JERUSALEM (Feb. 26)
Coalition and opposition Knesset members of both the left and right have expressed extreme displeasure with Franz Josef Strauss, the Prime Minister of Bavaria, scheduled here today on an official visit to Israel, for his persistent advocacy of the sale of West Germany’s most sophisticated weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Many MKs urged Premier Shimon Peres to withdraw his invitation to Strauss, head of the right-wing Christian Social Union (CSU), after he proposed last week that the Bonn government agree to a Saudi request to buy the Leopard II tank, considered one of the most advanced weapons of its kind. Strauss’ rationale was that the sale would mean more work and more jobs for Germany’s arms industry.
Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who is on a week-long visit to Western Europe, said before his departure over the weekend that while in Bonn he would raise the issue of weapons sales to Arab states and stress as strongly as possible Israel’s opposition to them.
SHOCKING AND ALARMING DEVELOPMENT
Labor MK Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, said he opposed any arms sales to the Saudis and therefore opposed Strauss’ visit and would refuse to meet him when he is in Israel.
Dan Meridor, of Likud, said a German-Saudi arms deal would impose a severe burden on Israel. “It is shocking and alarming to think that Germans will once again be involved in the sale of arms to Arab countries, which distribute anti-Semitic propaganda and wish to continue what the Germans began so many years ago,” destruction of the Jews, he said.
Meridor flatly rejected Strauss’ argument that Israel should be more understanding of Germany’s need to export arms since it exports arms itself.
Victor Shemtov, of Mapam, an opposition party, said Strauss’ support for the arms deal was at least in part motivated by personal interests. The Bavarian leader is reputed to have financial connections with German arms manufacturers. Shemtov and other MKs said they would boycott the official receptions for Strauss.
But Likud MK Michael Dekel thought that Strauss should be received in Israel correctly but without enthusiasm. He cautioned against emotional reactions to his visit.
RATIONALE FOR ARMS SALES
Strauss, whose party is a coalition partner in Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU)-led government, said in an interview in the West German newspaper Bild that Germany must stop living in the past with respect to Israel and, like
However, Strauss added, “The Americans, the French, the British are falling all over each other, so great is the crush of these arms suppliers in the Middle East… Tanks, aircraft, warships, cannon… if we don’t supply them, others will.”
Strauss stressed in the interview that “We are bound in ties of friendship with Israel. We provide a great deal of economic aid. The past cannot be erased. But even the Israelis do not live in the past. They must be given a secure future.” He observed, however, that “It is time for our (Germany’s) relationship with Israel to become normal and relaxed.”