WASHINGTON (Jun. 23)
The Johnson Administration has come under fire from some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for selling Phantom jet fighter-bombers to Iran but refusing to sell them to Israel. Sen. John J. Sparkman, Alabama Democrat, pointed out at a Senate hearing with Department of Defense witnesses present that Iran was sold Phantoms even though the Shah recently signed a $150 million agreement to buy Soviet arms and is receiving Russian technical assistance. Sen. Stuart Symington, Missouri Democrat, who formerly served as Air Force Secretary, said that Israel is in far greater danger than Iran yet the Executive Department refuses to sell Israel the same Phantoms provided to Iran. He suggested that an Administration decision to keep the Shah “happy” may have been influenced by the oil companies with investments in Iran.
Paul C. Warnke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, said that the decision was taken to sell Phantoms to Iran on easy credit terms to help Iran defend herself against Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The Senators insisted that Israel was in far greater danger from the radical Arab states than was Iran. Mr. Warnke said the State Department had recommended and approved the Iranian transaction.
On the issue of U.S. jet sales to Jordan, Mr. Warnke said that Israel Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had been consulted and had acquiesced in the Administration’s decision to sell arms to Jordan. Mr. Warnke said the Israeli Government found U.S. arms sales to Jordan preferable to Soviet arms sales to the Hussein regime.
Defense Department officials later explained that the defense establishment has no objection to selling Phantoms to Israel but that President Johnson has failed to ask the State Department to issue the necessary export licenses. They said that Johnson is apparently unconvinced that Israel really needs the Phantoms at this time.