WASHINGTON (Dec. 29)
The Near East Division of the State Department was reliably reported today to be so displeased by Israel’s reprisal raid on the Beirut Airport last night that an effort is being made to block plans to deliver 50 Phantom jet fighter-bombers to Israel. Sources here said that the Beirut raid, occurring within a single day of the announcement of final agreement on the Phantom transaction, ignored the latest United States advice and undermined pro-Western Arab governments.
Later today, however, State Department officials refused to say whether the proposed sale of the Phantom jets, on which final agreement was announced Friday, would be affected by the Beirut raid. The report that the Phantom transaction might be blocked emerged after the United States made an official protest in the “strongest terms” deploring the Beirut raid. Assistant Secretary of State Parker Hart, on personal instructions from Secretary of State Dean Rusk, summoned Israel diplomats to the State Department. Senior Israeli diplomats, Counselor Moshe Raviv and First Secretary Yosef Aharon responded. The State Department then announced publicly that a strong official protest had been made to them and that the American Ambassador in Israel, Walworth Barbour, had been instructed to call personally on either Premier Levi Eshkol or Foreign Minister Abba Eban to emphasize the gravity of United States reaction to the Beirut raid.
A White House adviser said today that President Johnson considered the Israeli raid “serious and unwise.” Speaking on a nationwide television program, Walt W. Rostow noted that Israel regarded the attack on the Lebanese airport as a justified response to the Arab guerrilla attack on an El Al airliner at the Athens Airport Thursday in which an Israeli passenger was killed and two stewardesses wounded. However, Rostow said, the Beirut raid “is a move which in our judgment does not take us closer to a stable peace in the Middle East.” He expressed the view that “beneath the surface in the Arab world and Israel.” there was “perhaps more flexibility than we have seen, more realization that at the end of the road a stable peace is the only answer.”
(The United Nations Security Council was called into emergency session at 6 p.m. tonight to consider a Lebanese complaint against Israel stemming from the raid against the Beirut Airport. Reports from Jerusalem indicated Israel would file a counter-complaint against Lebanon. Israel’s UN Ambassador, Yosef Tekoah, who had reported to Jerusalem for consultations, was understood to be planning an immediate return to New York for the Council debate.)
The State Department’s advice to Israel had been to refrain from reprisal actions because they might unify the growing Arab commando movement, destroy United Nations peace efforts and worsen the position of Arab governments responsive to American influence. The diplomats here said that the airport attack had made it almost impossible to visualize a previously conceivable accommodation by President Nasser of Egypt or King Hussein of Jordan on a compromise basis. State Department officials said they were angry because they had shared with Israel a sense of concern over the increase in dedication, popularity and effectiveness of the Arab terrorist movement and now visualized a Pan-Arab revolutionary front which crossed borders and threatened particularly the Arab governments still responsive to the United States.
A State Department position appeared to be emerging that Israel overreacted against Lebanon and that the airport raid would help rather than hinder the Arab terrorist extremists. Officials suggested that Israel, which they said had been helped by the United States to buy Boeing planes for the El Al airline and which is now seeking expanded landing rights in the United States, should have absorbed the two incidents against El Al – the other referring to the hijacking of an El Al plane last July by guerrillas who flew it to Algeria – without what was called here a disproportionate and “counter-productive response.”