TRIUMPH OF A SUPERHAWKYes, Begin was considered a warmonger, an inflexible, intransigent "superhawk" who would lead Israel to disaster and force an inevitable war.
In a stunning upset victory, Begin's Likud (Unity) coalition last week became the dominant bloc in Israel's parliament, replacing a shattered, scandal-ridden Labor alignment that had governed the Jewish state since its founding in 1948. Likud's superhawkish campaign slogan had been "Israeli sovereignty between the Mediterranean and the Jordan," meaning no surrender of biblical land that Israel has occupied since the heady triumphs of the Six-Day War in 1967.
Begin's unexpected rise to power not only changed the internal politics of Israel but suddenly raised serious questions about hopes for any new moves toward a peace settlement in the Middle East....""The platform of the Likud does not permit the necessary opening for negotiations," said Peres. "The Likud offers no alternative for peace."
The Carter Administration's "worst case" scenario is that a Begin government would mean not just a postponement of Geneva but a substantially escalated possibility of renewed war in the Middle East. If Washington is unable to exert pressure on the new Israeli government for a settlement, one Syrian official said, "any kind of peace conference would be quite useless. The only other way would appear to be to resort to military action."
Pondering a host of seemingly unpromising policy alternatives last week, some U.S. diplomats raised the prospect of an ominous Middle East chain of events: 1) a Begin government would announce the annexation to Israel of occupied territory, thereby triggering an Arab mobilization, or 2) the Arabs would desperately mount a pre-emptive strike to prevent Begin from carrying out annexation.
Although another Middle East war is far from inevitable, it cannot be ruled out if Begin sticks to his uncompromising stance on negotiations (particularly over the future of the West Bank and Gaza) and if the Arabs give up hope that the U.S. can maneuver the next Israeli government into meaningful concessions.
Anew war, in this most dangerous of the world's potential trouble spots, would be far more deadly than all the previous ones combined. About 2,600 Israelis were killed in the three-week October War of 1973. Next time around, according to Washington military estimates, Israel would lose 8,000 and suffer about 24,000 wounded in a war of the same duration; the Arab loss could be 40,000 killed.
Before that can be achieved, all parties need to know how much negotiation can and will be done by a seemingly unrepentant former underground fighter who believes deeply that Israel should not surrender any part of the Jewish people's ancient landed heritage. ''The new government is going to be composed of a group of people who are religious nationalists imbued with mysticism and a belief in force," said one Jerusalem official. "I worry as much about their theocratic tendencies at home as I do about their getting us into a war."
The biggest worry of the voters was whether or not the Likud state of mind might provoke another war with the Arabs. Said one woman, who lost a brother in the Six-Day War and her husband in the October War: "All I can see is a long line of husbands whose wives will become widows." Warned an alarmed trade-union leader: "The Likud will force us into another war. Begin relies on God, but we will have to rely on our divisions. The workers will suffer, and a new left will rise from the ruins."
The idea that Begin would be the architect of Israel's most important and longest-lasting peace agreement would have been dismissed as absurd by every single one of the "experts" quoted in this article.
Here we have a classic example of how the media tries, and often fails, to analyze facts and predict outcomes.
Just something to keep in mind during this current Israeli election.