Washington (May. 18)
A high Pentagon official warned American Jews today to “weigh” their opposition to the sale of sophisticated weapons to Saudi Arabiaagainst the broader interest of American support for a strong Israel.
Speaking at a luncheon session on the opening day of the two-day 22nd annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Fred Ickle, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, said that the proposed sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes and enhancement equipment for F-15 fighter planes to the Saudis was “part and parcel of the policy to increase stability in the Middle East.”
But when he completed his speech, Bernice Tannenbaum, an AIPAC official and a former Hodassah president, said the members of AIPAC felt that the “entire Saudi package does not enhance stability in the Middle East.”
At one point in his talk, Ickle, who is also a member of Interbureacratic AWACS Task Force, implied that at various times only parts of the arms sales package were objected to and that members of AIPIC, in particular, only opposed the AWACS. But members of his audience immediately shouted, “No, no, the whole package.”
Ickle urged the audience to withold judgement until the Reagan Administration completes the proposal for the sale of the AWACS and the F-15 enhancement equipment, a position that the Administration has also been urging on Congress. He said once the details are announced, the members of the AIPAC might still oppose the sale but he promised, “You’ll have plenty of time to make your views heard.”
Ickle said that the U.S. main concern in the Middle East was the Soviet threat there and the attempt by the USSR to drive the U.S. from the region. In addition, he stressed that Saudi Arabia needs the military equipment to protect its oil fields from threats that could come from Iraq, Iran, South Yemen or other nearby areas.
But Ickle declared that the Reagan Administration was pledged to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region and to improve Israel’s economy. He said President Reagan considered Israel a strategic asset and that the Administration wanted Israel to continue the effort for peace started by the Camp David agreements.
But he stressed it would not be a peace “dictated” by the United States, “certainly not by the Soviet Union” and “above all, “not a peace treaty on terms dictated by terrorist organizations and in particular the Palestine Liberation Organization.”