WASHINGTON (Apr. 14)
The outlines of a new United States Government policy toward the Middle East emerged here today. The policy is highlighted by a plan to provide limited arms to Israel and four Arab nations, while cautioning Israel to restraint on the Jordan River water issue, and patience until desalination objectives are achieved.
United States officials said Israel has been warned that the U.S. will not tolerate Israeli military actions to prevent blockade of Israel’s water sources. These officials said that the most immediate threat of war in the region arises from what they see as Israel’s plan to use armed force, if necessary, to prevent Arab diversion of rivers flowing toward the Israel frontier. (These rivers are the headwaters of the Jordan.)
According to the latest American assessment, the Sino-Soviet attempts to penetrate the Middle East region have not achieved their aims, and Egyptian President Nasser is indicating a friendlier response to the United States.
The State Department has found a formula for making a “very limited” response to Israel’s arms needs in a way that may prove least offensive to the Arabs. The new policy would withhold major arms but make minor shipments, on a case-by-case basis, to Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, as well as to Israel.
The quantities will be “modest” in all cases. The shipments to Israel will not be on the scale of Soviet military equipment received by Egypt. The reason given is that the national security interests of the United States require the avoidance of a Soviet trap, in which the Russians would like to see America linked with Israel in an arms race, while the Arabs turn to Moscow for arms and training.
The new policy will create a situation in which both the United States and the Soviet Union are supplying the Arabs. It is apparent that the American response to Israel’s needs will be exceedingly reluctant, cautious, and probably far below Israel’s actual requirements.
WASHINGTON REPORTED DETERMINED TO SHUN OPEN LINK TO ISRAEL’S SECURITY
America is determined not to link itself openly with Israeli security requirements. The arms sent to Israel will be on a piecemeal basis, accompanied by simultaneous shipments to the surrounding Arab states. Experts have advised President Johnson that Israel Premier Levi Eshkol will accept the State Department’s formulation in public terms, but will strive behind the scenes to appeal directly to the President.
U.S. officials are privately saying that Israel has no real objection to American arms sales to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. According to these officials, Israel is vitally interested in Jordanian internal stability; Lebanon poses no real threat to Israel; Iraq is removed by geography and concerned with other problems; while Saudi Arabia is embroiled with Egypt in the Yemen dispute. Also, it was said here, the Israel Government does not want to see these countries turn to Communist sources for arms.
The State Department is currently hopeful for a stabilization of the region, but is deeply concerned lest Israel undermine present trends by armed action in the water dispute. In this connection, officials have pointed out that the latest studies show that the cost of converting sea water may prove very economical, and that it might be available within five years. President Johnson is depicted as believing that the joint U.S.-Israel desalination program now in progress may solve Israel’s water problem. Meanwhile, it is hoped that Israel will display patience and restraint on the water issue despite Arab provocations.
Another new tendency which emerged here concurrently with apprehension over Israeli military moves was a reluctance to reiterate the standing American commitments to support Israel in event of war.