wants these areas for agriculture or for industry: only for war. The Israelis were prepared to do a deal with the Egyptians, trading the Mitla and Gidi passes in Sinai in exchange for a guarantee of 'non-belligerency'. The Egyptians do not want the passes in order to plant avocado pears; they want them for resasons of military advantage. If Egypt holds them, Israel is less able to delay a possible Egyptian thrust long enough to enable her to mobilise her (predominantly) reservist army. The bone of contention on the Arab side is lost territory. Indeed one suspects that the whole of Israel, not just the three occupied territories, is regarded as lost territory to be won back. In • this the Palestinians are living evidence of deprivation; evidence that is best kept alive and kicking in order to strengthen the case. Those Palestinians who do not want to he refugees have long since settled — many of them in Israel. But there are substantial attractions for the rest of them to live on United Nations supplementary benefit, and to attend the University of Terrorism in order to graduate in hijacking.

Palestinians are an appalling problem, not least to the Lebanese. They tried to take over Beirut last month, but luckily they were defeated by the Phelange. Even if they were given a Palestine national state, it is questionable how many would give up piracy in order to till the soil again. Many have settled, and the rest should be encouraged to do so by subtle UN pressure. The Palestinians would not be allowed to stand in the way of a deal being done between Arabs and Israelis, if there were a deal to be done. This is not because of anyone's intransigence, or because Russia and America have hotted up the arms race. It is because Israel does not yet feel secure enough to make territorial concessions, and the Arabs are not yet realistic enough. to accept the status quo, both in respect of lost territory, and in respect of the refugees. That is why Dr Kissinger failed.

What of the future? It would help if Russia, followed by America, would stop.playing chess in the Middle East by piling in the armaments, but no doubt Russia won't. Russia's policy of pouring guns into any part of the world where someone is prepared to fire them against the West is particularly belligerent and offensive. But do the Arabs really want to fire them any more? Egypt is virtually in a state of collapse, and few Egyptians really want to fight Israel again. Even the Syrians are probably tired of fighting. Despite the rumours to the contrary, the Israelis actually thrashed both their enemies in the Yom Kippur war. In some strange way the Arabs have persuaded themselves that they won it. Despite the advantage of surprise and initial gains by the Arab armies, Israel was able to push her enemies back and to drive deep into their territory. The propaganda that Israel was defeated has not whetted Arab appetites for further war.

Is it too much to hope that the inhabitants of the Middle East will overturn the whole Russian-American chess board, tell them to go to hell, and just not fight anymore? It doesn't seem very likely, but there is a glimmer of hope, because wherever one goes the people on both sides say "We want peace". Where they 'can't vote for peace in democratic elections, perhaps they will vote for it with their feet? Otherwise there will be another war.

Nicholas Ridley is Conservative MP for Cirencester and Tewkesbury