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Behind the Headlines a Meaningless Gesture Suspected

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Suspicion developed here over the weekend that the U.S. government’s position of “looking favorably” on Israel’s sale of its Kfir planes to Taiwan is a meaningless gesture intended merely to promote Israeli-American amity.

The State Department had spoken approvingly last Wednesday in an apparent reversal of its position last March regarding a possible Israeli-Taiwan contract but it now seems Washington knew all along that Taiwan would not buy the Israeli aircraft.

Taiwan has been dickering for the U.S. Phantom F-4 but the Carter Administration is reluctant to go through with such an arrangement since it would upset the People’s Republic of China with which it is seeking to improve relations. Fresh U.S. military support for Taiwan would be displeasing to Peking.

It is this political factor plus Washington’s desire to mend psychologically its tattered relations with Israel that caused the Carter Administration to put a public okay on an Israeli-Taiwan deal Taiwan wants to acquire 60 aircraft with a price tag in the range of a half billion dollars.

SAYS DECISION IS UP TO TAIWAN

The matter arose again Friday at the State Department after press reports said Taiwan has rejected buying the Kfir. The Taiwan Defense Ministry in Taipei was quoted by news services as saying that “over the years the Ministry has time and again categorically denied such fighter deals with Israel,” and declared it has “no plan to buy Kfir jets from Israel.”

In being questioned on this aspect, the State Department was asked whether it knew in advance of Wednesday that Taiwan would not buy the Kfirs. The Department replied that it would supply an answer later. Meanwhile, it continues to insist that the decision is Taiwan’s to make and Taiwan has not yet made it.

In this atmosphere, a theory has developed that the underlying reality is that the U.S. will try for a compromise that would satisfy Taiwan and not antagonize Peking. This would be a U.S. sale to Taiwan of its F-5E warplane which is far less threatening both in range and combat capability than the F-4 but is still a worthy fighter.

At the Pentagon and from Jane’s “All the World’s Aircraft,” an authoritative record of warplanes, it appears that the Kfir, made by Israel Aircraft Industries, is at least competitive with the Phantom while both are superior to the F-5E. The Kfir, a single-seater, carries two 30 mm. cannon and missiles and has a ferry range of 1997 miles. The Kfirs are powered by General Electric Company engines which gives the U.S. government a veto over its export to third countries.

The Phantom, a two-seater fighter bomber, carries two 20 mm. cannon and missiles with a ferry range “beyond” 1300 miles. The F-5E, a single-seater, can carry two 20 mm. cannon and short-range missiles. It’s ferry range is “just beyond” 1000 miles. It is not considered an all-weather plane. However, it is much less expensive than the Phantom and easier to maintain. The Phantom is manufactured by McDonnell-Douglas and the F-5E, which the U.S. is said to favor for export, it made by Northrop Corp.

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