TEL AVIV (Mar. 5)
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman left for the United States today for meetings with Administration officials relative to Israel’s weapons needs and, it now appears likely, with President Carter himself. Weizman’s trip comes at a time of increasing strain between Israel and the U.S. over Premier Menachem Begin’s settlement policies and the U.S. proposal to sell military aircraft in a single package to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. (See related story from Washington, p.3)
Against that background, concern was expressed in circles here that the Carter Administration may be trying to create a split in the Israeli government leadership on the basis at Weizman’s moderation in contrast to Begin’s unbending position on the settlements issue.
That view was given some credence by President Carter’s unexpected announcement during his nationally televised news conference last Thursday that Weizman would be meeting with him. The Israeli defense chief said he was unaware that such a meeting was scheduled and no official invitation had Been received from the White House by the time of his departure this morning.
But circles here noted Carter spoke of meeting with Weizman only a week before Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan are due in Washington for meetings with the President in which Weizman is to participate. They noted that it is not customary in the diplomatic world to so honor a Defense Minister and even more unusual as the Carter-Weizman meeting will precede the President’s meeting with the Premier.
SEE MOVE TOWARD CLEAVAGE
Circles are wondering whether the Carter Administration is attempting to explore the possibility of introducing an element of cleavage at the top level of Israel’s government trough Weizman’s more moderate stand. They noted that President Anwar Sadat
The test, some say, will be Weizman’s attitude toward the aircraft package deal. The Administration is expected to try to gain his approval. But Weizman told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport today that one of his main tasks in Washington would be to fight the package. In fact, he said he regarded the proposed sale of advanced F-15 fighter planes to Saudi Arabia to be a serious threat to Israel. “As long as there is no peace agreement we have to regard Saudi Arabia as one of the confrontation states,” he said.
Weizman left with his wife, Uma. He was accompanied by Prof. Pinhas Sussman, Director General of the Defense Ministry and his military secretary, Col. Ilan Tehila. The Defense Minister will spend two days in New York and go to Washington Tuesday. He is due to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Harold Brown and is expected to ask the U.S. to increase its military assistance to Israel from $1 billion to $1.5 billion for fiscal 1979.
SETTLEMENT ACTIVITY HALTED
Meanwhile, as Weizman was en route to the U.S., the Defense Ministry ordered a halt to settlement activity at Nepi Sallah, one of the military encampments in Samaria on the West Bank where a group of Gush Emunim settlers have located themselves. The settlers said the ministry has forbidden them to develop adjacent lands for agriculture. Gush spokesman Zvi Slonim promised an “all-out” campaign against the government’s settlement policy.
Observers here believe this latest incident will further enhance Weizman’s image as the toughest’ minded “dove” in the Begin Cabinet when he meets with U.S. officials in Washington.