Premier Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon unleashed a severe counter-offensive against the Reagan Administration for its suspension of the recently signed memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel following Israel’s surprise annexation of the Golan Heights last Monday.
Begin, in an angry statement submitted to U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis today, accused the Administration of attempting to “punish” Israel for its act and reneging on the promises of President Reagan and Secretary of State Alexander Haig. He vowed that Israel would never rescind the Golan law. (See full text of Begin’s statement.)
Sharon, in a radio interview yesterday, charged that suspension of the strategic cooperation agreement cast doubt on the credibility of U.S. international commitments and raised doubts about its commitment to the Camp David accords. He called the American measures “unjustified” and “immature” and said they would only serve to “encourage extremists in the Middle East, especially Syria which is hostile to the U.S. and rejects the Camp David process.”
Begin’s statement was perhaps the most angry and bitter ever directed against the United States by an Israeli leader. It was delivered to Lewis in the presence of Sharon and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and later broadcast on Israel Radio.
Sharon’s earlier remarks were also harsh, though relatively more diplomatic in tone. He was admonished by some Cabinet ministers, who asked not to be identified, to leave comments on Israel’s foreign relations to the Foreign Minister. But Sharon’s remarks were apparently sanctioned by Begin. The Cabinet met today to discuss the consequences of the U.S. action.
ISRAEL CAUGHT BY SURPRISE
Israel’s fierce reaction was precipitated by developments at the United Nations, which has been anticipated, and in Washington, which caught the Begin government by surprise. On Friday, the State Department announced suspension of the memorandum of understanding signed November 30 by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Sharon. Specifically, next month’s scheduled meeting of the coordinating council set up to implement the memorandum will not be held.
Department spokesman Dean Fischer announced that, in addition, the U.S. will not hold further discussions with Israel on promoting U.S. purchases of defense goods and services in Israel, an arrangment by which Israel would have earned some $200 million.
Also suspended was authorization of Israel to use some U.S. foreign aid funds to buy Israel-produced goods and the possibility of other countries using American funds to buy military hardware and other items in Israel. At the same time, however, Fischer stressed that “the United States continues to be concerned with the security of Israel” and that no scheduled arms shipments to Israel are being delayed.
As justification for these actions, the State Department noted that the U.S. had earlier “stated that we do not recognize Israel’s action (on the Golan Heights) which we consider to be without international legal effect” and “inconsistent with both the letter and the spirit of (UN Security Council) Resolutions 242 and 338.”
U.S. VOTES AGAINST ISRAEL
On Thursday night, the U.S. joined with the 14 other members of the Security Council in adopting a resolution demanding that Israel “should rescind forthwith its decision” to apply Israeli law to the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. The resolution, drafted by Syria, declared the annexation “null and void and without legal effect.” It also called on the Security Council to consider “appropriate measures” should Israel fail to comply with the terms of the resolution.
In a separate action, the UN General Assembly voted 121-2 with 28 abstentions to adopt a resolution condemning the annexation of the Golan Heights and calling for sanctions against Israel. The U.S. joined Israel in voting against that resolution. Israeli political analysts agreed that while Israel had expected the U.S. to support the Security Council’s resolution, and was prepared for harsh words from Washington, suspension of the strategic cooperation agreement came as a stunning surprise. Israeli policy makers had been convinced that the American reaction to the annexation of the Golan Heights would be confined to verbal pyrotechnics and would not include practical punitive measures.
One immediate consequence of the breach with Washington was demands within Begin’s Herut party that the government renege on its commitment to complete Israel’s evacuation of Sinai next April or at least threaten to do so. They contended that would be a fitting response to American punitive measures. According to the Labor daily Davar, that view is shared by some Cabinet ministers.