WASHINGTON (Dec. 11)
Congress was informed yesterday by the Defense Department of plans to sell Israel 25 of the advanced F-15 jet fighters that Israel has been seeking for more than a year. The legislators were also advised that Saudi Arabia has contracted for $1.8 billion in U.S. construction, maintenance and training programs directed toward the modernization of its air force which is to include 100 F-5 jet fighters the U.S. has agreed to sell Saudi Arabia.
Congress has 20 days to oppose both deals. While no opposition is expected on the sale of the F-15s to Israel, the Saudian contract may run into a snag on the issue of that country’s discrimination against the hiring of Jews by American contractors engaged in projects in Saudi Arabia.
The Pentagon’s announcement of the sale of jets to Israel is considered significant only from the standpoint of timing. It was known in mid-summer that the United States had agreed to provide Israel with these planes and the announcement yesterday of delivery plans was considered as another indication by the U.S. government that it is not abandoning Israel despite its desire for Israel to participate in the Jan. 12 Security Council debate on the Mideast in which the PLO is to take part.
In addition, it is being said here that French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who is now in Cairo, may agree to provide Egypt with the new Mirage F-1 warplane. The French position, it is now believed, is inclined to deliver the best French fighter to Egypt since the French government, in the light of the U.S. announcement on the F-15 planes, cannot now be charged with destroying the balance of air power in the Middle East. The French say that their new Mirage F-1 is better than any American warplane in Israeli hands.
Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted an amendment to the military aid bill barring military assistance to any nation that prevents the employment of an American citizen on grounds of race, religion, national origin or sex. The measure was co-sponsored by Sens. Clifford Case (R.NJ) and Hubert Humphrey (D. Minn.).
NO DELIVERIES TILL 1977
The sale of F-15s to Israel was held up by the Ford Administration’s reassessment of U.S. Mideast policy, ordered by the President after the failure of U.S. attempts to promote an interim agreement between Israel and Egypt last March. The Administration approved the sale after the Israeli-Egyptian Sinai accord was signed in September. Israel claims its air force needs the highly sophisticated F-15s to counter the Soviet MIG-23 fighters supplied to Egypt and Syria and the MIG-24 interceptors that Soviet pilots are reportedly flying in Syria.
But Israel will have to wait at least until 1977 before the first F-15s are delivered. Administration policy requires that arms sold to foreign countries come from the production line rather than existing stocks of the U.S. armed forces. Production of the F-15s was begun only recently by the McDonnell Douglas Corp, and so far only about 20 have been delivered to the U.S. Air Force.
The F-15s are said to cost about $24 million each, including spare parts, support equipment and crew training. They will cost Israel about $600 million altogether, but a substantial portion of that sum is expected to be covered by U.S. military credits and grants.