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Administration Unveils Arms Package to Saudi Arabia and Its Rationale for the Sale

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The Reagan Administration yesterday sent its controversial $8.5 billion Saudi Arabian arms package proposal to Congress where it will have until Oct. 30 to be approved or rejected.

This package includes five AWACS planes with sophisticated radar, capable of detecting enemy aircraft; six KC-707 aerial refueling tankers for F-15 jet-fighters which Saudi Arabia is also purchasing; 101 sets of extra fuel tanks for the F-15s which will give them greater range; and 1077 Sidewinder missiles. The price tags include spare parts, support, training, and related ground equipment.

The proposal was also presented to the press yesterday at a State Department briefing by Undersecretary of State James Buckley.

FOUR PRIMARY OBJECTIVES

The proposal asks the law-makers to consider four primary U.S. objectives in the region: continuation of stable and secure access to regional oil; prevention of the spread of Soviet influence; security of friendly states in the region, including Israel; demonstration of U.S. constancy, and resolve in supporting overall regional security.

Concerning a possible threat to Israel of the presence of such weapons in the region, the proposal states: “The security of the State of Israel has been and will continue to be a paramount interest of the U.S. The air defense package has been designed to meet Saudi defense requirements while minimizing the impact on the Arab-Israeli balance.”

The proposal cites four factors that would limit the effect of the sale on Israeli security: superiority of the Israeli Air Force; topography of the region, limitations of the AWACS, and presence of U.S. personnel.

NO THREAT TO ISRAEL CLAIMED

Concerning the Israeli Air Force, the proposal states, “Israel has increased its margin of military superiority over its Arab adversaries since the 1973 war. With or without the enhancement items, the Saudi Air Force realistically poses no significant threat to the security of Israel.”

The statement adds: “This assessment is true even in the context of a general regional conflict. The air defense package helps Saudi Arabia to defend itself against regional threats but will not measurably increase Saudi offensive potential. The Israeli Air Force is far more capable than other, more likely Saudi adversaries such as Iran or South Yemen.”

The proposal states that the topography of the region is a deterring factor in the use of the AWACS to attack Israel. “To provide coverage of Israel, the AWACS would have to be deployed along Saudi Arabia’s northern-most border, or over Jordan or Syria. Even then, because Israeli and Jordanian terrain is very rugged, AWACS radar coverage would be masked in some areas. Consequently, Saudi deployment of AWACS near Israel, would provide little improvement in Saudi warning time, but would dramatically increase the vulnerability of AWACS to Israeli attack and destruction.”

The proposal emphasizes that the AWACS will be primarily a defensive system. “It is essentially a flying air defense radar. AWACS cannot detect ground targets, nor can it collect electronic, signal or photographic intelligence.”

In addition, the proposal states: “If the Saudis chose to expose their AWACS by operating close to Israel, the aircraft could collect data on Israel air activities. However, this information, would be highly peris’ able, most of it being valuable for only a few minutes, following its collection. Therefore, without a sophisticated, computerized communications network in other Arab countries which only the U.S. could provide, little if any of this information could help in a collective Arab attack on Israel. Information derived from AWACS could be sent in the clear to other Arab forces, but such communications could be easily jammed by Israel.”

OTHER SAFEGUARDS CITED

The proposal continues, “Data on advancing Israeli air craft could not be supplied in a timely manner, or with enough accuracy to enable other Arab forces to react effectively. Although AWACS-derived information could provide some warning of preemptive Israeli air strikes, this warning would not alter the overall Israeli military superiority or the likely outcome of a war between Israel and the Arab states.”

The proposal also states that “the nature of the AWACS is so complex that U.S. contractor personnel will be required to maintain key elements of the system for its entire life. It is therefore extremely unlikely that any unauthorized use of AWACS could go undetected. The withdrawal of U.S. support of the Saudi AWACS would quickly result in a system, becoming non-operational.”

After delivery of the proposal, senior Administration officials briefed reporters on additional points. There would be an American presence of over 400 men when the first AWACS are delivered in late 1985. That would include 30 U.S. Air Force personnel for training and contract administration, and the balance would be contractor personnel. Boeing would be the principal contractor.

In addition, Saudi Arabia would be prophibited from allowing nationals of third countries to work on the planes. It was also revealed that the U.S. would withhold its most sophisticated equipment from the Saudi AWACS, so they would not be of the same caliber as U.S. AWACS or those flown by NATO.

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