paul sann journalism, letters, writing


                New York Post Tuesday, September 16, 1969

Mrs. Meir on the Crisis--Russia Is To Blame

golda meir     In the bluntly outspoken view of Israel's Prime Minister, the Soviet Union must bear a full share of the blame for the currently fierce border hostilities in the Middle East and, indeed, for the Six Day War itself.
    "I maintain," Golda Meir told me in her office in Jerusalem, "that the Soviet responsibility for the war of 1967 is not lesser in any degree than that of Nasser."
    She said she believed that the Arabs--decisively beaten in three wars since 1947--might conceivably have come to the peace table by now except for Moscow's free-handed dispensing of military hardware and its support in the world's councils.
    "There is no doubt," she said, "that if Nasser gets up one morning and the Russians say to him, 'This is it, we have no more arms for you,' then Nasser would have to make peace."
    Mrs. Meir charged that the Soviet--"an enemy of Israel"-- had made it possible for the Arab countries to escalate their terrorist activities and prepare for a new war instead of entertaining any thoughts about peace.
    Reaffirming the Israeli view that the Big Four talks had killed off any prospects--however thin--for a peace settlement, she said that "as long as the Arab leaders know that somebody else is trying to solve their problem they'll feel no reason why they should do it."
    And any separate Washington-Moscow dialogue on the never-ending and now bloodier conflict had to be foredoomed in any case, the Prime Minister insisted, because "I don't believe that Soviet Russia wants peace in this area."
    Going back to 1967, she asserted that Moscow had originally circulated the reports of Israeli troop concentrations on the Syrian border.
    When I suggested that most historical accounts attributed the false report to the Syrians, Mrs. Meir said, "I am not so sure the Syrians did not get it from the Russians."
    She also accused the Soviets of helping to fan the flames of hatred after the Aug. 21 fire in Jerusalem's Mosque of el-Aqsa led to renewed Arab cries for a holy war. She said that Moscow broadcasts continued to attribute the fire to Israel even after Denis Michael Rohan, the 28-year-old Christian mystic from Australia, confessed the deed.
    "The most scandalous thing that has happened," she went on, "is the Russian attitude about the fire. They are to become the protectors of Islam and they know they are lying. They are worse than some of the Arab countries."
    The spirited 71-year-old Prime Minister, a widow since 1951, is Russian-born herself. She was brought to the U.S. in the Jewish migration of 1906, grew up in Milwaukee, and taught in a Hebrew school there before she went to Palestine as a halutz (pioneer) in 1917.
    In the Israeli government since it was formed and a long-time ally of David Ben-Gurion until his split with Levi Eshkol in 1963, she became Prime Minister last March after Eshkol's death.
    The interview with The Post took place on a Sunday afternoon against a backdrop of the worst single week's casualties since the '67 cease-fire--15 deaths and 23 wounded. Mrs. Meir, wearing a severely plain gray suit and a single piece of jewelry, a gold wrist watch with a black linen band, did not show the strain of Israel's ever-escalating crisis until I mentioned the toll on the borders. Then her voice broke.

The Border Issue

    In the wide-ranging talk, Mrs. Meir also touched on the delicate question of the Arab territories occupied by Israel since '67 and assailed UN Secretary-General U Thant over his role in the events following Syria's detention of the two Israeli men who were on the TWA airliner hijacked by Arab terrorists on Aug. 29.
    On the territories, she disassociated herself from those in Israel--like Gen. Moshe Dayan, her Minister of Defense--who believe that there might be a workable formula for a Middle East settlement through a system of demilitarized zones which would to some degree restore the pre '67 borders.
    "From the security point of view," she told me, "I would say now that the borders of the Fourth of June (the day before Israel turned its forces loose on the Egyptian army massed in the Sinai) are dead. We cannot go back and we cannot agree to borders which will give our neighbors a natural advantage even after a peace treaty is signed. The borders must be such that the Arabs will not think that they are convenient enough to attack us."
    She was referring here to the new territorial line with Nasser's Egypt on the Gaza Strip and in the Sinai Peninsula south to the Suez Canal, the West Bank now splitting King Hussein's Jordan, Sharm el-Sheikh, commanding the Straits of Tiran, and the captured Golan Heights, which turned the military scales against Syria on Israel's Northern edge.
    Her own position on the borders did not appear to be as intractable as it sounded initially, for she also said this:
    "Each one of us in the government and many people in this country have ideas about what are safe borders, what is impossible to give up, where there is a possibility to give something up. Personally, I do not belong to the movement which says that we don't give up one inch of the territories but I have my ideas what safe borders are."

Step Down? No

    The inference was that while the Jewish state might conceivably be willing to draw back to some limited extent--say in the West Bank which accounts for 600,000 of the million Arabs who came under Israeli rule after the Six Day War--there wasn't much chance that it would give up anything deemed to be militarily strategic.
    In this respect, Mrs. Meir singled out the Syrian border:
    "I haven't met one single person who has come to this country and gone there and has said, 'Well, yes, but you must step down from the Syrian Heights.'"
    Dominating Israel's border settlements from the lower tip of the Sea of Galilee to the Lebanon line, that winding mountain ridge gave Syria what appeared to be a wholly insuperable advantage until Israeli ground and air power conquered it in fierce fighting in '67.
    On the hijacking, the Prime Minister was still bristling over U Thant's expressed opposition to the strike the international airline pilots wanted to stage to force Syria to release the two Israelis.
    "It's almost impossible to understand," she said.
    "He not only gives advice to the pilots that they must not go on a 24-hour strike but he's not, I suppose, doing his international duty until he criticizes this idea . . . saying to the Syrians in so many words, 'Of course, I know you won't take this idea seriously, you will go on keeping these two men.' It's fantastic."

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