Menu JTA Search

Behind the Headlines the Name of the Game: Israel As the Heavy in the Mideast

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

On Sept. 1 Israel and Egypt initialed the second Sinai interim agreement that was reached with the help of Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. That same day President Ford in personal telephone calls to Kissinger, Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat congratulated the three for achieving the accord, termed it fair and balanced and declared that “this is a great achievement, one of the most historic of this decade, perhaps of this century.”

Within three weeks, however, this fair and balanced agreement had all but been turned against Israel into a most unfair and unbalanced portrayal of the Jewish State as lusting after U.S. military weapons almost at the expense of America’s own military needs and placing burdensome demands on America’s strained financial resources as the price for having consented to the accord.

The major dailies in New York and Washington embarked on a concerted campaign focusing on what they made to appear was Israel’s insatiable appetite for U.S. aid, leaking texts and secret memorandums and undertakings between Israel and the U.S. and offering such tantalizing and misleading headlines as “New Missiles for Mideast: A Destabilizing Factor,” and “Pentagon Not Consulted On Pershings.” The net result of these reports created the distinct impression that the “most historic” achievement had not taken place between Israel and Egypt but between Israel and the U.S. and that Israel was the sole beneficiary of the accord reached with American help.

Unquestionably, the leaks to the press regarding various U.S.-Israel undertakings and the ensuing one-sided, contradictory, half-baked and innuendo-filled reports reflected the sentiments of the differing, even warring factions within the State Department, the Pentagon, the Administration and Congress. These sentiments could be grasped behind the screaming headlines.

ALONG COMES MIDDLETON

On Sept. 18, Drew Middleton wrote in the New York Times that the possibility that Israel will acquire medium-range and long-range surface-to-surface missiles “is regarded by qualified informants in Washington and Western Europe as a significant step toward expanded warfare in the Middle East.” Furthermore, he noted, “Israel’s deployment of the Pershing, military sources noted, would add a new dimension to her power and, according to one critic of the proposal, destabilize the military balance in the area.”

Middleton “balanced” his report by relating Israel Defense Minister Shimon Peres’ statement to the National Press Club in Washington that Israel was prepared to offer a guarantee not to convert the Pershing missiles with nuclear warheads. But the Times expert immediately redressed this “balance” by showing that Israel had nuclear potential and had converted earlier weapons from the U.S. and Britain to her needs and that the conversion of Pershings from a nonnuclear to a nuclear role “would not offer insuperable technological problems.”

In addition, Pentagon officials were quoted in the press as insisting that the military establishment had not been consulted about an “agreement” for the U.S. to supply Israel with Pershing missiles and intimated that Kissinger, during his latest shuttle, had slipped this “agreement” to the Israelis behind the backs of the Joint Chief of Staff and Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger. It was also intimated by these officials and dutifully “disclosed” by the press that the supply of Pershings and F-16s was a virtual pay-off to Israel for signing the accord.

TOO COSTLY FOR THE U.S.

According to well-placed “leaks” funneled through the press the U.S. had not only undertaken a number of secret military accords with Israel that included pledges for military hardware that could very well diminish existing U.S. arms inventories but also substantial financial aid that would take an enormous bite out of American taxpayers’ pocketbooks. Rep. Lee Hamilton (D.Ind.) alluded to the latter when he asserted last week that the Sinai accord will cost the U.S. $4 billion to implement which, he asserted, is “mighty expensive real estate.”

J. William Fulbright, who is the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also denounced the Sinai accord as too costly for the U.S. and delivered himself of the opinion that “we have subjected ourselves to the will of Israel.” Parenthetically, neither Congressman offered a feasible alternative to the so-called exorbitant cost, namely, the removal of American troops or personnel from areas where they are now stationed in non-danger zones and to reassign the monies spent on them for the cost of having personnel in Sinai.

On top of all this, or rather, throughout all, this, Kissinger reiterated time and again since his return from his latest shuttle that Israel would not have, might not have, consented to the Sinai pact unless the U.S. agreed to station civilian personnel there and, in fact, had insisted on this proviso as a prerequisite for agreeing to the accord.

To all intents and purposes these developments have left the impression that Israel and the U.S. are involved in some international Watergate and that Israel is bent on “Vietnamizing” the U.S. by forcing America into another foreign exploit. Wittingly or unwittingly these “leaks” and reports have become grist to the mill among those segments in the State Department, Pentagon, and Congress that would like to turn off the American public to Israel. If not turn off the American public opinion against Israel. The Jewish State, thereby, is being cast as the heavy in the Mideast scene. The facts do not warrant this.

FACTS DO NOT WARRANT REPORTS

Rabin reported two weeks ago that the idea of an American presence in Sinai was first proposed by Sadat in his meeting with Ford in Salzburg in June. He said the idea had come up when Sadat rejected the Israeli proposal that the warning systems would be manned by the Egyptians and Israelis alone. Peres, who together with Rabin and Foreign Minister Yigal Allon comprised Israel’s negotiating team, reaffirmed this last week. Allon, in an interview published in Maariv on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, stated: “I did not present the question of American technicians as a demand and I did not regard the American technicians’ presence as an essential condition for the signature of the agreement.” The so-called impartial press very partially refrained from reporting these statements

As to American commitments to sell Israel new weapons, including Pershings, Kissinger last weekend told reporters that these arms are not new items that have been “submitted to us during the negotiations” and had been “reviewed prior to the reassessment (begun last March), by all the agencies in Washington.” Last Sunday, Schlesinger conceded after being asked pointblank by reporters on CBS-TV “Meet the Press” that he had been informed about the Pershing missiles in due course.

In addition, he continued, even if the Pershings were approved for Israel–which at this time they are not-production has been shut down for some time and could not be resumed before 1978. Likewise, the sophisticated F-16s will not go into production before 1979-80, Schlesinger noted.

Again, the press failed to balance its reports regarding arms sales to Israel by playing down or entirely ignoring the most salient facts: that the Pershings would barely offset the stockpiles of Frog and Scud missiles the Egyptians now have thanks to Soviet help and that the Arab states now have missiles capable of hitting every city in Israel, while Israel now has no comparable weapons.

Also played down by the press was the conclusion of the study published two weeks ago by the authoritative London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies which showed that during the past 12 months Iraq increased defense spending from $3,224 billion to $10.405 billion; Saudi Arabia hiked its defense budget from $1.808 billion to $6.343 billion; and Egypt’s defense budget went up from $4.071 billion to $6.103 billion. During the same period, however, the IISS showed that Israel’s defense budget declined from $3,688 billion to $3.503 billion.

PROMISES DO NOT EQUAL AID

As for economic aid to Israel, the $3 billion Israel had hoped to get is now down to some $2.3 billion subject to Congressional approval of which $1.5 billion is for military aid. Unreported or buried in the voluminous reports on the U.S. aid package is the fact that Egypt will receive between $650 million and $800 million in what is termed in Washington as “non-military” aid for now. In addition, Kissinger has made it clear that the U.S. has not committed itself to “separate funding” to Israel in compensation for the oil she will no longer obtain from the Sinai wells that are being returned to Egypt. There had been reports that Israel would receive $300 million in compensation.

The picture, therefore, of Israel as a militarily rapacious nation, anxious to involve the U.S. in a Mideast “Vietnam” and seeking to drain American financial resources is a portrait devoid of reality. The reality is that Israel has received verbal and written promises, indications, offerings and hedged pledges. These are hardly the substantial weapons and finances Israel desperately requires in her continuing struggle to maintain her national sovereignty and security.

NEXT STORY