Arens Agrees to Serve As Defense Minister; His Nomination by Begin Virtually Assured of Approval

The nomination of Moshe Arens as Defense Minister, replacing Ariel Sharon, appeared virtually certain of approval today. Arens, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. for the past year, has agreed to serve, Premier Menachem Begin’s personal aide, Yehiel Kadishai, told reporters this morning.

The announcement came several hours before the Knesset was to vote on the Cabinet changes arising from Sharon’s resignation of the defense portfolio which took effect today. Begin will assume the responsibilities of Defense Minister until Arens returns from Washington and is formally installed.

His confirmation by the Knesset seems assured. Leaders of Likud’s Liberal Party wing reportedly told Begin they would back the appointment of Arens without reservations. He has the support of Herut whose hard-line views he shares although he is not associated with any specific trend in the Herut Party.

The opposition Labor Alignment said it would take a “wait-and-see” approach toward Arens, indicating it would not try to block his nomination in the Knesset. Begin’s coalition partner, the ultra rightwing Tehiya, which strongly opposed the resignation of Sharon, indicated approval of Arens because as a Knesset member he had voted against the Camp David accords and the peace treaty with Egypt in 1978 and 1979.

ARENS HAS WELL-EARNED REPUTATION

Arens, 58, chaired the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee before he was named Ambassador to the U.S. He had been Begin’s first choice for Defense Minister after Ezer Weizman resigned in 1981 but rejected that post at the time because of his stand against the Camp David approach to the peace process. He has since indicated that he regards Camp David as a fait accompli and could serve within its framework.

Although his views on foreign and defense policy are unqualifiedly hawkish, Arens does not have the brash and abrasive characteristics of Sharon. He earned a good reputation as a diplomat in Washington and even Labor critics of the government concede that his appointment will introduce “a saner atmosphere” in the Cabinet.

Arens is expected to be a strong Defense Minister who’ll fight any attempts by others within or outside the government to interfere in his ministry’s operations.

Arens was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1925 and received his higher education in the United States. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology, specializing in aeronautical engineering. For a time he was vice president of Israel Aircraft Industries. He and his wife, Muriel, are the parents of two sons and two daughters.

SHARON TAKES FORMAL LEAVE

Meanwhile, Sharon took formal leave of the Defense Ministry today with full pomp and military ceremony. Army officers and senior officials invited to the farewell proceedings expressed surprise at the extensive publicity arrangements for what is normally a quiet event attended mainly by the staff of the outgoing minister. The media was present in force to watch Sharon review a military guard of honor accompanied by beating drums, bugle fanfares and much waving of banners.

Sharon left office on a defiant note. He strongly defended his policies during his 19 month tenure as Defense Minister. He said he had been determined to head a powerful deterrent force which he would not hesitate to use under certain circumstances. Among the circumstances he enumerated were the deployment of Iraqi troops in Jordan, an Egyptian violation of the military clauses of the peace treaty which, he said, would trigger Israel’s re-occupation of Sinai, or the presence of nuclear weapons in enemy hands.

Sharon told those assembled to bid him farewell that he was not sure such a strong policy of deterrence was still possible, given the prevailing atmosphere in the country. Although he said nothing specific, he was clearly referring to what he regards as the influence of dovish elements in the army and in the country as a whole.

Observers suggested today that if this interpretation of Sharon’s remarks is correct, the new Defense Minister may be in for a difficult time should Sharon remain within the Cabinet, as it now seems likely he will.

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