Cabinet Says Saudi Arabia’s Rejection of Joint Operation with U.S. of Awacs Proves Planes Would Cons

The Cabinet declared today that Saudi Arabia’s unequivocal refusal to agree to joint operation with the U.S. of five AWACS reconnaissance aircraft was further proof of Israel’s long-standing contention that the AWACS and other advanced weaponry the U.S. proposes to sell to the Saudis would constitute a serious danger to its security.

The statement, unanimously approved by the Ministers, was released after the weekly Cabinet session. It was in response to the Saudi government’s rejection over the weekend of a plan suggested by several Congressional opponents of the AWACS sale that the surveillance planes be jointly owned and operated by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

Issuance of the statement was strongly supported by Premier Menachem Begin but some Ministers expressed reservations over its timing. Health Minister Eliezer Shostak suggested that its publication could be used to support the argument that Israel was interferring in the internal affairs of the U.S. Energy Minister Yitzhak Berman expressed a similar view. But Deputy Premier Simcha Ehrlich noted that the statement referred to Saudi Arabia, not the U.S.

The ministers may have had in mind President Reagan’s implied rebuke to Israel at his press conference October I when he remarked that “it is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy decisions.” (See story P. 4).

In his elaboration on the Cabinet’s statement, Cabinet Secretary Arye Naor said it should not be taken as a hint that Israel could accept the AWACS deal if the Americans had a role in operating the planes. He said Israel opposed the sale even under those conditions and the Cabinet implied no other position. Its statement intended to show that the Saudis’ refusal to accept an American role meant that they intended to use the AWACS against Israel and not merely to defend their oilfields from external aggression.

WARNS OF CONSEQUENCES OF SALE

Meanwhile, former Chief of Staff Gen. (ret.) Mordechai Gur, now a leading Labor Party spokesman in the Knesset, warned yesterday that if the AWACS deal goes through, Israel would have to regard Saudi Arabia as a “confrontation state.” Gur said in a radio interview that Israel was strong enough to meet the military threat. “But if the AWACS deal is approved we will have to consider the Saudis as a confrontation state and an almost sure potential enemy and have to take this into any future military planning.”

In that event, Gur said, “We shall have to try to satisfy our new needs with the U.S. and obtain the most modern sophisticated equipment to be able to withstand both the AWACS and the combination of the beefed-up F-15s because that is the real threat.” The $8.5 billion arms package the Reagan Administration seeks to sell the Saudis includes extra fuel tanks and other advanced equipment that will enhance the combat range and capabilities of the 62 F-15s Saudi Arabia has already purchased from the U.S.

Gur said he thought that if Reagan saw he could not avoid Senate rejection of the AWACS deal he might reconsider his entire Middle East policy.

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