WASHINGTON (Jul. 13)
The Nixon Administration is quietly sending additional Phantom jet fighter-bombers to Israel in quantities above the number that would normally be delivered under the 1968 contract with the administration of former President Lyndon B. Johnson. That is the consensus of informed opinion here today although there is no confirmation from administration sources. One high official insisted that President Nixon has not yet made a decision on Israel’s long pending request for 25 more Phantoms and 100 Skyhawk jets. But there is growing belief here that the President, seriously concerned with the mounting Soviet military threat in the Mideast, is replacing Israel’s combat losses in a manner that gives the United States a free hand unencumbered by delivery quotas and time-tables and, most important, without publicity. Assistant Secretary of State Joseph J. Sisco refused to comment yesterday on a report of that nature in the current edition of Newsweek magazine. Appearing on a television interview, Mr. Sisco said that White House and State Department officials have agreed not to comment on “speculative stories” of military shipments to Israel, even at the risk of having “misinformation” appear in print. Meanwhile, Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin conferred for 45 minutes today with Joseph J. Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Asked by newsmen if they had discussed the Soviet Union’s Middle East peace initiative, Mr. Dobrynin replied: “I can’t say anything about that.” A State Department spokesman said earlier in the day the United States initiative would be on the two diplomats’ agenda.
Newsweek’s Pentagon correspondent Lloyd Norman reported that President Nixon “secretly ordered the Pentagon to rush a shipment of F-4E Phantom jets–and highly classified electronic equipment to the Israel Air Force.” According to Mr. Norman, the President “agreed to supply Israel this month with a total of eight Phantoms–two of them already promised under existing contract and six more which the U.S. will take from production lines earmarked for its own air forces…In addition, the President also assured Israel that, starting in August, it will receive two Phantom jets each month for the indefinite future,” Newsweek reported. Under its contract with the Johnson Administration, Israel received the first of 50 Phantoms in Sept., 1969 and deliveries have continued at a rate of four a month. At that pace, Israel should have received about 40 of the supersonic jets so far with delivery of the balance to be completed by the end of this year. According to the Newsweek report, Israel is getting Phantoms under the original contract plus an unspecified number of additional jets to replace its combat losses. Newsweek reported further that the U.S. has sent Israel 130 sets of top secret electronic gear for installation in its warplanes. The device warns pilots that they have been detected by enemy radar and sends out jamming signals to throw the enemy’s radar-guided missiles off target.
ISRAELIS SAID TO BE SATISFIED WITH ARRANGEMENT REPORTEDLY ORDERED BY NIXON
High U.S. officials said today that the Newsweek report was “substantially inaccurate” but would not say what portions of it were accurate. According to Newsweek, the President ordered additional Phantoms rushed to Israel following the loss of at least three Israeli Phantoms to Egyptian SAM-2 missiles over the Suez Canal zone between June 30 and July 5. Sources here who put credence in the Newsweek and other reports, cite Secretary of State William P. Rogers’ statement last March 23 that the U.S. would provide Israel with “replacement aircraft promptly if the situation requires it.” According to administration officials, a situation requiring American aid would be one which threatened Israel’s command of the air over the Suez Canal zone, in effect, reversing the present power balance in the Middle East. Israel has claimed that the balance was affected months ago when Soviet Russia brought its new SAM-3 anti-aircraft missiles into Egypt and sent Soviet pilots into the air on operational missions in Egyptian MIGs. The U.S. insisted that the SAM-3s were defensive weapons, as long as they were deployed deep inside Egypt to protect the Nile Delta, Cairo and the Aswan High Dam. Since the end of June, however, SAM-3 batteries have been moved close to the canal zone in support of SAM-2 missiles, according to Israeli intelligence reports. The U.S. has accepted the Israeli reports as correct and may now view the SAM-3s as not purely defensive. Mr. Sisco said in his television interview yesterday that the Russians in recent weeks have delivered amphibious craft to Egypt and made it clear that in his opinion this was not defensive equipment.
Israeli sources reported that Egypt has received well over 100 armored amphibious troop carriers from Russia and was already conducting maneuvers with them. They could be employed in a major attack across the canal or in a flanking attack from the sea on the Israel-held Sinai coast. Sources here noted that in recent days Israel has muted its request for more Phantom and Skyhawk jets. They intimate that the Israelis are satisfied, for the time being, with the arrangement reportedly ordered by President Nixon. One source said the U.S. was gauging its deliveries of aircraft to Israel to Egyptian response to American diplomatic initiatives for a Mideast settlement. If Cairo remains intransigent, the deliveries will continue but they could be halted if Egypt responded to peace overtures, the source said. Another determining factor could be the build-up of the Soviet missile defense system near the Suez Canal. The build-up is easily observable by U.S. space satellites. (An authoritative diplomatic source in Jerusalem said today that the key factor in the current diplomatic activity over the Middle East is the Israel Air Force’s effort to prevent Soviet and Egyptian forces from expanding their missile network in the canal zone. The attitude of each side to the various proposals may well hinge on the outcome of this effort, the sources said.)