WASHINGTON (Nov. 3)
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger denied to a group of Orthodox Jews from 20 states yesterday that American marines, wounded in the terrorist bombing of their Beirut headquarters, had not been taken to hospitals in Israel because he had rejected an offer of help from the Israelis.
The decision on medical treatment was made by the commanders on the scene, Weinberger said at a briefing at the Pentagon for the National Council of Young Israel. “If we had needed the hospitals we would have used them in a minute,” he declared.
The 45 persons attending the briefing, including leaders of the National Council, its women’s auxiliary, and the commander of the Jewish War Veterans and the presidents of the Jewish National Fund, Emunah Women and the Religious Zionists of America, had come to the Pentagon perturbed about the refusal of the Israelis’ facilities.
But Weinberger raised the issue himself, saying he had suffered “personal pain” over what he called “misinformation” that had appeared over the Israeli offer of hospital facilities. He particularly labelled as “scurrilous” stories that the Pentagon refused the offer for fear of antagonizing the Arabs.
The Defense Secretary said that several hours after the terrorist bombing in which 230 American military personnel were killed, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens telephoned him to offer Israel’s condolences and offered Israel’s help, including the use of Israeli hospitals. He said he told Arens that this was a decision for the commander on the scene and he would relay it to him.
Weinberger said the U.S. command in Lebanon already knew of the Israeli offer, through the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, but felt there were adequate facilities on a U.S. hospital ship offshore and at a British hospital in Cyprus where there had been a long-standing arrangement for U.S. forces. When the Cyprus hospital was filled, the wounded were sent to military hospitals in West Germany.
Weinberger said the next day he wrote Arens a letter of thanks for the offer not knowing whether it had been accepted or not. But he stressed “the last thing” he would tell a military commander on the scene “is what he should do or not do about wounded.”
At the same time, he assured the group that “we have absolutely no geographic or national restrictions of any kind” about where to take wounded soldiers. “They can go anywhere.” He said to place either geographic or national restrictions is “not only absurd but cruel.”
Weinberger’s statement was slightly at variance with the explanation given by U.S. official spokesmen up to now. They said it was U.S. military policy to treat its wounded at American military hospitals. This explanation was given by President Reagan to a group of Jewish Republicans last week.
On another issue that has recently caused concern in the Jewish community, Weinberger defended the proposed joint U.S.-Jordanian rapid defense force as a “trip wire” to prevent Soviet expansion into the Persian Gulf. He said the Jordanian forces would be equipped by the U.S. and under “our general direction.” He stressed that it would be “no threat to Israel.”
Weinberger said the memorandum of understanding for strategic cooperation with Israel was also designed to prevent Soviet expansion in the Middle East and expressed the hope it would be soon revived.
He said the U.S. did not object to Israel building its new plane, the Lavie, but only to financing it with U.S. military assistance. He said military aid was designed by law to enhance a country’s military capability and Israel had much more sophisticated planes than the Lavie which would not be ready until the 1990’s. He said there is no objection to the Lavie being financed through U.S. economic aid.
SAYS U.S. NEEDS ARAB FRIENDS
Weinberger stressed that he considers Israel a “strong and effective ally” with “the strongest military capability in the Middle East.” But he said the United States needs Arab friends, too, and said the basic United States effort in the Mideast is to try to help create conditions to achieve peace. He said such a peace will safeguard Israel’s security and relieve it of the heavy military burden which is presently draining its economy.
The Defense Secretary said the United States is determined to keep its marines in Lebanon, noting the United States presence there, particularly the “visible evidence of military strength that could be used” helped bring about the Lebanese national reconciliation conference now going on in Geneva. “We can’t be driven out by acts of terrorism,” Weinberger declared.
Harold Jacobs, president of the National Council, told Weinberger that his organization believes in a strong United States defense, has opposed the nuclear freeze movement and has praised the United States invasion of Grenada.