Washington (Jun. 28)
Now that the sound and fury over Israel’s destruction of the Iraqi nuclear power plant has died down, it is unclear what Washington’s next move will be Nothing, of course, is expected to be announced until after Tuesday’s election in Israel and perhaps not until after the Fourth of July holiday.
With Secretary of State Alexander Haig back at his State Department desk, there may be some indication of what the Reagan Administration plans to do with its “review” of the Israeli action
Haig left for Asia June 10 shortly after sending Congress a letter saying that the President had found that “a substantial violation” of Israel’s arms agreement with the United States “may have occurred” by Israel’s use of U.S.-made weapons to bomb the Iraqi nuclear plant.
The letter also announced the Administration’s decision to suspend delivery of four F-16s that were scheduled to go to Israel on June 12. Haig returned to Washington Friday, nearly a week after the U.S. joined the unanimous vote at the United Nations Security Council condemning Israel.
SPEEDY ACTION ON ‘REVIEW’ UNLIKELY
However, State Department spokesmen have continuously stressed that no determination that Israel did or did not violate U.S. law may result from the review. The same is true in Congress, where many members of the House and Senate feel the Administration “passed the buck” to them.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee have both held hearings. The Senate Committee has not decided yet whether to hold further hearings or whether to issue a report. But, as Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R. Tenn.), pointed out at the outset, no one expects the Congress to vote to cut off military aid to Israel.
Meanwhile, none of the dire consequences of the Israeli raid predicted by Administration spokesmen and other critics of Israel have occurred. The Administration’s main worry was that the Israeli action would wreck the efforts of special envoy Philip Habib to ease tension over the situation in Lebanon that has resulted from Syria’s placement of SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles there and Israel’s threat to remove the missiles. Yet tension has eased. The Habib mission continues even though Habib returned to Washington Friday, apparently because the Administration did not want him in the Mideast during the Israeli election.
Walter Stoessel Jr., Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, told the Congressional Committees about the concern of the U.S. for the “embarrassment” the Israeli action caused Egyptian President Sadat, since it occurred only three days after Sadat met with Begin. Yet in Cairo last Thursday, Michael Sterner, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs announced that Israel, Egypt and the U.S. had reached agreement on a peacekeeping force to patrol the Sinai after Israel’s final withdrawal in April, 1982.
Supporters of Israel were concerned that the Israeli pre-emptive strike might weaken the opposition in Congress to the Administration’s proposal to sell Saudi Arabia five AWACS reconnaissance planes and enhancement equipment for the 62 F-15s previously bought from the U. S. The Administration publicly stressed that the Israeli raid and the sale were two completely separate issues although Stoessel said that the Israeli action would “perhaps intensify” Saudi Arabia’s desire for the equipment.
Israel sources said that they hoped the issue of the Israeli raid would “blow over” by the time the arms pack age sale was debated in Congress, probably in September. Yet in the midst of the studies by the Administration and Congress of the Israeli raid, Sen. Bob Pack-wood (R. Oreg.) and Representatives Clarence Long (D. Md.) and Norman Lent (R. NY) announced that there was a majority in both the House and Senate opposed to the sale.
They urged the President to withdraw the sale or face an embarrassing defeat. But Administration spokesmen maintained that the Administration was going through with the proposal and that once the final package was unveiled it would meet the concerns of the Senators and Congressmen.
It is widely believed that the Administration plans to send the proposal to Congress in July. But late last week Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.) urged the Administration, in view of the strong opposition in Congress, to postpone the submission date to allow time” to put together a package that would take into full account the security interests of Saudi Arabia, Israel and our own interests in the Middle East.” The Administration already delayed submission once at the urging of Baker, when the Senate Majority Leader found strong opposition to the sale in Congress.
The package being worked out reportedly would include greater U.S. control of the AWACS. But the main concern of many in Congress is not the danger to Israel with the AWACS in the hands of the Saudis, but to the U.S. Since the fall of the Shah of Iran, many in Congress are concerned about supplying highly advanced American weaponry to countries like Saudi Arabia whose regimes could also be toppled unexpectedly.
The package the Administration is putting together is also expected to be sweetened for Israel with more arms for the Jewish State. This raises a further question. How can the Administration continue the suspension of the four F-16s while it proposes new arms for Israel ?