Jerusalem (Sep. 24)
Premier Menachem Begin today vehemently denied a Newsweek magazine report that Secretary of State Alexander Haig “gave him hell” for lobbying against the Reagan Administration’s proposed sale of AWACS reconnaissance aircraft to Saudi Arabia. “There is simply no truth to that story,” Begin told reporters here.
Newsweek claimed that Haig’s last-minute meeting with Begin at Kennedy Airport in New York just before the Premier left for home Sept. 15 was to administer a sharp reprimand for Begin’s public denunciations of the AWACS Jeal. Begin described the Secretary of State as “my personal friend” and “a very polite and sensitive person” who “would never have thought to give me hell.” He said in fact that Haig had sent a message saying he took exception to this “unfortunate expression in Newsweek” and regretted it.
Neither Haig nor Begin have disclosed the subject of the unannounced airport meeting. It occurred a week after Begin completed his official talks with Administration officials and Congressional leaders in Washington. In that time, the Israeli Premier made numerous public appearances at which he never failed to express Israel’s unreserved opposition to the sale of advanced American weaponry to the Saudis.
Begin said today that the fate of the AWACS deal is a matter between the executive and legislative branches of the American government. He said as an Israeli he could not interfere but as Prime Minister
“it is my right and duty to say this arms deal with Saudi Arabia constitutes a direct, serious danger to Israel’s security.”
On other matters, Begin praised Defense Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to separate military and civilian functions in the occupied territories, a proposal he brought to the autonomy negotiations now under way in Cairo. But he took issue with Sharon’s alleged remark recently that the Ben Gurion government had involved Israel in a Franco-British adventure in the Sinai campaign in 1956. Saying Sharon had been misquoted, Begin characterized Israel’s first incursion into Sinai 25 years ago as one of the greatest military operations ever carried out by the Israeli army and a rescue operation.