Jerusalem (Oct. 29)
Israel expressed “regret” today over the Senate’s approval of the sale of AWACS reconnaissance aircraft and other advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and said the deal represented “a new and serious threat” to Israel which it would have to “overcome.”
The statement was released following a special meeting of the Cabinet convened by Premier Menachem Begin this morning to assess the situation after the U.S. Senate upheld the $8.5 billion arms package which Israel had vigorously opposed. It noted pointedly President Reagan’s repeated commitments to maintain Israel’s qualitative military superiority in the Middle East and to establish strategic cooperation with Israel.
“We hope these words of the President will be realized,” Begin said after reading the Cabinet’s statement to reporters. He released the text of a letter he received today from Reagan in which the President said, “I reiterate my pledge that America continues to be committed to Israel, to maintain its military and technological advantages,” The letter added, “This Administration has a permanent interest in working with Israel on a broad basis on strategic problems. These efforts serve our common interest.”
The Cabinet statement was drafted by Begin himself. Several ministers reportedly felt that Israel should not, at this early stage, refer to Reagan’s pledges of arms aid and strategic cooperation on grounds that it might imply that Israel was reconciling itself to the AWACS deal and was seeking compensation. Begin replied, according to Cabinet sources, that there was no point “playing broigez” (anger) with the U.S. He said the Cabinet expressed precisely what it felt, feared and hoped.
NO III FEELINGS TOWARD AWACS SUPPORTERS
The statement also took a conciliatory tone toward those Senators who supported the Administration on the AWACS sale and those who opposed it but switched sides at the last minute. It expressed appreciation to the 48 Senators who cast their votes against the deal. The statement said:
“Israel expresses its regret over the Senate’s decision on the proposal by the Administration for the double arms deal to Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Arabia is) a country which is in a state of war with Israel, opposes the Camp David agreements, and finances terrorism in our region.
“The Israel cabinet reiterates that a new and serious threat has arisen for Israel — a new departure not experienced since the establishment of our state. We shall have to overcome it — and we will do all that is incumbent upon us in order to overcome it.
“The debate in Washington was long. Friends of Israel, regardless of origin or political outlook, fought the just struggle bravely and nobly. We express our appreciation for their efforts. We are mindful too that many of those who supported the deal and of those who shifted from opposition to support admire Israel’s standing and Israel’s policy in the Middle East and in the free world and harbor warm feelings in their hearts for our nation and for our country.”