Behind the Headlines Implications of Weizman’s Visit

Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman’s arrival here Tuesday has suggested speculations that it will mark a climax in the present impasse over the Carter Administration’s aircraft package for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel, but international observers here see deeper purposes and implications in the visit.

The importance of Weizman’s visit to the Administration is underlined by President Carter’s surprise announcement that he himself would meet with Weizman, a fact the Israeli Embassy first learned by watching the President’s televised news conference last Thursday. It is unusual for the President to see a Defense Minister, let alone announce it publicly to the world.

While Weizman has often visited Washington, this is his first visit as Defense Minister since Premier Menachem Begin was elected 10 months ago. Weizman’s schedule here is not yet completed, but it includes several talks with Defense Secretary Harold Brown and other Pentagon administrators, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, and, on Thursday, separate sessions with the House and Senate armed services committees.

WILL REVIEW SECURITY NEEDS

The Israeli Embassy has indicated that Weizman’s major purpose is not to discuss the aircraft package sale but to review with the Carter Administration Israel’s general security needs over the next 10 years. While the package deal holds an important place in the conversations, the principal discussion, it is said, will center on how the U.S. sees the military outlook over the next years. How Washington reacts to Israel’s views also will go far to an understanding on both sides as to the talks that will come next week when Begin and Carter meet for talks at the White House March 14 and 15.

International observers believe Weizman will be tempted to agree to the aircraft package proposal by an Administration offer of providing Israel 50 additional F-16 planes or perhaps 10 more F-15s–bringing the commitment to 125 of the F-16s and 25 F-15s. Israel had asked for 150 F-16s and 25 F-15s, but the Administration basically cut Israel’s request by almost 50 percent.

There is speculation here, however, that this would be insufficient to move Israel into accepting the aircraft package proposal but it was held possible that Israel might agree if, in addition, the U.S. finally agreed to Israeli-American co-production of the F-16 with Israel having rights to sell the aircraft on the international market. The U.S. blocked the Israeli contract with Ecuador on the Kfir plane Israel manufactures because, it said, Latin American countries should not have such sophisticated aircraft.

CONTINUED OPPOSITION SEEN

However, it was said here in highly informed circles, that whether the Israeli government is coaxed into dropping its opposition to the aircraft package, the American Jewish community’s leadership will continue to oppose it. One source said: “The community’s leadership has no uncertainties about this package. It will continue to protest, particularly the sale of the F-15s to Saudi Arabia at this time because it regards such sales as profoundly against U.S. national interests. Delivery of these aircraft to the Saudis undermines the Middle East balance with countries other than Israel and this could lead easily to the outbreak of war.”

To undercut the American Jewish community’s leadership, it is also said, Administration officials are attempting to court American Jews to assume alternative leadership which would not strongly oppose the package deal and become “a rubber stamp” to approve U.S. Middle East policies.

“Some in the Administration,” a well placed source said, “are building up a strong arm against Israel and seek a double division–split the Jewish community and split the community from full support of Israel.”

NEXT STORY