Israel Studying Meaning of France’s End to Arms Embargo

The announcement yesterday in Paris that France has ended its Middle East arms embargo is being studied carefully in Israel. The initial official reaction has been one of discreet silence. The Foreign Ministry spokesman today said merely that Israel would want to examine the “practical meaning” of the announcement, and especially of the statement that arms sales would be approved after examination of each individual case. He said that Asher Ben Natan, Israel’s Ambassador to France, who is currently vacationing in Israel, will return shortly to Paris and hold talks with French officials on this subject.

Meanwhile, non-governmental commentators here all say the event presages an increase and diversification of arms now flowing into the Mideast. They expect that Egypt in particular will benefit from the French decision. It will no longer have to resort to subterfuges to obtain French arms and at the same time will be able to exploit France’s new readiness to sell arms openly to all comers as a lever to obtain Soviet arms, of which Cairo has been starved in post-Yom Kippur War months.

Israel, too, will obviously avail itself, subtly and discreetly, of the available option of buying French hardware in its arms dealings with Washington where certain articles have still been hard to come by for the Israeli ministers and generals sent there on purchasing missions in recent weeks, these commentators note. Basically, however, Israel is expected to remain an American-supplied state in most fields of weaponry, at least for the forseeable future.

ISRAEL IS AT A DISADVANTAGE

In the long run, most realistic observers here agree, the lifting of the French embargo will mean that the Mideast arms race will become a matter of money rather than of politics. Here, of course, Israel is at the intense disadvantage. Even the arms it currently receives from the U.S. are given in grants or easy credits with very little paid for in cash.

The French, on the other hand, are in the business purely for commercial reasons, and no credits or other help in buying their wares can be expected or would be sought. Thus, there can be for Israel no realistic “alternative” to American arms–with their concomitant American pressures in the form of France–because even French arms would in the final analysis have to be paid for with American money.

(In Washington, the State Department declined specific comment on the French announcement. An official said it was an internal decision for the French government, adding, “I would say we are certain that the French government shares our desires to achieve a peaceful settlement in the Middle East and to assure the maintenance of the present cease-fire.” He expressed confidence that the implementation of the decision “will reflect this view.”)

NEXT STORY