Tel Aviv (Mar. 8)
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, returning today from a three-week visit to the U. S. and Latin America, warned that the arms race already underway in the Middle East would be accelerated by the U. S. decision to sell additional sophisticated weaponry to Arab countries, particularly extra fuel tanks that will increase the range of Saudi Arabia’s 60 F-15 combat aircraft. (See Related Story from Washington.)
Shamir was referring to the Reagan Administration’s decision, announced last Friday, to provide the equipment requested by the Saudis, except for bomb racks which are being witheld. The Israeli Foreign Minister, who met with President Reagan and Secretary of State Alexander Haig in Washington last month, made it clear that he did not consider the additional U. S. arms offered Israel was sufficient compensation for the enhancement of Saudi Arabia’s air power.
However, he said that Israel could not and would not refuse the offer because it had to look to its own defense. Nevertheless, he stressed that Israel has registered its opposition to the Saudi arms deal and will continue to oppose it. Meanwhile, David Kimche, Director General of the Foreign Ministry, said on a radio interview yesterday that while Israel objects, it would not take any action to try to block the deliveries to Saudi Arabia.
BASIS FOR ISRAEL’S POSITION
He said the Israeli position was based on a dispassionate, pragmatic assessment of the situation by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and the Israeli Embassy in Washington. All indications were that the Reagan Administration is determined to go ahead with the deal and that Israel would defeat its own purposes by trying to resist what would be described by the Administration as a policy in America’s own vital interests.
“We do not have to accept the American contentions, but we do have to weigh up the relative advantages of accepting the policy or fighting against it,” Kimche said. He said the advantages of acquiescence, however regretful, are already manifest. The U. S. is protesting less over Israeli actions on the West Bank and elsewhere, he said. Israel will be allowed to purchase American arms on easier terms and to export weapons that it manufactures at home, such as the Kfir jet fighter and other items which contain American-made components. Previous Administrations had blocked the export of such items.
The Cabinet, nevertheless, is expected to resume its debate over the Saudi arms deal after hearing Shamir’s report of his conversations in Washington. The debate began last Sunday with the Cabinet split over whether to acquiesce in the deal or mobilize Israel’s friends in Congress to try to block it.