New York (Oct. 5)
Former Undersecretary of State George Ball has characterized the controversy over the Reagan Administration’s proposed sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia as “a test of strength between the President and pro-Israeli factions” and warned that its defeat “will mean the end of an effective United States policy toward the Middle East.”
Ball, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, made that assessment in a three page letter addressed individually to Senate opponents of the $8.5 billion AWACS weapons sales package. A copy of the letter, sent from Ball’s Manhattan office, was obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The former State Department official is senior managing director of Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb Inc., investment bankers.
Ball listed among the consequences of Congressional rejection of the AWACS sale “humiliating the President,” hobbling his diplomacy and engendering mistrust of his commitments on the part of the Arab states. He predicted increased “subsidy demands” from Israel after having “proved its clout with Congress.”
He also suggested that advanced American military equipment provided to Israel was more likely to fall into Soviet hands than AWACS sold to Saudi Arabia because Israel engages in “reckless missions” such as its raid on Iraq’s nuclear reactor last June.
Ball urged the recipients of his letter to “consider the full implications” of Senate action to block the AWACS sale. “If Congress capitulates under pressure and defeats the AWACS sale it will mean the end of an effective United States policy toward the Middle East; if we should then go forward with the reckless military over-involvement with Israel now proposed we may well find ourselves in a war that will tear the American people apart.”
CITES PROPER CONCERN FOR ISRAEL
Ball maintained that “A proper concern for Israel’s security does not require us to assure her a complete monopoly of advanced military equipment without regard to our own larger interests in the area.” He stressed that none of the AWACS are scheduled for delivery to the Saudis for four years and do not “suddenly place Israel in mortal danger.”
IMPLIES THAT ISRAEL IS THE CULPRIT
The letter noted that some opponents of the AWACS sale contend that the U.S. should not send advanced weapons to the Middle East because they might fall into Soviet hands. “But such weapons are already there,” Ball wrote. “We have given Israel almost every conventional advanced weapon in our own arsenal (sometimes at the expense of our own fighting capability), and, in view of current practices, those weapons seem far more likely to fall into Soviet hands than the Saudi AWACS.
“The Saudis, it is understood, will keep their AWACS at home in their own airspace, but Mr. Begin risks our most esoteric American equipment on reckless missions,” Ball wrote. In that connection, he observed that had any of the F-15s or F-16s used on the Iraqi raid been shot down, the Iraqis could not “have resisted pressures to turn the plane over to the Russians, or at least let them examine it.”
He warned that “So long as Israel persists in misusing our high technology weapons — as it will feel completely free to do if Congress now de-fangs the President — we cannot cite the risks to our technology without encouraging the Arabs to suspect that we are trying to keep them defenseless against future Israeli attacks.”
Ball argued that the Saudis “have committed themselves to America as their best hope for military protection” against encirclment by pro-Soviet nations. “But dare they trustfully cooperate with a President whose promises can be reversed by Israeli influence? No wonder they have made the AWACS a test of our reliability. They need to find out. A negative answer from Congress could mark the beginning of the end of our Middle East effectiveness — and neither we nor Israel can afford that,” Ball warned.