PARIS (Oct. 16)
A French ministerial committee is studying ways to refund as estimated $60 million that Israel paid for 50 Mirage III supersonic jets that were never delivered because of the embargo imposed by former President Charles de Gaulle after the Six-Day War. it was learned here. Most observers here believe the Government has already decided in principle to keep the planes and return the money to Israel. The committee’s task is to devise a way of accomplishing this without creating serious economic, diplomatic and military repercussions, it was reported.
Official French sources said, however, that no decision has yet been made by the Government. Israeli diplomatic circles here said they knew nothing of the matter beyond what they read in the local press. (An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Jerusalem today that Israel would rebuff any refund offer because “we want the 50 Mirages for which we paid. They belong to us.” He said France has made no approaches to Israel about a refund.) Israel has repeatedly demanded that France honor the contract for the Mirages which it ordered from the Marcel Dassault works in 1966 and for which it made final payment last year despite the embargo.
According to French Defense Ministry sources, a study of the consequences of a refund was initiated by President de Gaulle’s Defense Minister, Pierre Messmer, and is being continued in the Pompidou Administration by Defense Minister Michel Debre. A special committee was set up for the purpose several weeks ago consisting of representatives of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries, members of the general defense headquarters and representatives of the three armed services, reports here said. The committee is responsible to M. Debre and is believed to have been established originally at his prompting. Mr. Debre, who was Foreign Minister in the de Gaulle regime, has advocated refunding Israel the money it paid for the planes as “the only way to end the Franco-Israel discord.”
The main problem facing the committee is how to dispose of the 50 Mirages. It is generally assumed that they will be turned over to the French Air Force although they were built to Israeli specifications and do not fit into France’s strategic needs. Israel had the planes designed for tactical infantry support whereas the French Air Force is built around long-range bombers. Another major problem is what to do if Israel refuses to ask for its money back and insists on the planes.