Behind the Headlines Turnabout on Arms for Israel

President Carter was being credited by analysts here today with having demolished a pressure tactic against Israel once he understood it had been molded by elements within the American foreign affairs establishment more concerned with soothing Arab leaders than long-standing American policy.

The tactic was devised on the basis of Carter’s known desire to reduce the arms race everywhere by restraining deliveries of American weapons abroad. Propaganda was spread by Arabists in the Administration that the purpose of keeping Israel off the preferred list of U.S. arms clients and to block the Israeli-American co-production of weapons were only meant to keep the U.S. “evenhanded” in the Middle East.

These Administration lobbyists working at the Capital and with major columnists argued that if Israel were included in the list of preferred nations the Arabs would become upset at a delicate time in the Middle East political process. They also contended that it is imperative to keep a psychological lever on Israel like the “reassessment” under the Ford Administration preceding the second Sinai interim agreement.

Although the State Department, Pentagon and other elements consistently denied that a policy change towards Israel was being made or that the traditional Israeli-American relationship was being undermined, their tactic was quickly recognized as a means both to weaken Israel militarily and economically and make her even more dependent on U.S. largesse.

CARTER ALERTED TO SITUATION

Friends of Israel, one analyst said, countered the Arabists by noting that they were attempting to weaken the Israeli government so it could not oppose an American imposed Mideast settlement or “suggestions” that were tantamount to the same thing. The pro-Israelis wanted the Carter Administration to keep the commitments made by President Ford to provide Israel with new weapons and the close production cooperation.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were shocked to hear from top State Department officials that Israel was no longer to be a preferred arms customer under the Presidential policy being reviewed. As their incredulity grew that Carter appeared inclined to go along with the Arabists, a White House aide put in an emergency phone call to the President while he was flying home from London last Tuesday.

He was told a confrontation was in the making with Congress. Upon his arrival, Carter immediately asked key Senators to meet with him and after receiving their views last Thursday morning, he decided the State Department and others had misled him and he pierced their balloon by agreeing with the pro-Israeli position.

A few hours later, the President made his decisions public on national television through a press conference and a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which promptly adopted the language in its foreign aid authorization bill it felt was sufficient to keep the traditional Israeli-American relationship. That language said, in part, that “in accordance with the historic special relationship” between the two countries “a policy of restraint in U.S. aims transfers, including arms sales ceilings, should not impair Israel’s deterrent strength or undermine the military balance in the Middle East.”

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