JERUSALEM (Apr. 25)
Israel issued a categorical denial yesterday that it is supplying arms to Nicaragua rebels and denounced reports that it was doing so as “baseless rumors.”
The denial, by Foreign Ministry spokesman Yosef Amihood, followed a report in the United States Monday on NBC television news that Israel was supplying Soviet-made weapons to rebels fighting the Sandinista government, at the behest of the U.S.
In its report from a Contra rebel base in Honduras, NBC showed a 47-year-old C-47 transport plane landing at an airstrip some 110 miles from Managua, Nicaragua, bringing supplies for the 11,000 U.S.-backed guerrillas fighting to topple the leftist Nicaraguan government. Contra leader Enrique Bermudez told NBC, “We received some weapons from Israel. The weapons were taken from the PLO in Lebanon” during the war.
NBC claimed that Israel was supplying 25 percent of the rebels’arms under an agreement reached during a visit in 1982 to Honduras by then Israel Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. The report said the rebels wanted Soviet weapons because they could supplement them with arms captured from Nicaraguan forces which were supplied by Cuba and the Soviet Union. NBC also said that the aged C-47 plane that served as the Contras lifeline was supplied by the U.S.
‘A MEAN ATTEMPT TO SLUR ISRAEL’S STANDING’
Amihood, in his statement, said Israel “denied altogether these baseless rumors … They are ridiculous. This is a mean attempt to slur Israel’s standing abroad and international reputation.” A Foreign Ministry official said the denial applied equally to the “rumors” that Israel was extending military training aid — also at the behest of the U.S. — to the government forces of El Salvador.
Foreign press reports said that the U.S. is funnellingfunds into “third countries” for the purpose of arming anti-leftist government and rebel forces. Israel, in these reports, was included among the “third countries.”
(In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg said yesterday that the U.S. “has no intention of providing funds for third countries for the purpose of supporting covert activities. ” Romberg, who was repeating an earlier State Department statement, refused any comment on Israeli activities in Central America. But officials here have denied that the U.S. is urging Israel to take a more active part in the region.)
AN AWKWARD MOMENT FOR ISRAEL
The American TV report came at an especially awkward moment for Israel. Last night. Foreign Ministry Director-General David Kimche left for Washington to hold talks with Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Lawrence Eagle-burger and his successor, Michael Armacost, who is leaving his post as Ambassador to the Philippines, which reportedly will include Central American issues.
The Foreign Ministry said these issues were concerned with technical and agriculture aid that Israel extends to a number of Central American countries. The Ministry said Kimche would not discuss military aid — because there is none.
(Romberg pointed out yesterday that the meeting between Kimche and Eagleburger tomorrow and Friday, is part of a routine series of meetings between the two in Jerusalem and Washington. One acknowledged purpose of the meeting is for Kimche to bid farewell to Eagleburger, who retires next month.)