Jerusalem (Dec. 2)
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon asserted today that the U.S. -Israel memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation meant “a real change” in Israel’s international standing. In a tough Knesset speech in reply to four motions of no confidence, Sharon accused the opposition of deliberately “perverting” the accord in order to criticize it. He called on the nation not to listen to the opposition “doom-sayers.”
The four no confidence motions were submitted to the Knesset today by the Labor Alignment, Communist Party, Shinui and Telem following the signing of the U.S. -Israel memorandum of understanding by Sharon and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in Washington Monday. The four Knesset factions contended that the government gave away more than it received by signing the memorandum; that Israel was now what amounted to a satellite of the U.S.; and that Israel was allied with the U.S. against the Soviet Union, making Israel a target of the USSR in any superpower confrontation.
The debate began at 5 pm today, instead of at II am when the Knesset usually convenes. Knesset Speaker Menachem Savidor decided to delay the opening of the debate to this evening in order to allow all Knesset members who wished to attend the debate to also attend earlier in the day the memorial services for David Ben Gurion at Kibbutz Sde Boker. Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Premier, died eight years ago.
The Labor Alignment failed in an attempt to seek a court order nullifying Savidor’s decision to begin the debate at 5 pm. The Knesset session, therefore, was expected to conclude in the wee hours tomorrow morning. But with all the absent Knesset members who had been abroad returning home for the debate, the government coalition was certain that it would defeat the no confidence motions by two votes, at least, according to Knesset observers.
HINTS THERE IS A SECRET CODICIL
Sharon, in his address to the Knesset, said the memorandum of understanding was “not an accord for the newspapers” and hinted (despite official U.S. denials) that there was a secret part detailing concrete fields of cooperation. “No one would expect us to publish details of how many tanks or how much ammunition (is to be stored) or what sort of intelligence (is to be exchanged), ” Sharon said.
He accused the opposition of “hypocrisy” in “pretending that Israel’s defense is solely against the threat from the Arabs and not against the Soviet Union.” Hurling invectives, especially at “past generals who pretend to be statesmen” (a reference to Labor Alignment Knesset members Yitzhak Rabin and Mordechai Gur), Sharon said the accord would pave the way for Israel’s inclusion in a regional strategic framework led by the U.S. “against threats we cannot face alone.” The framework he added, might in time become an economic regional grouping, too.
Sharon contended that the accord could be invoked if the Soviets intervened directly on the side of the Arabs in a future war against Israel, or if they helped the Arabs in such a war. Labor Knesset members shouted from their seats that this was not so: the accord specifies threats “from outside the region” only.
Sharon shouted back that in 1956 Israel had with-drawn from Sinai under a Soviet threat, and in 1973 the Soviets had threatened to intervene if Israel went ahead to destroy the Egyptian Third Army.
“Whom are you trying to kid (that Israel is not faced by a Soviet military threat)?” Sharon taunted the Labor benches. “Whom are you pretending to … I know it hurts to be in opposition … to see someone else reaching an agreement … but you will have to get used to this frustration for a long time to come ….”
ACCORD ENDS HOPES OF ARAB ENEMIES
The accord, he continued, would “put an end to the hopes of our Arab enemies” that with the help of the USSR they will eventually be able to annihilate Israel. It was also “a basis for ties with countries in Asia and Africa which fear Soviet expansionism… and you’ll be hearing much more on that in the future.” (Sharon recently toured several African countries, according to foreign reports.)
There was no importance in the opposition argument that this accord, unlike any previous pact (even NATO, CENTO and SEATO) specifically mentioned the Soviet Union and was therefore a gratuitous and dangerous provocation. Other facts spoke of the threat of “Communism,” which was the same thing, Sharon said.
He said the Taiwan-U.S. defense pact “uses plain language” — which raised howls of protest from the opposition that he was reducing Israel to the level of Taiwan.
Sharon for his part said the accord meant that after years of often humiliating requests by Israel for U.S. military aid, the relationship had now been put on a footing of reciprocity “as between equals.”
He “promised faithfully” that when the accord came to be filled out with practical content in future negotiations, or actually invoked, “only one guideline will steer us: the needs of the defense of Israel.” The Israel Defense Force would not be put to use for non-Israeli interests, Sharon insisted.
OPPOSITION DENOUNCED THE AGREEMENT
In his motion of no confidence, on behalf of the Labor Alignment, Abba Eban termed the government’s handling of the whole episode “hasty, unbalanced and purposeless.” He mocked Sharon’s claims (made in Washington) that there was a secret part to the pact. “It is so secret that even the Americans don’t know about it,” Eban said.
Sharon said yesterday in Washington that the memorandum of understanding was “unclassified” and presented to the press. He said that the working groups and coordinating councils which will work out the U.S. -Israel agreement may decide on details that
will be classified. Responding to reports on Israel Radio that there was a secret codicil to the agreement, Sharon stressed that the agreement was public and only some of the later arrangements might not be publicized.)
Both Eban and Amnon Rubinstein (Shinui) pointed out that by pledging to help Israel against forces “outside the region,” the U.S. could be said to have actually weakened its commitment to help Israel against its Arab enemies (“the real enemy,” said Eban) inside the area.
(The same point was made earlier in a press interview by Minister Without Portfolio Yitzhak Modai. He said it had “occurred to him” only after the accord was signed. The accord stated that it “is designed against the threat to peace and security of the region caused by the Soviet Union or Soviet-controlled forces from outside the region introduced into the region” and “is not directed against any states within the region.”)
ARGUES AGAINST SPECIFYING THE USSR
Eban hit at the specification of the USSR. The Americans, he said, would be negotiating with the Soviets on arms control and other tension-reducing measures. “We will be left only with the aggressive and provocative rhetoric” (of the accord), he said.
Meir Wilner (Communist Party) warned that Israel was needlessly baiting the Soviet Union which had never wavered in its basic support for the sovereignty and independence of the Jewish State but apposed only its occupation of Arab lands. “You will yet have need of the Soviet Union,” Wilner warned. The accord, he said, made Israel a primary “American base” for attack against local Arab states.
Yuval Neeman (Tehiya) argued that the accord would necessarily constrict Israel’s freedom of military action in the future. An action such as the raid on the Iraqi reactor or the “Litani Operation” would have to be approved first by Washington, he noted. But such approval would not be forthcoming, and if Israel went ahead without it — there would be a confrontation with the U.S., Neeman warned.
Both Neeman and Rubinstein contended that by making an overt enemy of the Soviets, Israel’s government had heedlessly endangered the fates and future of the Soviet Jewish community. Rubinstein asked whether this element was ever taken into consideration in the “hasty and faulty policymaking process.”
Sharon, in his reply, did not refer to this point. But he insisted that the process had not been hasty. There had been “innumerable discussions” at various policymaking levels over many months, he said.