WASHINGTON (Jul. 21)
The State Department was reported today to be seeking to persuade the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to eliminate a House-approved amendment to the Foreign Aid bill specifying that the President sell F-4 Phantom jet fighter-bombers to Israel.
Israel has been trying to obtain 50 of the supersonic jets since last January to offset the Soviet supply of modern military jets to the Arab states to replace losses in the June Six-Day war.
If the amendment is not eliminated in the Senate committee, it will remain part of the bill to the acted on by the full Senate, Some Senate committee members told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that they would resist pressures to eliminate the amendment. One Senator said he had heard that the White House opposed the amendment and considered it an attempt to force President Johnson’s hand while he reportedly was withholding the Phantoms to exert subtle pressure on Israel. The President was said to want Israel to adopt a less “rigid” position on peace negotiations. He also was said to feel that authorization of the sale of the jets to Israel might jeopardize his pursuit of a Middle East detente with the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, Walt W. Rostow, the President’s top advisor on foreign policy, disclosed in an official White House letter that United States policy on the Phantom matter was linked to American efforts to promote a peace settlement in the Middle East. In a letter to Sen. Hugh Scott, Pennsylvania Republican, who has pressed the Administration to provide the Phantoms to Israel, Mr. Rostow indicated that the question remained under review in keeping with the communique issued on talks between Israeli Premier Levi Eshkol and Mr. Johnson last January at the LBJ ranch.
Mr. Rostow emphasized that the “overriding objective” of the U.S. in the Middle East remained “achievement of a durable peace which will benefit all the people of that area.” He added that “we recognize the importance of relating our arms policy to pursuit of that objective.” The Rostow statement, which made supply of the Phantoms contingent on American diplomatic efforts on the Middle East, constituted the first White House admission that the two matters were linked.
Sen. Scott wrote President Johnson in reply that Israel urgently needed the supersonic jets and that arming Israel “strengthens the chance for a lasting peace in that area.” He warned that if the U.S. faltered in support and commitment “and Israel’s defensive position weakens, then surely the attack will come” on Israel.
A leading Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee. Rep. Bob Wilson of California, also criticized the delay on sale of the jets to Israel. In a letter to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Rep. Wilson charged that the Soviet Union was establishing air bases in the Arab states which menaced the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean while the U.S. continued to refuse to sell to Israel the Phantoms it needed “to maintain a deterrent strike capability against the Soviet-equipped bases being established there.” He asserted in his letter that while the Administration sought a detente with the Soviet Union, the Russians were outflanking NATO by preparing jet bomber bases in Egypt. Syria and Algeria. He declared that more than 8,000 Russians were already based in Arab states.
The final wording of the House-approved amendment specified that “the President shall take such steps as may be necessary to negotiate an agreement with the Government of Israel providing for the sale by the United States of not less than 50 military planes commonly known as F-4 Phantom jet fighters, in order to provide Israel with an adequate deterrent force capable of preventing future Arab aggression by offsetting sophisticated weapons received by the Arab states and to replace losses suffered by Israel in the 1967 conflict.” The amendment, offered in a bi-partisan action by Rep. Lester Wolff. New York Democrat, and Rep. Seymour Halpern, New York Republican, was approved by voice vote. The House rejected an Administration-backed move to block the amendment on the grounds that it would unconstitutionally interfere with Presidential conduct of foreign affairs.
Rep. Halpern, noting that Israel had not received a single supersonic military jet from any source since the Six-Day War, called the withholding of the Phantoms “a cynical way of conducting world diplomacy.” Rep. Wolff said that “unless Israel has a satisfactory deterrent in aircraft, we can have no assurance that peace will be negotiated” in the Middle East.