Washington (Feb. 19)
– Mixed signals appear to be coming from Israel and from American friends of Israel toward the proposal that the U.S. deliver to Saudi Arabia additional fuel tanks and bomb racks to enhance the combat performance of the 60 F-15 jet fighters Saudi Arabia was authorized to purchase here almost three years ago. The issue is now under consideration by the Reagan Administration.
Key Senators have voiced protests against delivery of the extra equipment on grounds that it would upset the Israeli-Arab military balance and effect the security of the U.S. besides repudiating the pledge made by Defense Secretary Harold Brown to the Senate in 1978 that the F-15s being sold to Saudi Arabia would not be given improved combat capability.
In Jerusalem, however, caution was expressed in the past few days by Israel government officials and similarly in Washington by some friends of Israel that the Congress should not make overt moves against the proposed delivery and thereby create a confrontation with the Reagan Administration which thus far has been strongly supportive of Israel. In that connection, observers noted the State Department’s blast this week at the non-aligned nations conference in New Delhi which called for moves to deprive Israel of its credentials in the United Nations General Assembly.
Nevertheless, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D. Mass) told the Senate, “I am strongly opposed to suggestions coming from very high sources” that the Saudis receive the extra equipment. He said the deliveries would “threaten U.S. security, Israel and the peace in the Middle East.”
CONGRESSIONAL OPPOSITION TO THE SALE
Two weeks ago, Sen. Carl Levin (D. Mich) told the Senate that “no real Saudi security need” is “filled by this equipment but real regional tensions and instability would be created.” Levin, who recently visited the Middle East as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the Saudis are vulnerable to “a commando-like assault” against key points in their oil pipelines and against such assaults “the F-15s have little value.”
Levin added, “The oil weapon threat must be put in its place. The Saudis must know that we know they need our protection and if they cut off oil to us in retaliation for some action they do not approve of, we will have that much less incentive to protect them against the threatening world they face.”
When the move to provide the extra equipment surfaced last summer, 69 Senators sent a letter to President Carter reminding him of Secretary Brown’s pledge and reiterated their opposition to the deliveries. Early last week, Sen. Joseph Biden, of Delaware, the second ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, began sounding out Committee members on a letter to President Reagan against the proposed delivery.
Biden began his effort after Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger said the Reagan Administration looked with favor on the Saudi request, but it was halted when Congress recessed for George Washington’s Birthday. The Senator is in Delaware and an aide told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he would not return to Washington before next week.
PERCY: ‘NOT THE WAY TO DO IT’
Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Percy (R. III) chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told a group of selected reporters at a breakfast meeting here this morning that he had “heard many Senators” talk of a letter to the President opposing delivery of the equipment but “that’s not the way to do it.”
Percy said he told Israel’s Ambassador in Washington, Ephraim Evron, last night that no Administration decision will be made on the delivery until it is taken up with his committee. “I think Congress will go along” with the delivery and that “it can be done in such a way that would meet with Israel’s approval,” Percy said.
Asked what the U.S. would do for Israel in return, Percy said “That’s down the road.” He said the Israelis know the problem.
There have been indications in the past several weeks that Israel will not seek additional military equipment here except possibly interceptor planes, but that they would seek a commitment by the Reagan Administration to co-produce in Israel weaponry that would enable Israel to manufacture equipment for sale abroad. This has long been an Israeli desire in order to ease its severe economic situation.