NEW YORK (May. 15)
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger denied publicly allegations that he was anti-Israel and declared that he is a strong supporter of Israel and believed that a strong Israel is in the best interests of the United States.
Addressing some 600 Jewish leaders at a luncheon given by the American Jewish Committee at the New York Hilton hotel last Friday, the Secretary declared:
“I want to say, as forcefully as I can, that this (the allegation that he is against Israel) is simply not true. I am a strong supporter of Israel and an admiring witness to the democracy they have built and preserved under the most trying conditions. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit (to Israel) last year and was most hospitably received.
“We have all had occasional disagreements with some policies of Israel, as with other sovereign nations. I have, as is my responsibility, sought to pursue policies in these matters, as in all others, that I felt in the best interests of the United States.”
He continued: “But even it I were not a strong admirer of Israel, which I am, and all they have accomplished, even if the American people were not bound to Israel by emotional ties, as Secretary of Defense I would still be a strong supporter of Israel.”
U.S. HAS A STAKE IN ISRAEL’S SURVIVAL
Weinberger said, “leaving all sentiments aside, looking only at our own national interests, it is clear that we in the United States have an important stake in Israel’s security,” He asserted that the United States has an enormous strategic interest in the Middle East and that Israel is a most effective military force, and that because it is a democracy, it is one of the most stable governments in the region.
Weinberger observed that the Soviets “would dearly love to control the Middle East resources and strategic checkpoints; but Israel stands determinedly in their way.” He affirmed America’s commitment to Israel, declaring that the U.S. is bound to Israel by strategic interests.
U.S. WORRIED ABOUT SOVIETS ARMS BUILDUP IN SYRIA
The Defense Secretary warned of what he said is “the heightened danger” of direct conflict between Israel and Syria. He said the U.S. is most worried over the Soviet military buildup in Syria. He noted that the Soviets have “literally flooded Syria with new arms and they have issued provocative statements disparaging United States, Israeli, Lebanese efforts to bring peace and stability to Lebanon, They have also sent Soviet troop units to Syria, not just ‘advisors’ or trainers. “
This stepped-up Soviet involvement in the region, Weinberger warned, “makes a solution to the crisis in Lebanon more difficult to achieve, and heightens the danger of direct conflict between Syria and Israel.
The Defense Secretary said the Soviet Union is making “a profound mistake” if it thinks that by belligerent statements, it can pressure the United States not to support Israel.
As for the agreement between Israel and Lebanon on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, achieved through the mediation of Secretary of State George Shultz, Weinberger said that it was a major step forward “for advancing the cause of peace in the Middle East. “He continued, “I hope Syria will soon see that it is enormously to its advantage also to agree to with draw its troops from Lebanon. “
Weinberger also stated peace cannot be achieved without strength, and “states that do not feel secure cannot be expected to take risks for peace. Israel cannot be expected to expose itself to the risks of territorial withdrawal if it is not confident about its own defense capabilities, about the security arrangements that accompany any withdrawal, and about the strength and permanence about our United States commitment to Israeli security.”
But at the same time, he said, if the moderate Arabs are to join the peace process, “they must feel capable of withstanding the inevitably retaliatory threats from the radicals and rejectionists they are sure to confront. And that means they, too, must be confident about their own capabilities and our commitment to their defense,”
In that connection, Weinberger said, in response to a question at the end of his address, the United States supplies the moderate Arab countries, notably Jordan and Saudi Arabia, with advanced American arms only for defense purposes.
He also said, in response to another question, that the memorandum of understanding between Israel and the U.S., which he said was suspended by the Reagan Administration after Israel invaded Lebanon, could be reinstated. He did not say when. Actually, the memorandum of understanding was suspended by the Administration in December, 1982, after Israel annexed the Golan Heights. It was about to be reinstated last spring when Israel invaded Lebanon.
Weinberger was interrupted three times by applause and ovations and was given a standing ovation at the end of his address.
HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE IN ANTI-WEINBERGER RALLY
As Weinberger was addressing the AJCommittee luncheon inside the hotel, several hundred protesters staged a peaceful anti-Weinberger demonstration outside. The rally was co-sponsored by Americans for a Safe Israeli and the National Council of Young Israel. A third group involved was the Jewish Mobilization Committee.
Rabbi Avraham Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (N. Y.) and one of the coordinators of the rally, explained that the thrust of the 90-minute demonstration was to carry a message to Weinberger that he is in fact “the symbol of this Administration’s abandonment of Israel.” The protestors shouted, in unison, “Weinberger must go, ” and some of them carried a large banner stating, “Cap, The Knife. “