WASHINGTON (Mar. 11)
Gen. John Vessey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told leaders of the World Jewish Congress that Israel is a “strategic asset” to the United States and disclosed that “strategic cooperation between the armed forces of the United States and Israel have marched along steadily” despite any foot-dragging by “politicians.”
In an unprecedented briefing last Thursday at the Pentagon for a high-level delegation of American leaders of the WJC, Vessey said there was “no reluctance in the armed forces to help Israel.” The hour-long session covered security aspects relative to the Middle East, Latin America, the East-West balance, and the strategic arms question.
Vessey stressed that Israeli-U.S. strategic cooperation should serve the common interest of both countries. He noted: “We don’t want to endanger Israel’s security by asking them to do something for us in the larger strategic picture that doesn’t make sense for them.”
Noting that a strong Israel is a strategic asset to the United States, he added that “an Israel we have trapped into being put into greater danger because we have pushed them up against the Soviets, doesn’t help Israel and doesn’t really help us.”
In response to criticism by Bernice Tannenbaum, chairman of the WJC International Affairs Commission, over the proposed sale of Stinger missiles to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Vessey said that the request of the weapons had been initiated by the two Arab countries. “Jordan is frightened to death of Syria,” he said, and the U.S. would insure that proper “safeguards” were part of any such arms delivery.
Questioned about the widely-reported American “rile” toward Iraq in the war with Iran, Vessey made clear that America sought to see “no winners, no losers” in the conflict. In discussing the current “cold peace” relationship between Egypt and Israel, Vessey confided that in his private talks with the Egyptians he stressed the need for that relationship “to warm up.”
Vessey conceded that “we are not going to get high marks for achieving a great strategic victory in Lebanon.” At the same time, he emphasized the need to retain influence in the country, stating, “We should not get out of the region.” He was sharply critical of those “politicians” who had set as the basis for policy the “unrealistic” goal of a strong central government in Lebanon.
Intelligence reports, he said, pointed to “plenty of signs of instability in Syria” and took note of the rivalry between the “ruthless” Assad brothers–President Hafez Assad and Rifat Assad. The course of events might lead to Sunni elements taking control in Syria which could result in a more moderate regime, Vessey concluded.
The delegation, representing the WJC-American Section, was headed by its chairman, Rabbi Arthur Schneier.