NEW YORK (May. 7)
Sen. Frank Church (D.Idaho) predicted today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would reject the entire proposed $4.8 billion sale of jet war-planes to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt unless the Carter Administration provided Congress with “assurances,” including either a reduction in the number of planes going to Saudi Arabia or an increase in those being sold to Israel.
Church, the second ranking Democrat on the committee, also urged the Administration to avoid a “showdown” in Congress that would be harmful both to the American national interests and to the Middle East peace hopes.
Appearing on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation,” Church noted that Israel, which is to get 15 F-15 fighters and 75 F-16 fighter-bombers under the Administration’s proposal, could be given more planes as originally recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “I would prefer a reduction” in the number of F-15s going to Saudi Arabia, he said.
Church said there were several other assurances needed. One of them was that the Administration would only supply defensive ordnances to the Saudis such as air-to-air missiles but no air-to-ground missiles, he said.
The Saudis must also promise not to deploy the F-15s at Tabuk, the new Saudi airbase within range of Israel, or even make the base suitable for F-15s, Church said. He said the planes should be stationed only in south and central Saudi Arabia which would be sufficient to protect the Moslem holy cities and the oil fields.
SEEKS A PROMISE FROM SAUDIS
Another promise Church said he wanted from the Saudis is that if they get the F-15s they do not then also buy Mirages from France or planes from other countries. Saudi Arabia “is the richest country in the world,” Church noted and they can buy all the planes they want and pay for the pilots to fly them. He said Israel does not have this unlimited supply of money.
When asked about the recent comment by Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D.W.Va.) that there is “ample support” in the full Senate to prevent the Administration’s plane proposal from being rejected, Church said he did not know if this was true. He said the vote would be close. But he urged the Administration to compromise rather than face a “showdown.”
“How can it serve the national interest to force this to a showdown in the Congress?” he asked. “A debate will be bruising on Saudi sensitivities, it will arouse new suspicions on the side of the Israelis, it will be on impediment to peace in the Middle East.”
Church reiterated his position that the proposed sales should be postponed until Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations are given an opportunity to succeed. “Why don’t we given peace a chance?” he asked. “We should not be selling $5 billion worth of weapons in the Middle East at this time.” He said if the negotiations were to succeed then there might be no need for the plane sales.
MAJOR CAUSE OF CONCERN
Church explained earlier that a major cause of concern for Congress was the linkage of the sale to Egypt and Saudi Arabia to the sale to Israel. He stressed that Congress supports Israel not only because it admires the Jewish State but because “a democratic, strong” Israel in the Middle East is “a bulwark against Russian penetration in this area.”
Appearing on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” later today, Israeli Premier Menachem Begin reiterated that Israel considered the sale of planes to Egypt and Saudi Arabia “very dangerous” to its security. He said that even if Israel were to get more planes than now proposed he still would be opposed to the sale to the two Arab countries. Begin noted that Israel had been promised more planes than the Administration is now willing to sell it.