Shamir Calls for an End to the ‘mad Arms Race’ in the Mideast
Menu JTA Search

Shamir Calls for an End to the ‘mad Arms Race’ in the Mideast

Download PDF for this date

Yitzhak Shamir, in his first Knesset speech as Prime Minister yesterday, called for an end to “the mad arms race” in the Middle East. He referred only obliquely to the recent shipment of advanced Soviet weaponry to Syria.

He seemed to imply that Israeli forces will remain in Lebanon only so long as a security threat remains to its northern borders and is therefore not necessarily contingent on a simultaneous Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.

This appeared to be a departure, however small, from the Reagan Administration’s position that all foreign forces must be removed in tandem and that the Israeli presence is required until then.

Shamir’s failure to refer specifically to the Soviet SS-21 ground-to-ground missiles now in or on the way to Syria also contrasted with President Reagan’s emphasis over the weekend of the menace posed by the SS-21s whose 70 mile range can strike targets deep inside Israel as well as U.S. warships in waters off Lebanon.


“We frequently hear of new weapons systems reaching the Middle East, each one more modern and advanced than the last, more devastating and murderous,” Shamir said. “And this is in addition to the ongoing flow of ‘regular’ weaponry to the region, from the East and from the West, rockets from the East and planes from the West.

“Perhaps the time has come to call to the nations of the region to pause for one moment and to ask themselves: How long? Has not the time come to end this mad pursuit, this murderous race … Is not our region sated with wars? What the region needs is not weapons but peace,” Shamir said. He added: “We call upon all the nations of the Middle East and their governments to end the mad arms race and come to the negotiating table.”

According to observers, Shamir’s maiden speech as head of government was deliberately low key in order not to exacerbate the tensions raised by the deployment of SS-21s in Syria. There has been no confirmation here of American media reports that Israel will seek U.S. Pershing missiles to counter the Soviet-Syrian threat.

Observers also noted the slight but significant shift in Shamir’s treatment of the Syrian role in Lebanon and its impact on Israel’s policy and position there. He did not specifically and unequivocally link Israel’s withdrawal to a parallel pull-out by Syria. He appeared to indicate that Israel could contemplate leaving Lebanon regardless of an ongoing Syrian presence there, provided the security threat posed by that presence is somehow removed.

The observers saw in this the possible influence of Defense Minister Moshe Arens who has long advocated a more flexible approach, stressing that the sole criterion of Israel’s policy in Lebanon should be the security of its northern borders.

“We shall withdraw our forces from Lebanon when conditions of security (for Galilee) have been secured,” Shamir said. “Syria’s massive military presence on Lebanese soil indicates the danger that Lebanon might return to being a base for attacks against Israel … The presence of Syria, which supports a war of terrorism against Israel from Lebanese soil prevents us from leaving Lebanon,” he said.

He added that the sooner the Syrians withdraw, “the better it will be for Lebanon and for the prospects of stability in the whole region. ” In that way, according to observers, Shamir seemed to focus on the security threat posed to Israel by Syria’s presence in Lebanon, not to its presence per se. The implication was that if the threat could be neutralized, Israel would feel free to leave.


On other foreign policy matters, Shamir noted that Israel was “not happy” with its “cold peace” with Egypt. He pledged his government’s determined efforts to protest against and seek to improve that situation.

He extolled the success of the previous government, headed by Menachem Begin, in securing agreements with Egypt and Lebanon, although the latter is still not ratified, and noted that the delegations of those countries were the only Arab delegations which did not walk out of the UN Assembly last week when the Israeli Ambassador, Yehuda Blum, addressed the world body.

Regarding the situation on the West Bank, Shamir said it was “a pity” that the golden opportunity presented by the Camp David accords has been missed so far. He said that had the other parties responded, negotiations on the “final status” of the territories could have been under way by now.

Shamir reiterated Israel’s calls to Egypt to resume the autonomy negotiations and for Jordan and the Palestinians of the West Bank to join them as members of either the Egyptian or Jordanian delegations. “It must be clear that Camp David is the only agreed document and thus the only basis for continuing the (peace) process,” Shamir stressed.

Opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres picked up on that point in his response to Shamir. He urged the government to return to what he said was the original meaning of Camp David, implying that it was considerably different from the meaning attached to it by the Begin and now the Shamir governments.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund