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Controversy over a Gao Report on Israel and the Middle East

A controversy has developed over a report released last month by the General Accounting Office (GAO) in Washington assessing United States aid to Israel.

The flap developed this week when an Arab group released what it claimed was the uncensored version of the GAO report. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) said that the portions deleted from the GAO’s released report focussed on Israel’s contention that the Arabs were seeking to wage war against the Jewish State and on Israeli assurances to the U.S. that it would not invade Lebanon.

The GAO issued its 92-page report June 24 with “sections deleted for security reasons,” a GAO spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. She added that the document released by the ADC “may contain information” from a preliminary draft prepared by the agency.

However, the spokesperson said, “the document in question is not a GAO document, official or oth- is not a GAO document, official of otherwise,” She said that the GAO had referred “the matter,” the ADC document, to the Justice Department for appropriate action.

ARAB GROUP STANDS BEHIND ITS VERSION

A spokesman for the ADC told the JTA that his organization “stands behind (its version of the report) as accurate. It is clear that the GAO is attempting to destroy the credibility of its own report.”

He refused to say how the ADC obtained the deleted portions of the GAO document. The GAO spokesperson said that copies of the classified draft report “had been circulating around” Washington. The ADC, the GAO spokesperson said, probably “interpolated their own interpretation of the draft and of the (final) published version” to produce its document. “A draft is subject to change,” she added, noting that the ADC “cobbled together a report.”

The ADC spokesman said the GAO had told his organization this week that it “was not challenging the contents of the report” (the ADC released), only the manner in which it was distributed. He said the document was sent to 2,000 news organizations nationwide and to all members of Congress. It contained “30 or 40″ items not in the official report that the ADC felt the American public should know, he said.

THE ARAB VERSION

According to the ADC version, the GAO report had stated: “The Israeli government is concerned about U.S. efforts to assist various Arab countries to improve their military forces and thus achieve a strategic consensus against the threat of Soviet incursion into the region.

“Israeli officials believe that another war with the Arab countries is likely and that the U.S. regional efforts can contribute to threatening Israeli security.”

Another portion, according to the ADC version, cites the CIA as warning that U.S. military sales to Arab states “could exacerbate concerns about the Arab threat and could foster Israeli preemptive attacks in future crises.”

Other deletions in the report indicate a divergence of opinions about how much of a threat the Arab world poses to Israel. According to the report, “While Israel perceives the threat to be grave, the DOD (Department of Defense) officials believe it is overemphasized at this time.”

The censored version also contained passages saying that Israel had broken promises to the U.S. that it would not invade Lebanon, according to the ADC spokesman. The report, he noted, said Israel would ask for an increase from the $1.4 billion in aid it receives from the U.S., and that it expects the U.S. to finance half of its military budget.

THE VERSION RELEASED BY THE GAO

The report as the GAO released it, entitled “U.S. Assistance to the State of Israel,” found the aid program to be effective from political, security and economic viewpoints. The report was taken at the initiative of the GAO, which is the auditing agency for Congress, as one of a series on U.S. assistance to key Middle East countries.

It stated that peace is the real solution to Israel’s burden of defense and debt. It found no evidence of abuse or waste in the administration of U.S. aid.

The GAO report found no evidence of abuse or waste, and judged the program as efficient and well administered, with no improper practices by Israel in arms purchases which total approximately 30,000 defense contracts annually in the U.S. of over $1 billion.

In assessing Israel’s heavy burden of defense and debt, the report stated that Israel “continues to seek additional help because it perceives potential threats from other Middle Eastern nations which, in some cases, also obtain advanced U.S. weaponry.”

The report noted that even though Congress has approved increases in the Israeli program and included more grants and forgiven loans, Israel “is faced with the need to finance new military loans as well as to make payments on older outstanding loans.”

URGENCY OF PEACE

Unless Israel can reach a peaceful settlement with its Arab neighbors, the report said, it will have “increasing assistance requirements” and need “greater relaxation of restrictions onthe use of security assistance funds.”

Without peace in the area, the report anticipated that “the U.S. is faced with questions concernings the spiraling Middle East arms race, the impact of providing concessions with assistance, and the Israeli debt situation.”

The study noted that “Israel has been virtually operating in a wartime economy since its establishment as a state in 1948,” and that assistance by the U.S. “encourages economic stability in the face of the tremendous burden caused by the large percentage of resources devoted to defense.”

The report lauded Israel’s “considerable accomplishment” in meeting “its debt servicing obligation, regularly increasing its reserves and imports … while absorbing over I million immigrants since 1948.”

ISSUE OF DEBT REPAYMENT

The study warned that “The sheer size of Israel’s FMS (foreign military support) loan payments (projected to be over $900 million annually) combined with factors affecting its balance of payments prospects could alter Israel’s ability to service its debts.”

The report added that “For Israel to be able to maintain what it considers to be adequate defense while at the same time repaying past borrowing, it most likely will need to ask the U.S. for financing terms even more liberal than those granted in the past.”

However, the report does not recommend cuts in present levels of U.S. aid to Israel and reasserts that “Israel’s relationship with the U.S., and the strong U.S. support and assistance for its defense, is founded an its staunch U.S. friendship and on its position as a democratic form of government in the Middle East region.”

The statement of Israeli officials that the U.S. would not bear any of the costs of Israel’s Lebanon campaign was also included in the GAO summary.

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