Israel Treading Gingerly on U.S. Revival of Plan to Arm Jordan

Israel appears to be treating with circumspection the Reagan Administration’s revival of its plan to supply Jordan with $220 million in military equipment for a projected 8,000-man Jordanian force to be used in emergencies in the Persian Gulf states — ostensibly in coordination with the American Rapid Deployment Force.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir told today’s Cabinet session that Israel is in contact with the U.S. on this matter. It had vigorously opposed any U.S. arms to Jordan for any purpose when the plan was initiated in Washington last year, only to be blocked by Congress. But Israel apparently is aware that the U.S. is determined to go through with the project and now seeks only a Jordanian commitment that the force will not be used against Israel.

Reports last Friday said the Administration would submit the $220 million request to Congress this week, probably on Wednesday. It would be part of a Defense Department supplemental request for the 1984 budget. The project is known as Joint Logistical Planning between Jordan and the United States.

Reportedly the U.S. would not only equip the 8,000-man Jordanian force but would transport it by air to any trouble-spot within a 1,500 mile radius of Jordan–most likely the Persian Gulf.

But in an interview in Amman yesterday, King Hussein seemed to reject the idea that Jordan would agree to be part of a strike unit outside its own borders, although he said it needs and wants U.S. weaponry.

Addressing 75 foreign journalists, Hussein stressed that no Jordan strike force exists or is contemplated. He said Jordan would help other Arab countries if requested, not at the behest of the U.S., but as a member of the Arab world, and would do so with or without U.S. aid.

He also stressed Jordan’s need of modern weaponry for its own defense. “Should Israel attack us then, obviously we would use everything we have to defend ourselves. But our hope is that the whole situation can be saved before it reaches a point of no return,” he said. His remark implied that Jordan would use American supplied weapons if attacked by Israel.

The Reagan Administration is expected to notify Congress this week of its intention to sell Jordan $40 million worth of Stinger hand-held antiaircraft missiles for defense purposes. They would be separate from the strike force equipment, though the latter would include additional Stinger missiles.

Shamir’s disclosure that Israel was talking to the U.S. about the Jordan strike force drew criticism from Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai who complained that such a sensitive policy decision was not first brought before the Cabinet.

SHAMIR SATISFIED WITH U.S. TALKS

Shamir also expressed great satisfaction with the progress so far made in strategic cooperation talks with the U.S. which began in Washington last week. The talks were agreed to when Shamir visited Washington last November and worked out arrangements for joint U.S.-Israel military and economic cooperation. The Premier was especially optimistic over the prospects of a free trade zone with the U.S.

Sources here and abroad saw in the absence of negative reaction by Israel to the projected Jordanian strike force signs that Washington had made clear that, in exchange for strategic cooperation it expects Israel to be more “understanding” of American efforts to help friendly Arab states.

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