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Israeli Government Silent on U.S. Sale of Additional Hawk Missile Batteries

Israel maintained official silence today on yesterday’s announcement by the Defense Department in Washington that the United States has agreed to sell Israel additional batteries of Hawk surface-to-air missiles under a credit arrangement. There was no editorial comment either in Israel’s press. The agreement was the first for the sale of U.S. military equipment to Israel since the June, 1967 Arab-Israel war.

Some political circles here took the Pentagon’s announcement to be an attempt by the U.S. to “Buy off” Israel which had been seeking other types of American arms, mainly the supersonic Phantom jet fighter-bombers, the most advanced operative warplane in the U.S. arsenal. But other sources here noted that the sale of the Hawks was only the logical continuation of an old agreement. The U.S. agreed to sell Hawks to Israel in 1962 to offset weapons acquired by the Arab states from the Soviet bloc. Enough missiles to form a battalion were delivered to Israel in 1965 at a cost of $25 million.

A battalion normally has a total of 24 Hawk missile launchers each bearing three missiles. The new sale, according to the Pentagon, involves “additional batteries.” A battery has six launchers and 18 missiles. The Hawk – Homing All-the-Way-Killer – can destroy aircraft at altitudes as low as 100 feet and as high as 38,000 feet, which is considered “medium” altitude.

(In Washington a Defense Department spokesman disclosed that agreement on the Hawk transaction was reached June 29 but refused to say how many batteries were involved. The announcement did say however that the “acquisition by Israel of additional Hawks should enhance its ability to defend itself against air attacks.” That gave rise to speculation that the missiles were viewed by the U.S. as a substitute for the 50 Phantom jets that were requested by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol during his visit with President Johnson last January. The Administration has since been under strong pressure from many Congressmen and from political candidates to sell the Phantoms to Israel in view of the massive Soviet build-up of Egypt’s Air Force. But the State Department is believed to have sought to defer the sale. Some observers in Washington said today that the State Department recommended to the White House that a formula be found to bolster Israel’s air defense but deny her the Phantoms which could be used offensively. The Hawk is a purely defensive weapon.

(Other sources speculated that the agreement to sell Israel additional Hawk missiles would pave the way for the sale of the Phantom jets. Following Mr. Eshkol’s visit, Mr. Johnson promised Israel about 20 more A-4 Sky hawk fighter-bombers. The U.S. has already begun the shipment of three squadrons of 48 Sky hawks under a sales agreement concluded in 1966. Their delivery had been held up by the June, 1967 war. The President was said to have made no commitment on Israel’s request for the faster, more modern Phantoms. Officials have maintained that their sale remained under “sympathetic consideration.”)

(The London Telegraph reported from Amman Friday that the U.S. has just completed an publicized air flight to Jordan of arms and military equipment. Heavy equipment, including “dozens” of Patton tanks, artillery and anti-tank guns are being sent by sea and are expected at Aqaba later this month, the paper said. According to the Telegraph the shipments were not announced apparently at the request of American authorities who are sensitive about re-entering the Middle East arms race and are worried about the reaction of the “Zionist lobby.”)

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