Jerusalem (Sep. 20)
Premier Menachem Begin insisted today that there was no linkage between the strategic cooperation agreement with the U.S. reached during his visit to Washington and the way Congress will dispose of the Administration’s proposed sale of AWACS reconnaissance aircraft and other sophisticated weaponry to Saudi Arabia — a deal bitterly opposed by Israel.
Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Interior Minister Yosef Burg, who were with him in Washington, briefed reporters after today’s Cabinet meeting. Begin said that at none of his meetings with President Reagan and other American officials was there ever a hint that the U.S. linked the AWACS sale to strategic cooperation with Israel.
The Cabinet formally noted that there was an agreement in principle between Israel and the U.S. on strategic-security cooperation and expressed Israel’s unreserved opposition to the sale of offensive arms to the Saudis.
Begin has already come under strong attack from the Labor Alignment and other opposition factions over the strategic cooperation agreement and for allegedly modifying Israel’s objections to the AWACS deal in exchange for the agreement.
SEEKING HISTORICAL PRECEDENTS
A Knesset debate seems likely, but so far neither Labor nor the government has moved to initiate one. The government, however, is reportedly searching through the archives to gather material to show that Israel had long sought to cooperate with the U.S. against the perceived threat of Communism in the region.
According to Yediot Achronot, the government will produce documents in a Knesset debate disclosing that former Premier David Ben Gurion told the U.S. on several occasions in the 1950s that Israel considers itself part of the Western alliance and was prepared to fight against Communist aggression. During the 1960s, Ben Gurion suggested to President John Kennedy that Israel and the U.S. sign a mutual defense pact and that Begin himself, when still in the opposition, had proposed aerial and naval bases, technical services and communications installations for the U.S.
The Labor Alignment says it is not pressing for a Knesset debate at this time because it does not want to give Begin a platform. But a day-long debate in the party’s Central Committee last Thursday revealed sharp divisions within Labor over strategic cooperation.
Party chairman Shimon Peres said Israel had always offered harbor facilities for the American Sixth Fleet and repair facilities and warehouses. “We asked for U.S. aid in defending Israel but did not offer to conduct with the Americans a global campaign against the Soviet navy. This does no more than create a grand illusion,” he said.
But former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, Labor’s spokesman on foreign affairs, welcomed strategic cooperation, saying it was something Ben Gurion had always worked for. “There is no state in the world whose defense interests are not somehow connected to other states and Israel is no exception,” he said.
DAYAN CRITICIZES BEGIN
Former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said in a radio interview over the weekend that Begin was exaggerating the scope of strategic cooperation with the U.S. and charged that the Prime Minister and his colleagues were seeking a “higher and wider role” than the U.S. was prepared to consider.
According to Dayan, military cooperation could be along the lines proposed by previous Labor governments, including the provision of Israeli port and airfield facilities for the Americans. “I doubt very much whether that means that Israeli forces will be fighting side by side with Egyptian or with Saudi forces … or fighting side by side with American forces in Saudi Arabia or in any Arab country because of the resentment of Arab countries,” Dayan said.