Awacs Sale Evokes Criticism

The Reagan Administration’s formal notification yesterday to Congress of the proposal to sell Saudi Arabia five AWACS reconnaissance planes and other sophisticated weaponry evoked criticism from Congressional leaders, the Israel Embassy and American Jewish leaders.

“The position of Israel is well known,” a spokesman for the Israel Embassy said yesterday following the announcement by Undersecretary of State James Buckley and the presentation of the Administration’s rationale for the proposed sale. “Israel considers the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia a danger to its security and to the military balance in the area.”

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D. R.I.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would co-sponsor a resolution of disapproval of the sale when Congress reconvened next month. He said he continues to oppose the sale “because the principal effect of transferring this equipment will be to increase the threat to Israel. Inevitably, I fear, providing the equipment to Saudi Arabia will impel Israel to ask for more equipment from us and thus the already dangerous arms race in the Middle East will escalate.”

Rep. Edward Derwinski (R. III.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the proposal to sell the AWACS was “untimely and unwise, a major error in legislative strategy as well as in foreign policy.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D. Mich.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the decision to sell AWACS to Saudi Arabia adds to the arms race “bringing ruin to the Middle East, will further destabilize the region and will endanger the security of our most sophisticated electronic equipment.”

‘CAPITULATION TO BLACKMAIL’

Rep. Stephan Solarz (D. N.Y.) said, “I believe this sale would seriously compromise Israel’s ability to achieve and maintain air superiority which is the linchpin of its security. The magnitude of this sale alone should give us pause, since the value of this one transaction is approximately two-thirds that of all of the military equipment we have sold to Israel over the past 30 years.”

Rep. Richard Ottinger (D. N.Y.) condemned President Reagan for “breaking his explicit promise to the American people that he would not sell weapons to Arab nations which might threaten the existence of Israel. Enhancing Saudi Arabia’s ability to attack Israel, will do nothing to lessen tensions in the Middle East. The Administration action is a tragic capitulation to blackmail.”

Rep. Les AuCoin, (D. Ore.), in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, said the sale “would lay bare Israel’s entire defense system,” and would be “an unwarranted transfer of America military technology to a nation of questionable stability.” He added: “This patently shows the flaw in the Administration’s approach.”

RESPONSE BY JEWISH LEADERS

In New York, Rabbi Sol Roth, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, announced that the more than 1,000 rabbis in synagogues throughout the U.S. would deliver sermons within the next six weeks and during the High Holy Days against the proposed sale. He said the rabbis would also call on their congregants to “let their voices be heard” through letters to their elected representatives and personal meetings with them.

Statements opposing the sale were also issued by leaders of major Jewish organizations. The thrust of these statements was that the AWACS will undermine Israel’s security, will not promote peace in the Mideast, will not enhance Saudi security and will destabilize the region by fuelling a new arms race. The statements also called attention to Saudi Arabia’s continued hostility toward Israel, its financing of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its rejection of the Camp David peace process.

The Jewish organizations which issued statements were the American Jewish Committee, American Zionist Federation, American Jewish Congress, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Jewish National Fund, and American Mizrachi Women.

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