JERUSALEM (Apr. 6)
The Cabinet decided today to make no official statement on President Reagan’s assertion last week that he would not approve the scheduled delivery of 75 F-16 jet fighter-bombers to Israel as long as Israeli forces remain in Lebanon.
Reagan’s position was the main topic of discussion at the weekly Cabinet session which was deferred from Sunday because of the Passover holiday. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir told reporters afterwards that Reagan’s remarks had come as a surprise to Israel but he would make no further comment.
Israeli sources said after the meeting that they assumed the President’s statement was intended to pressure Israel to make concessions on the security matters which have stalled its negotiations with Lebanon and possibly to woo King Hussein to enter the peace process.
Those sources noted that, in practical terms, the delivery of the warplanes was not delayed inasmuch as they are not scheduled for delivery until 1985. Reagan is simply withholding formal notification to Congress of the intention to sell the 75 F-16s to Israel, as required by law. Notification was held up when Israel invaded Lebanon last June, after informal notification was sent to Congress in May.
DISTURBED BY REAGAN’S IMPLICATION
The Israelis appear to be disturbed most by the President’s implication that Israel’s use of American weaponry in Lebanon violated the arms sales agreements under which American weapons can be used for defensive purposes only.
Sources here said that even top Administration officials were taken by surprise by Reagan’s remarks during an impromptu question and answer session after he delivered a speech on arms control in Los Angeles last Thursday.
They noted that subsequently, U.S. officials tried to reassure Israel that the President had not meant to assert that Israel has been found in violation of U.S. law although the tenor of his remarks suggested that it was. The President said: “We are forbidden by law to release those planes” while Israeli forces “are in the position of occupying another country that now has asked them to leave …”
There had been press speculation here that the Cabinet would issue a formal reaction. But Premier Menachem Begin and his senior ministers appear to have resolved even before today’s Cabinet session that it would be better not to do so.
Sources here indicated that other items of weaponry were being withheld from Israel by Washington in the wake of the war in Lebanon. The U.S. has however announced that at least one of those items, the Sidewinder missiles, would now be delivered.
Israeli circles believe that Israel’s relations with the U.S. are improving relative to their low point several months ago. They maintained that the crisis atmosphere surrounding the Lebanon war was fading and that many in Washington view Israel’s position in the context of the global struggle between the superpowers. But the sources acknowledged that Israel does not at present have direct access to the President,
They implied that Reagan’s top aides in foreign policy matters — Secretary of State George Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and National Security Advisor William Clark –cannot be considered intimate friends of Israel to the extent that any of them would reflect its views and concerns at the top American policy-making levels.