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German Media Taking Critical Look at Government’s Plans to Sell Arms to Saudi Arabia

The West German media is taking a critical look at the government’s plans to sell advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia. National television, which has been consistently pro-Arab in the Middle East conflict, has demonstrated “understanding” of Israel’s position which is vigorously opposed to the arms deal.

Welt Am Sonntag, a weekly friendly to the regime of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, observed in an editivrial that while the transaction with the Saudis will be financially profitable, it will cost Bonn international credit and create image problems. The Hamburger Abendblatt noted pointedly in an editorial yesterday that Kohl’s visit to Israel last week was widely viewed as an effort to separate German responsibility for the past from Germany’s current policies in the Middle East.

Kohl, who returned from his five-day stay in Jerusalem Sunday has been put on the defense with respect to the Saudi arms deal. He declared on a television interview that Bonn will not accept a double standard on arms sales to Middle Eastern countries. Such sales which are considered legitimate for the United States, France and England, cannot remain taboo for West Germany alone, he said.

Kohl repeated, in numerous interviews with the media while in Israel and on his return that there is no question of reneging on the earlier promises made to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. He reiterated that such decisions are made in Bonn, not Jerusalem.

DID NOT COME TO ISRAEL TO CHANGE DECISION

Government sources concede now that Israeli opposition to the arms sales had been underestimated. They said that on one hand, Israeli diplomats went out of their way to present a rosy picture of German-Israeli relations. On the other hand, the Israeli government was not properly informed in advance of Germany’s intentions with respect to the arms sales.

“They should have known beforehand,” a top aide to Kohl said today/ “that we did not come to Jerusalem to change our decision taken in Riyadh. Someone must have given them the impression that things werestill open and we had a difficult time explaining to them that this was not the case,” the aide said.

Officials here are also reacting to the warning by Mattityahu Shmuelevitz, Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem and a senior aide to Premier Yitzhak Shamir that Israel might launch a preemptive strike against Saudi Arabia if German arms are delivered.

That warning was given to the Jerusalem correspondent of the daily Die Welt and was widely reported. Officials here note that Shmuelevitz denied making the remark (though later he acknowledged it but complained it was taken out of context) but agreed that arms deliveries to the Saudis would be a highly sensitive issue from the security point of view.

“Of course, one should take care that the material is not destroyed while shipped or while being stored,” one official said.

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