Jan. 2, 1978

With one stunning stroke he designed a daring approach to peace

He called it "a sacred mission," and history may judge it so. By the trajectory of his 28-minute flight from a base in the Canal Zone to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat changed the course of Middle Eastern events for generations to come. More emphatically than anything that has happened there since the birth of Israel in 1948, his extraordinary pilgrimage transformed the political realities of a region blackened and embittered by impermeable hatreds and chronic war. In one stoke, the old rules of the Arab-Israeli blood feud no longer applied. Many of the endless hurdles to negotiation seemed to dissolve like Saharan mirages. Not in three decades had the dream of a real peace seemed more probable. For his willingness to seize upon a fresh approach, for his display of personal and political courage, for his unshakable resolve to restore a momentum for peace in the Middle East, Anwar Sadat is TIME's Man of the Year.

"What I want from this visit," Sadat had told TIME Cairo Bureau Chief Wilton Wynn during the historic flight that took him to Jerusalem, "is that the wall created between us and Israel, the psychological wall, be knocked down." The wall fell. The astonishing spectacle was global theater--the images caromed off television satellites to viewers around the world. In a wash of klieg lights, the Egyptian who had hurled his armies across the Suez Canal in 1973 stood at attention next to the old Irgun guerrilla whose name has been a dark legend to Palestinian Arabs for 30 years. An Israeli military band played first the Egyptian national anthem, By God of Old, Who Is My Weapon, and then the Israeli Hatikvah. In a hushed, deeply moving tableau, Sadat walked along the receiving line with Israeli Premier Menachem Begin to greet the old and resolute enemies: former Premiers Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon, "Israel's Patton," who thrust Israeli armor deep into Egypt in the October War of 1973.

Next day, fulfilling a vow he had made to himself, Sadat prayed in Al Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of Islam's holiest places. Then the son of Ishmael stood before the sons of Isaac in the Israeli Knesset and formally declared that the deep, violent enmity between them had somehow passed.

Sadat's demands on Israel, in exchange for peace, were tough and familiar: the return to Arab sovereignty of all territory (including East Jerusalem) conquered during the 1967 Six-Day War; a homeland for Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza. Yet far more important were the generous words of acceptance that few Israelis ever expected to hear from an Arab head of state, least of all in their own parliament.

Said Anwar Sadat: "We used to reject you, true. We refused to meet you anywhere, true. We referred to you as the 'so-called Israel,' true. At international conferences our representatives refused to exchange greetings with you, true. At the 1973 Geneva Peace Conference our delegates did not exchange a single direct word with you, true. Yet today we agree to live with you in permanent peace and justice. Israel has become an accomplished fact recognized by the whole world and the superpowers. We welcome you to live among us in peace and security."

What Sadat called the "electric shock diplomacy" of Jerusalem was galvanic--and he moved swiftly to make sure that the good will created by his mission was not dissipated. Within three weeks, Israeli diplomats and journalists were flying into Cairo to attend--along with a U.S. delegate and a United Nations representative--a pre-Geneva conference that Sadat had convoked. Even though the two countries were still technically at war, the Israelis found themselves welcomed with astounding warmth and joy by Egyptians. Near Alexandria, the Defense Ministers of Egypt and Israel met to discuss military maps. Now Menachem Begin had proposals. They would talk, face to face, said Sadat. Where? At Sadat's rest house near Ismailia. Each day brought its swirl of events, its new initiatives, its new improbabilities.

The Middle East, of course, is strewn with the ruins of old hopes for peace--colonial commissions, the corpses of assassinated mediators, United Nations resolutions signed but unhonored. Despite the euphoric glow last week in Cairo and Jerusalem, no one who has long watched the region's affairs was likely to announce: "Peace is at hand." Anwar Sadat had headily mixed statesmanship and showmanship, but that is a volatile combination. The very headlong momentum that Sadat had forced raised the question of whether he was practicing a durable diplomacy.

Initially, Washington feared that Sadat, by seizing the diplomatic reins from the U.S., might be moving too far ahead of events, too far away from the other Arab states that must be nudged along if a meaningful peace treaty is to be signed. The Administration was also concerned that Israel might not offer enough in return, or that Sadat would jeopardize an over-all Middle East peace by signing a separate Egyptian-Israeli accord.

There were and are legitimate cautions. There is ample truth in the cliche that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. But it is also true that slavish adherence to past precepts is the enemy of political creativity. Sadat's extravagant gamble made it possible for all parties concerned to think of the Middle East problem in a nontraditional way. Courageously, he broke a pattern of stalemate and mutual hostility between Israel and Egypt, the most populous and politically powerful of Arab states. Sadat's countrymen welcomed him home from his peacemaking voyage with ululations of joy, as if he had led his legions to victory over their mortal foe. Other Arabs were shocked, puzzled or silent. The Saudis, whose oil wealth has helped keep Egypt from bankruptcy for the past ten years, went quietly but cautiously along. He received too the tacit support of Jordan's King Hussein. But radical Palestinians denounced Sadat as a traitor and put a price on his head. A so-called summit of Arab "steadfast states" in Tripoli, convoked by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, froze relations with Egypt. Calling their bluff--without Egypt defending the southern front, another Arab war against Israel would be a hopeless enterprise--Sadat broke off relations with Syria, Libya, Algeria, Iraq and South Yemen. His critics, said Sadat, were "dwarfs."

The Israelis, for their part, were impressed by Sadat's imagination. They knew that he had called on them for a creative response. They knew also the risks he had taken, risks that would lead, if not to peace, then very possibly to war. If Sadat did not succeed, he would lose all credibility within the Arab world. He would be left with one option, and the Israelis knew that the Egyptian President was fully prepared for that bloody alternative. Said Henry Kissinger this week: "It will take a monumental mess-up to derail Sadat's initiative. But if it fails, there will be war."

Whether or not that fifth Arab-Israeli war takes place depends much on the flexibility and political acumen of Premier Menachem Begin, whose own strength of character and sense of purpose made Sadat's historic venture possible. It will long be remembered that Sadat said he would go to Jerusalem to seek peace. But it must not be forgotten that Menachem Begin said "Come ahead." Together the two leaders made their extraordinary compact: "No more war."

To the surprise of Washington, if not to that of his countrymen, Begin became Premier after his Likud coalition won a narrow victory in last May's national election, thereby ending 29 years of Labor-led coalition governments. Many Israelis had dismissed Begin as an aging, right-wing relic of their country's fierce struggle for independence. But, though ailing with heart trouble, Begin has responded actively to Sadat; he has demonstrated a large sense of history and a determination to be remembered as the man who brought peace to Israel.

Nothing merited the world's attention in 1977, or captured it more decisively, then events in the Middle East. But in other areas too there were signs of hope, new initiatives well undertaken. Early in his first, sometimes bumbling year as President, Jimmy Carter launched his human rights campaign. At home, the President's critics complained that the policy was either naive or cynical, since the Administration made clear that when it came to such allies as South Korea or the Philippines, human rights would be secondary to U.S. strategic interests. Abroad, the Soviets and other East-bloc nations protested that Carter was interfering in the domestic concerns of sovereign states. But Carter had struck a chord, and throughout the year the sound would not be stilled. The campaign focused world attention upon political thuggery, torture, repression--and there were reverberations. The Pinochet regime in Chile belatedly sought to polish its discreditable image by announcing that it was disbanding the country's notorious secret police agency, DINA. In Iran, the Shah's hated secret police organization, SAVAK, eased up somewhat on political dissidents. In the Eastern bloc, the human rights campaign produced mixed results, with a few gains for dissidents, but in some countries an even more repressive climate.

Here and there, democracy fared well. Not, however, in South Africa, where the government of Prime Minister John Vorster cracked down harder than ever upon a restless but dispirited black majority and banned or arrested many of the country's leading voices of dissent. But in Spain, after four decades of repressive dictatorship, more than 20 million voters turned out peacefully to accomplish what Spanish newspapers called "a triumph of moderation." Parties of both the far left and far right were rejected in favor of a middle-of-the-road government headed by Premier Adolofo Suarez Gonzalez and dominated by his Democratic Center Union. Voters in India swept Prime Minister Indira Gandhi out of office after 18 months of her emergency rule. The new Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, launched civil and criminal investigations into the discredited Gandhi government, but by year's end had still not focused his attention upon India's real problems of overpopulation, economic inflation, unemployment and growing labor troubles.

Radical terrorism remained an affliction of the Western democracies, but one battle was won in that war. West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt bravely outplayed the Palestinian terrorists who skyjacked a Lufthansa airliner in October, saving the lives of 86 with a commando attack at Mogadishu, Somalia. Soon afterward, however, the body of Industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer, who had been kidnapped by Baader-Meinhof gangsters six weeks earlier, was found in the trunk of an abandoned car in France.

Yet it was the Middle East that gripped the world's attention for much of the year. And it was Anwar Sadat who caught the world's imagination by his diplomatic coup de theatre. In retrospect, there should not have been too much surprise that it was Sadat, of all the Middle East's leaders, who moved in an unexpected way to get peace negotiations stirring again. Sadat is a far more vigorous and visionary statesman than has been generally perceived. And he has shown in the past that he is capable of surprises. In 1971, which he boldly and perhaps foolishly declared would be a "year of decision" for the Middle East, he offered to search for a peace settlement with Israel--a proposal that the Jerusalem government of Premier Golda Meir turned aside. The following year he abruptly evicted Soviet military advisers and experts from Egypt in a gesture toward the West that Washington failed to follow up. Then in October 1973 he caught Israel off guard with his Yom Kippur attack across the Suez. All these events, like his mission to Jerusalem, appear to have been dictated by a powerful and almost desperate internal logic.

Sadat not only wants peace but profoundly needs it. Egypt, disastrously impoverished and overpopulated, claustrophobically crowded into the life-sustaining Nile Valley, can no longer afford to spend 28% of its national budget on military hardware to aim at Israel. Egypt is also deeply weary of fighting. In the four bloody wars against Israel (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973), Egypt, of all the Arab states, has absorbed the heaviest losses. In '67 Egypt lost 3,000 killed, v. 600 for the Syrians and 696 for the Jordanians. Today the Nile Valley nationalism always present in the Egyptian character is asserting itself against the larger, Pan-Arab idea. Over and over Egyptian army officers repeat: "No more Egyptian blood will be shed for the Palestinians." That does not mean that Sadat intends to sell out the Palestinians. But he may be willing to ignore Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization if he works out what he feels is a fair solution to the Palestinian problem, and the P.L.O. refused to accept it.

Ironically, Sadat started his peace campaign by going to war. The road to peace in the autumn of 1973 seemed totally blocked. Both Arabs and Israelis stared down diplomats as impassively as gunfighters. The U.S. and the Soviets were preoccupied with detente. To coax some movement toward peace, Sadat made one of his swift, dramatic decisions. He chose to attack Israel. His goal was to score a limited victory along the Suez Canal. This, he reasoned, would shore up Arab morale, demonstrate that ultimately no military solution was possible in the Arab-Israeli struggle, and get the peace process started. By the end of the 18-day war the Egyptian army had taken a battering from the Israelis, whose forces west of the Suez were within 45 miles of Cairo, and allied Syrian forces to the north had been utterly routed. But in the first week of fighting, Israeli forces had been caught by surprise and staggered; Sadat felt he had made his point.

He followed with a series of quick, pacific gestures. He accepted a cease-fire with Israel and asked for a Geneva conference. Less than three weeks after ordering his armor into the Suez Canal area, he called in a building contractor, his friend Osman Ahmed Osman. Sadat's instructions: prepare a plan for reconstructing the war-ruined cities along the Suez Canal. Sadat told Osman: "I want to rebuild those towns right within range of Israeli guns. I want to show the Israelis that I don't intend to make war against them again."

Sadat in those days was optimistic, and thought that peace could come quickly with the backing of the U.S. When Henry Kissinger began his shuttle diplomacy to negotiate a Sinai disengagement, Sadat wrapped him in the full Arab embrace and called him "my dear friend Henry." But the momentum died. A Geneva conference was delayed. The Syrians postponed a disengagement on the Golan Heights for months while they quibbled over details. Then U.S. policy became paralyzed by Watergate and the collapse of Richard Nixon's authority. When Gerald Ford became President, Sadat tried again for a peace agreement. But a poisonous war atmosphere started spreading once more. Sadat next risked what he called a "diplomatic pre-emptive strike" by announcing unilaterally that he was reopening the Suez Canal, which had been closed since the 1967 war. That same week he met with Ford in Salzburg; in September 1975 came the second Egyptian-Israeli Interim Agreement, which restored the western edge of the Sinai, including the Abu Rudeis oilfields, to Cairo's control.

For a man seemingly addicted to surprise, Sadat has a talent for patience. He waited for the 1976 U.S. presidential election, and then Carter's inauguration. Meanwhile, the savage Lebanese civil war split the Arab world into quarreling camps and reduced all peace talk once more to diplomatic abstraction.

Sadat said, again and again, "In the game of Middle Eastern peace, the U.S. holds 99% of the cards." He switched from the old Arab policy of trying to force the U.S. to abandon Israel in favor of the Arabs. He knew that only as a friend of Israel could the U.S. influence it. "You have a special relationship with Israel," he told a group of American businessmen on a TIME- sponsored tour of the Middle East, "and I want you to keep that relationship." While Sadat encouraged American leaders to believe that a Middle East peace was in their interest, he also forged a tight alliance with Saudi Arabia--not only his bankroller but also a vital source of U.S. energy supplies.

Sadat began 1977 at his lowest political ebb since taking office seven years earlier. In mid-January, Cairo and Alexandria erupted in the worst rioting since the days of King Farouk--protests against Sadat's increased food prices and his government's general failure to raise living standards or improve the country's tumbledown public services. In the end, 80 Egyptians were killed and nearly 1,000 arrested. Sadat had to cancel his price increases and call out the army to restore order. Although Saudi Arabia, other Arab oil states, and the U.S. put together a $5.4 billion emergency-aid package, the riots made it clearer than ever that Egypt needed to turn its priorities from war machinery to economic development.

For Sadat it was a difficult time. He began to woo Jimmy Carter, and heard heartening words in return. Carter referred to the need for a "Palestinian homeland," the first time an American President had used that meaning-laden code phrase. Carter mentioned Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories--except for minor frontier changes--and went even further than current Arab demands in proposing compensation for Palestine Arab refugees.

The Arabs drew some encouragement when then Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin had a chilly meeting with Carter, another sign that the U.S. no longer was giving blank-check backing to Israel. Sadat became even more optimistic when he traveled to Washington in early April. A vital part of the Egyptian's strategy had been to establish personal contact with Carter. As Arabist William Polk puts it, "Sadat is a great actor. He loves and warms to an audience."

The surprise election of Menachem Begin in May brought down a cloud of pessimism again, but Sadat insisted: "It does not matter who governs Israel. There are no doves in Israel, only hawks." Sadat was more troubled for the moment by Russia. He detected a Soviet hand in the Cairo riots and feared that Moscow was out to overthrow moderate Arab regimes, including his own. It bothered him particularly that the Russians were installing sophisticated electronic surveillance devices at Libyan airfields. Sadat dispatched Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy to Moscow to ask the Soviets to desist. When they did not, Sadat made one of his trip-hammer decisions: he sent the Egyptian air force to pulverize the bases. An Egyptian official admits: "We broke the rule: we attacked a brother Arab country." But Sadat felt he could not worry about all his borders simultaneously. He removed the threat from Libya.

As Sadat pushed for a Geneva settlement, U.S. domestic politics became a powerful factor. In October the U.S. and the Soviet Union issued a joint declaration on Middle Eastern peace, restating the basic points of Security Council Resolution 242 (which clearly implies that Israel has the right to exist in peace and security after withdrawing from occupied Arab territories). But the declaration went further than 242 in mentioning "the legitimate rights" of the Palestinians, a code phrase roughly equivalent to calling for a Palestinian entity of some kind. That declaration brought a furious reaction from some American Jewish organizations and other pro-Israeli groups. In a bitter bargaining session with Israel's Moshe Dayan, Carter backed down and announced that the U.S.-Soviet agreement would not be the basis of a Geneva conference. After this display of power by the pro-Israeli organizations within the U.S., Sadat began to rethink his strategy of looking for a settlement strictly through U.S. channels.

Israel had built up an arsenal of sophisticated arms, including nuclear weapons, that beggared the Arab military potential. General Mohamed Abdel Ghany Gamassy, Egypt's Minister of War and overall commander of the armed forces, told Sadat that if war broke out, his army would be devastated. Because of Sadat's frosty relations with Moscow, there was no longer a Soviet supply link; Egyptian forces had slipped badly in relation to the Israelis since the strike across the Suez in 1973. Now Cairo began to hear rumors that Menachem Begin was ready to use his hardware for a pre-emptive "war of annihilation" against Arab armies if the U.S began putting too much pressure on Israel. Sadat's "American connection" carried with it an ominous danger.

In late October Gamassy and his commanders urged Sadat to push hard for a peace settlement; the military, which is the anchor of Sadat's domestic support, pledged to back any move he cared to make. But if Carter's hand was indeed stayed by the U.S. pro-Israeli lobby, there seemed no obvious leverage with which to seek Israeli concessions. To the chagrin of Washington and the outrage of most Arabs, Begin's government had encouraged new settlements in the occupied territories. All told, there are now 51 Jewish settlements on the West Bank, 19 in the Sinai, and 26 on the Golan Heights. The U.S. maneuvered for a Geneva peace conference, but the process degenerated into procedural nitpicking, much of it on the key issue of who would represent the Palestinians. Sadat believed that if everyone continued quibbling over what he called "a word here, a comma there," he would not get to Geneva for months; peace might be delayed for years. High-level diplomats think Sadat also had another fear: at Geneva, his moderate position might be outvoted by the Russians, who hate him, and by hard-lining Syrians and Palestinians.

And so the Egyptian was led to his historic leap of imagination. It represented such a total change in Arab behavior that at first no one believed that Sadat meant what he said. In a speech on Nov. 9 to the Egyptian parliament, Sadat declared: "There is no time to lose. I am ready to go to the ends of the earth if that will save one of my soldiers, one of my officers, from being scratched. I am ready to go to their house, to the Knesset, to discuss peace with the Israeli leaders."

Almost everyone assumed that the statement was only a rhetorical flourish. Despite numerous secret contacts over the years, it had been uniform Arab policy not to deal publicly with Israeli leaders. During the time of the British mandate in Palestine, Arab leaders would never sit at the negotiating table with their Zionist counterparts. After the creation of Israel in 1948, the boycott was even more through. At the Arab-Israeli Lausanne conference of 1949, the two sides stayed in separate hotels, never saw one another, and communicated only through couriers. When Lebanon's Charles Malik was president of the U.N. General Assembly, he once strayed into the Israeli pavilion at an international fair and drank a champagne toast. He was photographed in the act and was savagely attacked throughout the Arab world.

Early this year Sadat himself vowed: "As long as there is an Israeli soldier on my land, I am not ready to contact anyone in Israel at all." Thus his announcement caught even his wife Jihan by surprise. In fact, Sadat had secretly been mulling over the idea for some months. On Nov. 14 Sadat told CBS-TV's Walter Cronkite that he was ready to go to Jerusalem if asked. Menachem Begin responded with Israel's formal invitation. One of the diplomatic sensations of the century was accomplished.

Sadat, of course, had every reason to take pride in his initiative. Yet even though he had at least temporarily eclipsed Washington as the indispensable peacemaker in the Middle East, his breakthrough would not have been possible without the efforts by the U.S. to coax the region toward stability. Under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger embarked upon the shuttle diplomacy that helped restore U.S. credibility in the Arab world, which had increasingly been heeding the Soviet call. And credit also belonged to Jimmy Carter. His activities and statements on the Middle East at times seemed erratic, but they stirred diplomatic movement in a useful way and led Sadat to know that the U.S., too, had a leader willing to consider new approaches. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, another new figure in the equation, served as a stabilizing influence by impressing both Arabs and Israelis as an honest broker.

Sadat's gamble raises big new questions for the Middle East. The central issue no longer concerns the possibility of peace. The questions now are: What kind of peace? And at what cost to whom? Arab unity has been shattered. Despite the ferocious anti-Sadat rhetoric of the rejectionists, it is they who are isolated, not Egypt, so long as moderate Arabs back the quest for peace. For the moment, the influence of Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization is on the wane. In trying to cope with the conflicting demands of his constituency, Arafat declined to seize the moment, refused to join in the peace process. Jimmy Carter all but read the P.L.O. out of a settlement when he denounced it as "completely negative." In desperation, moderate Palestinians may eventually be willing to go along with any Sadat-Begin arrangement for the West Bank and Gaza. If that happens, radicals would desert Arafat and coalesce around the irreconcilable George Habash and his Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Could Sadat and Begin conclude a separate peace, one that ignored all the other problems of the area? Almost everyone involved denies that such an arrangement is possible or desireable. Nonetheless, a "comprehensive" settlement for the Middle East could be preceded by a modified separate agreement involving Egypt and Israel. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski offers this analysis: "A separate Egyptian-Israeli deal is not likely to endure. Nor is it acceptable to Sadat. But if there is a movement of the moderate Palestinians, the Jordanians and the Saudis, then we have the makings of real, real progress." Brzezinski proposes a theory of "concentric circles" for negotiations. The first circle, now in process, involves talks between the Israelis and Egyptians, with the U.S. hovering close by. The second circle of activity would include the moderate Arabs. The third circle, encompassing the Soviets and Syrians, would be the last.

As he flew to Ismailia on Christmas Day, Begin was fortified by the Israeli Cabinet's unanimous approval of his peace plans. In his briefcase would be the proposals that Begin had discussed with Jimmy Carter, which presumably had been refined. Carter had argued that Israel move farther toward compromise, especially on the difficult question of the West Bank. Many Israelis fear that self-rule for the West Bank, as proposed by Begin, would eventually lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Most Israelis regard that prospect as totally unacceptable. Eventual independence for the West Bank, perhaps in federation with Jordan, is exactly what Sadat wants. At the very least, he believes a Palestinian entity should receive such "symbols of sovereignty" as a flag and the right to issue its own passports.

The Begin-Sadat meeting was preceded by other high-level contacts last week, notably the two days of talks in Egypt between Israel's Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Egypt's General Gamassy. The two generals concentrated on the future of the Sinai, discussing further Israeli withdrawals and the widening of the demilitarized zones. Those negotiations represented "a concrete hypotheses" of Christmas Day agenda.

Barring an unexpected disaster, the Begin-Sadat talks at Christmas could produce an umbrella declaration of principles and perhaps a token arrangement of mutual good will. After that, the Cairo conference talks could very well be raised to the Foreign Minister level for purposes of negotiating a detailed settlement. Sadat has told TIME of his willingness to make his arrangements with Begin, and then inform the other Arab states that he has negotiated a framework in which they too can negotiate. In effect, Sadat is thinking of a separate peace with sequels--leaving the other Arabs to work on their own special accommodations. To avoid appearing to have made a separate deal at the expense of his Arab colleagues, Sadat could refuse to sign a formal peace treaty but instead initial a memorandum of understanding that would call for major withdrawals by Israel from the occupied territories. This would not only keep the peace momentum going, it might also tempt Jordan, and perhaps eventually Syria, to talk separately with Israel.

Saudi Arabia, with its oil wealth and its links to both moderates and rejectionists, remains crucial to any permanent peace in the Middle East. Although the Saudis have been extremely cautious since the beginning of Sadat's initiative, it seems most unlikely that they would stand in the way of a settlement. They have not only invested heavily in Egypt's future, they have a political and economic investment in Middle East stability. The Saudis could play a key role in reconciling the Syrians to the Egyptian design for peace. The Syrian economy is in grave difficulty, with inflation running at 25%. If the Saudis were to offer major financial backing in return for a Syrian-Egyptian reconciliation, President Hafez Assad might have to assent, no matter how much he dislikes the idea of being forced to negotiate with Israel. But Assad's position is a delicate one. He belongs to a minority Muslim sect (the Alawites), and his seven-year-old regime is the longest-lasting since Syria gained independence in 1946. If he were to accept a Sadat-dictated peace approach, he could face serious internal efforts to overthrow him.

If, with Saudi acquiescence, the Egyptians conclude an arrangement with the Israelis, and the Syrians, Jordanians and moderate Palestinians fall into line, and almost complete Middle East peace would be in sight. That prospect opens wider horizons, ones already being discussed. In Cairo, Egyptians were speculating in hushed tones last week about an eventual unofficial alliance of Egypt, Israel and Iran that would link three countries with complementary economic assets: manpower, Western technology and oil wealth. For the first time, Egypt would have non-Arab allies in the region. The political basis for such a partnership would be common opposition to extension of Soviet or leftist power in the Middle East--a reflection of Sadat's growing conviction that the real danger to him is represented by the Soviet Union, not Israel.

Before Sadat flew to Israel, the Middle East appeared to be on another of its terrible swings toward war, another violent spasm in the tragic politics of the region. But by one act, the Egyptian President has broken through the seemingly predestined cycle of hatred and killing. Not since the founding of Israel in 1948 has the will for peace in the Middle East been stronger. If his specific initiative proves unfruitful, there remains a danger that both sides might once again gear up for war. And yet it seems unlikely that the past's bitter patterns of stagnation and violence could return. The very memory of Anwar Sadat at Ben Gurion Airport, at Al Aqsa mosque, at the Knesset, will serve as an enduring reminder that a better way for the Middle East is possible.