WASHINGTON (Nov. 2)
The Senate Appropriations Committee may have killed a Reagan Administration plan to arm elite units of the Jordanian army as part of the U.S. rapid deployment force in the Middle East when it voted yesterday to delete from the 1984 military spending bill $220 million previously authorized for the project.
The committee acted behind closed doors after objections were raised by Sens. Alfonse D’Amato (R. NY) and Daniel Inouye (D, Hawaii). According to Congressional sources, the Administration will have no money to fund the once top secret program unless the appropriation can be included in another bill or an amendment when the military spending bill reaches the Senate or House floor. According to the sources, this appears highly unlikely.
The unexpected rejection of the Administration project by the Republican-controlled committee may have rendered moot the question of whether Israel would use its influence in Congress to fight the plan. It has become a source of friction between the Administration and the Israeli government and reportedly is figuring in the talks now being held in Jerusalem between Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Lawrence Eagleburger and top Israeli officials.
ISRAEL STRONGLY OPPOSED THE PROJECT
Israel’s position has always been to object vehemently to U.S. plans to sell arms to any Arab country that is in a state of belligerency with Israel. The Israelis reportedly were briefed on the Jordan plan in secret and argued that while the mission of the rapid deployment force was to protect the Persian Gulf states, U.S. equipped Jordanian units would pose a direct threat to Israel.
According to some reports, the Israelis agreed, however, not to go public on the issue. But many in Congress first learned of the Administration plan when Israel Radio reported the secret funding and details later appeared in the American press. The authorization to spend up to $220 million to arm the Jordanian units was contained in the 1984 Defense Procurement Bill passed by Congress earlier this year.
Eagleburger arrived in Israel yesterday amid reports that Israel might agree to muffle its objections to the plan in return for “compensation.” This was taken to mean substantially increased U.S. military and economic aid to Israel. But Premier Yitzhak Shamir vehemently denied to Knesset members Monday that any quid pro quo had been a subject of negotiations with the U.S.
Some observers in Jerusalem suggested earlier this week that Israel would not try to wage a fight against the Administration plan in Congress or in the area of American public opinion because it was chastened by its losing battle to defeat the sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia two years ago. According to those observers. Israel now realizes the limitations of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington when pitted against a determined Administration.
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger has been a major supporter of the Jordan project, as he has been for selling sophisticated U.S. military equipment to Jordan. Secretary of State George Shultz was said to believe that Israel could be mollified. He reportedly argued at a recent meeting of the National Security Council that if closer U.S.-Israeli cooperation can be forged, the Israelis might drop their objections to the Jordan plan and might even be more flexible toward negotiations over the future of the West Bank.
Shultz’s position that the U.S. and Israel should cooperate more closely was reported to have the support of Reagan’s new National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane. Weinberger, who prefers to distance the U.S. from Israel to retain the friendship of moderate Arab states, is reportedly backed by CIA director William Casey.