U.S. Tanks to Israel Seen As Move to Soften Israel’s Stand on Peace Talks

The United States appeared today to be trading arms to Israel for a softer stand on Egyptian violations of the Suez Canal standstill cease-fire agreement. That was the interpretation placed by knowledgeable sources here on the disclosure Friday that the U.S. has agreed to supply Israel with a hefty arms package that includes more F-4 Phantom jets and 180-200 modern tanks, among them the main battle line M-60s which the U.S. Army regards as the best tank in service anywhere in the world. The impending new arms shipment to Israel was confirmed by Pentagon officials who stressed that the weaponry was intended to maintain the Middle East arms balance by off-setting the heavy Egyptian missile build-up in the standstill cease-fire zone. (Cairo reacted angrily to the reports, accusing the U.S. of menacing shaky Mideast peace prospects. Egyptian sources said the new arms shipments to Israel confirmed President Anwar Sadat’s charge last week that the U.S. has always used Israel as a tool to carry out its policies in the Mideast.) Most observers here believe that the U.S. move, or at least its disclosure at this time, represented a last ditch effort to get the Jarring peace talks moving once again. They reasoned that Israel could hardly accept the new arms and at the same time resist U.S. pressure to back down on its insistance that Egyptian truce violations be totally rectified by removal of missiles installed in the cease-fire zone. Restoration of the Aug. 7 status quo ante has been Israel’s condition for returning to the stalled Jarring talks.

(According to reports from Jerusalem today, the U.S. has indicated in its latest diplomatic contacts with Israel that it would accept “token” rectification of the truce violations. The Israelis infer from this that resumption of the Jarring talks is the overriding goal of American diplomacy at this time, Israel’s demand for total restoration of the pre-Aug. 7 military situation in the truce zone, which Premier Golda Meir re-affirmed in her speech to the General Assembly in New York last Wednesday, now seems more difficult to maintain, sources in Jerusalem said. Israel is in vital need of firm U.S. support during the scheduled Middle East debate in the General Assembly. The aim of the Egyptians and their Soviet backers appears to be the drafting of a new Mideast resolution that would undermine Resolution 242. Intensive lobbying by the U.S. is considered the only sure way to forestall such a resolution. Israeli circles believe that Washington will make such an effort contingent on Israeli concessions with regard to rectification of the cease-fire violations.) According to sources here the new arms deliveries represents part of the nearly $500 million in assistance to Israel under the foreign military sales authorization bill still pending in Congress. The bill contains procurement authorization measure overwhelmingly passed by both houses of Congress which allows the President to sell Israel unlimited quantities of arms at his discretion.

Designed to maintain the balance of power in the Mideast, the bill is expected to be passed when Congress returns to session following next month’s elections. The M-60 tanks are intended to provide Israel with a solid battle line to counter-attack in the Sinai desert should Egypt decide to exploit its missile umbrella by launching a major armored attack across the Suez Canal. The M-60 is the best tank in the American arsenal. It mounts a 105 mm. gun and two machine guns, can travel at 30 m.p.h. and has a range of about 300 miles. In addition, the arms package will include an unspecified number of American M-48 Patten tanks. Some of the tanks will be new and others second hand. Israel’s tank force presently consists of about 1000 old American Sherman and Patton tanks and British Centurians. The arrival of the M-60s would permit Israel to deploy its older tank force along the Jordanian and Syrian frontiers where, according to U.S. sources, they could deter a repetition of last month’s invasion of Jordan by a Syrian tank force.

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