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The Scene from Jerusalem: Begin Terms Senate Vote on Warplanes ‘definitely a Negative Turning Point’

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A gloomy Israel began to assess today the damage–military and political–done by last night’s 54-44 Senate vote that opened the way for the supply of advanced U.S. warplanes to Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as to Israel. Premier Menachem Begin termed it “definitely a negative turning point from the standpoint of Israel’s defense.”

Defense circles said the American decision will have adverse effects on Israel which would now be compelled to devote special attention to a possible aerial threat from Saudi Arabia where no such threat existed before. Defense Minister Ezer Weizman was quoted in Maariv as saying that Israel fought against the planes deal and “I hope we shall not have to fight against the planes.”

Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Alignment, said “It’s a sad day in Israel-U.S. relations.” He noted that “It was the Senate, not the Administration that voted against us,” implying that Israel’s traditional strong support in that body was seriously eroded. “The Senate voted on a security issue that will have serious implications for the balance of power in the Middle East,” he said. “The American weaponry changes the whole situation.”

Peres, and his Laborite colleagues, angrily castigated the Begin government for its clumsy handling of the whole matter. The government “stammered” instead of speaking out strongly against the planes sales to the Arab states, they said. They demanded to know why Begin failed to raise the issue with President Carter when he was in Washington two weeks ago.

SAYS U.S. RENEGED ON UNDERTAKING

Begin, who briefed the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee this morning, told reporters afterwards that the Cabinet would discuss the aircraft sales issue at its regular session next Sunday and will announce “the way we will proceed.”

He expressed “deep regret” over the Senate vote and charged the U.S. with reneging on its “undertaking” to Israel in September, 1975 to supply it with F-16 warplanes on an “entirely unconditional” basis. The undertaking was made in return for Israel’s agreement to make further withdrawals in Sinai under its second interim agreement with Egypt.

There was “certainly no justification” for the Administration to tie the present aircraft sales to Israel to sales to two Arab countries that are still in a state of war with Israel, Begin claimed. Informed sources here said that an additional U.S. undertaking to supply Israel with F-15 warplanes was made in 1974 in an unpublished part of the disengagement agreement with Syria. No conditions or linkage were attached to that undertaking, the sources said.

POLITICAL RECRIMINATIONS DEVELOPING

While Israelis of all parties were dismayed by the American decision, angry political recriminations were developing here with unpredictable repercussions for the Begin government. Even before the outcome of the Senate vote was known, knives were being sharpened for the inevitably bloody postmortem. Most informed observers were by then resigned to the planes package deal going through and the various government ministries and departments were searching for shoulders other than their own on which to lay the blame for Israel’s political fiasco.

The Labor daily Davar reported yesterday that feeling exists in some government quarters that Israel’s Embassy in Washington failed to function efficiently during the long propaganda battle that preceded the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings last week.

A writer in Haaretz faulted Begin, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman–especially the latter–for not speaking out more forcefully and at an earlier stage against the linkage of sales to Israel with those to Arab states.

The battle was joined today in the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee where Peres bitterly criticized the government for failing to present Israel’s case properly to the Senate and American public opinion. He said former Labor governments had been much more effective in doing so.

Committee chairman Moshe Arens, of Likud, accused the former Labor-led governments of having delayed the development of Israel’s own advanced jet combat plane, the Kfir, which would have made Israel less dependent an American equipment. Arens, a professor of aeronautics and a former top official of Israel Aircraft Industries which produces the Kfir, urged the government to commit greater resources to develop new warplanes for the eighties.

The reaction of the Israelis in general was that oil has once again triumphed over logic, friendship and ideology.

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