Washington (Mar. 5)
– Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Tower (R. Tex), who returned last week from visits to 10 Middle East and North African countries, described Israel today as a factor in preventing the Soviet take-over of the Middle East and its oil fields.
He also told reporters at a breakfast meeting arranged by Foreign Policy magazine that the Arab
government leaders with whom he had conferred regard the Soviet Union and not Israel as the major threat to their interests.
But they would “like to see the Palestinian issue resolved,” Tower said. While he had “no plan of my own to recommend” for the solution of that issue, he suggested “speed” in finding one for “this vexing problem.”
Tower, who is also chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said the U.S. Navy should be in a position to keep all sea lanes open for the transportation of Middle East oil. He was asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency which “national entities” in the area are supporting U.S. policy to prevent Soviet domination of the Middle East.
“I believe now that the Gulf states perceive the Soviets as the big threat,” Tower said. He named Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Fahd, the Sultan of Oman, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Tunisia as having asserted that position to him.
He noted that their view is enhanced by the existence of the “Committee of Six” that he said has been formed because of that perception and named its members as Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrein and Qatar.
USSR PERCEIVED AS GREATEST THREAT
Tower said that the Persian Gulf states and North Africa both perceive the Soviets to be the biggest threat, adding, ‘I believe we should do what we can to enhance the capability of indigenous forces.” He was asked by the JTA if he included Israel in his assessment. “Am I talking about Israel as well?” he exclaimed. “As a matter of fact, I think Israel — the capability that is represented by Israel — is a part of the inhibition against overt Soviet movement in this area,” Tower said.
Indicating that some think the Soviets have no barrier to the area, he observed, “What we should do is get the view from the Kremlin and look through Soviet eyes to see what they got confronting them. It is not inconsequential by a long shot.”
Tower appeared to support Sadat’s view, which was also reported last December by Sen. Carl Levin (D. Mich.) and others, that the U.S. should develop an air base at Ras Banas in southern Egypt on the Red Sea but without a written Egyptian-American agreement. He said the U.S. should place forces “where we don’t have written agreements but gentlemen’s agreements.” He named Ras Banas as an example.
FORESEES RESERVATIONS IN CONGRESS
But Tower foresaw a “strong disposition” in the House against the lack of written agreements and “serious reservations” in the Senate. “A process of education” is indicated, he said. “U.S. bases make it appear a permanized American presence” is being established and some governments can’t politically accept it, he explained. He noted in that connection that “Sadat has taken as much political heat as he can take.”
Asked if the U.S. should not arrange to use the two Israel-built air bases in Sinai, Tower replied, “We’d love to have those bases in Sinai” but “it’s a political problem that is not solvable.” Egypt has objected to U.S. use of the bases.