WASHINGTON (Apr. 17)
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens said today that the Reagan Administration’s decision to lift restrictions on American com- panies supplying Israel with assistance needed to develop its second generation jet fighter plane, the Lavie, hopefully is an “indication of improvement in the relationships” between the U.S. and Israel. He added that he hoped it might indicate that “whatever embargo there may be on the F-16 will be over.”
Arens, appearing from Israel on the ABC-TV “This Week With David Brinkley” program, said he was “grateful” to President Reagan for lifting the restrictions on the Lavie and “particularly grateful” to Secretary of State George Shultz who I know has worked hard and long to bring about this release.”
But Arens said Israel would find it “very hard to live with” the Administration’s earlier announcement that it would not officially notify Congress of the sale of 75 F-16 jet fighter-bombers to Israel, although they had been previously committed, unless Israel made “certain political concessions.”
He said such a situation would make it necessary for Israel to re-evaluate its position and “increase its independence” or seek arms from “alternate sources.” He noted that Israel has developed a tank, a missile system and a fighter aircraft that performed well and “if it needs to be done, we could do more.”
CONCERNED ABOUT SOVIET PERSONNEL IN SYRIA
Arens, who was formerly Israel’s Ambassador to Washington, said Israel was watching with “great concern” the increased presence of Soviet personnel in Syria and the Soviet supply of weapons to Syria. He said this has put Israel in a “fairly high state of alert.”
He said the concern is that the Syrians with the “umbrella” of new Soviet SAM-5 anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons might initiate hostile actions against Israel in Lebanon, perhaps with Soviet encouragement.” He warned the Syrians that if they did, they would find the umbrella had some “holes.”
Arens said he was not 100 percent certain that Syria would agree to leave Lebanon if Israel and Lebanon reach an agreement on Israel’s withdrawal. He said Syria and the Soviets are now playing a “wait-and-see” game as to what is happening in the Israel-Lebanese negotiations. But he stressed that Israel was near an agreement with Lebanon and predicted that it would achieve a peace treaty with Lebanon in the not too distant future.
GHORBAL: NEED A ‘GESTURE FROM ISRAEL’
On the same program from Washington was the Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S., Ashraf Ghorbal, who said the Arabs and Palestinians needed a “gesture” from Israel in order to enter peace negotiations. He said that Israeli settlements on the West Bank and Gaza and Israel’s continued presence in Lebanon do not encourage the Arabs to join in the peace talks.
But Ghorbal predicted that if there was an agreement on Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, “I guarantee you there’s going to be a new mood in the Arab world.” He said it would show that “Israel sticks to her promise and the U.S. means what it says.”
The Egyptian envoy said the Palestine Liberation Organization would support the participation of King Hussein of Jordan in talks if there was an Israeli freeze on settlements. He said this would give the Palestinians hope because the continuation of settlement building “takes away their hope.”
Ghorbal added that the PLO has assured the Arab countries it wants to continue seeking an agreement with Hussein. Ghorbal appeared on the ABC program as a substitute for the Jordanian Ambassador in Washington who bowed out of a scheduled appearance.
SETTLEMENTS NOT OBSTACLE TO PEACE
Arens, meanwhile, rejected the argument that the settlements are an “obstacle to peace.” He said the Jewish settlers on the West Bank total less than 30,000 persons, or just three percent of the population on the territory. He stressed that the “pattern” for negotiations was set by Premier Menachem Begin and the late Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat.
“King Hussein is welcome to come to Jerusalem any time,” Arens said. “If Hussein comes without preconditions, we’ll come without preconditions and the negotiations will start,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been waiting for him now for the past 35 years and I’m sure that one of these days he’s going to come.”