Letter from a friend

Thirty years later, a warning Margaret Thatcher sent to the US seems even wiser than it did at the time.

'Dear Ron," the secret letter began. "Unlimited support for Israel can only lead to growing polarisation and despair in the Arab world ... Arab opinion is running violently against the United States since the impression has been given ... that you condone rather than condemn the recent Israeli action."

The year was 1982, and Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister, was warning her American friend, President Ronald Reagan. The letter was sent at a time when Washington was standing by as its ally Israel waged war on Lebanon. Although her own government was close to Israel's, Mrs Thatcher foresaw grave consequences if the US, in particular, silently acquiesced in the aggression.

Public understanding is improved when leaders' candid exchanges are made public, even decades after the fact. As The National reported yesterday, Mrs Thatcher's missive was among thousands of previously confidential documents, many related to the Falklands War, released last year by the UK's National Archive.

But while public understanding does profit from deferred publication of messages like this one, it cannot be said that such sensitive cables always accomplish their purpose at the time. Since 1982 Mrs Thatcher's warning of soured US-Arab relations has been proved correct, as the US continues to support an increasingly ruthless Israel.