Washington (Jun. 14)
When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins hearings Thursday on Israel’s destruction of the Iraqi nuclear plant outside Baghdad, it will have to decide whether the Israeli air strike was an act of “legitimate self-defense” or a violation of the agreement under which Israel bought U.S. arms.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Clement Zablocki (D. Wisc.) welcomed the Reagan Administration’s decision to suspend shipment of four F-16 jet warplanes that were to have left for Israel Friday, will also hold hearings. The Administration is holding its own “review” based on President Reagan’s decision that “a substantial violation” of the arms agreement “may have occurred. It is being conducted by an interagency group from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and other departments. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, in his letter to Congress noting the possible violation, stressed that the review will consider Premier Menachem Begin’s contention that the action was defensive and necessary to prevent the Iraqis from building an atomic bomb.
While Israel was strongly attacked in Washington after the raid on the nuclear plant, it was also defended by many of its supporters in Congress. There is little expectation of any punishment of Israel beyond the condemnation by the Reagan Administration of the raid and its decision to suspend delivery of the four F-16s.
In fact, State Department spokesmen have been stressing that the suspension of the delivery was “for the time being” and may be litted before the Administration review is complete. Also stressed was the fact that no other arms deliveries to Israel are being halted. Reagan, in a meeting with Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron at the White House last Thursday, assured the envoy that there would be no fundamental change in U.S.-Israeli relations.
The Administration did have two major concerns following the Israeli raid which was carried out by F-16s and with a cover of F-15s. Repeatedly, Administration spokesmen stressed the U.S. had no advance knowledge of the raid. U.S. condemnation of the raid last Monday and the suspension of the planes’ delivery apparently were aimed at demonstrating this.
Secondly, the Administration was concerned that the effects of the raid not damage the chances of special envoy Philip Habib for success in his efforts to avoid a conflict between Israel and Syria over Lebanon. Reagan stressed this when he met separately Thursday with Evron and five Arab ambassadors. The President, in his first personal attempt at Mideast diplomacy, also stressed the need to work for an overall peace in the Mideast to prevent situations such as that which resulted in the Israeli raid from occurring. As for Congress, no one expects it to vote for a cut-off in arms for Israel. Sen. Paul Tsongas (D. Mass.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has been critical of the Israeli raid, noted that the U.S. could not deprive Israel of arms.
There will be plenty of rhetoric. Some longtime critics of Israel, such as Rep. Paul Findley (R. III.), will have a field day in attacking the Jewish State. Findley will probably try to widen the hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee to include his charges that Israel has also violated U.S. law by using American-made arms to attack Palestinian terrorist bases in Lebanon. Most members of the House and Senate have not voiced any opinion on the raid. But
Israel’s supporters have come to Jerusalem’s defense. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D. Mass.), has urged the Administration to lift the suspension. “Instead of assailing Israel, we should criticize the failure to forestall the European supplier from providing sensitive nuclear technology to Iraq,” he said. Sen. Alan Cranston(D. Calif.), the Senate Minority Whip and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has taken the lead in defending the Israeli action as self-defense. Cranston, who has long called for U.S. action to prevent nuclear proliferation, said Israel acted because the U.S. failed to prevent Iraq from going ahead with plans to build a bomb.
WOULD REPEAL WEAPONS USE BAN
Israel has other strong supporters on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. One member of the House Committee, Rep. Edward Derwinski (R. III.), has called for the repeal of the law prohibiting the use of U.S. weapons except for defense because it is “unenforceable” for diplomatic and practical reasons.
Meanwhile, there is a concern by supporters of Israel that the Israeli raid will be used to soften Congressional opposition to the sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes and enhancement equipment for F-15s to Saudi Arabia. There already have been arguments that since the Israeli planes flew over Saudi Arabia on their way to Iraq, the sale must go through to “save face” for the Saudis.