Science Minister Favors Israel’s Participation in Star Wars Program

Minister of Science and Industry Gideon Patt said yesterday that he favored Israel’s participation in the Reagan Administration’s controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), dubbed Star Wars by the media.

The Likud-Liberal’s statement on a radio interview was the first public reaction by a Cabinet minister to U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s recent invitation to Israel to join in SDI research. The proposal was conveyed last week to Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and, officially, is under consideration by the government. Israel’s response is also a lively topic of discussion in the Knesset.

The U.S. invited its NATO allies, Japan, Australia and Israel to participate. Patt made the point that this was “a significant compliment” to Israel inasmuch as Washington approached only those countries it believes have the scientific and technological know-how to contribute to the research.

The SDI, as envisioned by the Reagan Administration, would have the capability of destroying, from space, enemy nuclear missiles as soon as they leave their launching pads. According to Reagan, it would thus replace the stockpiling of nuclear warheads as a deterrent against nuclear war.

But many scientists in the U.S. and other Western countries believe a totally effective SDI is impossible to achieve while a partial deterrent would be no deterrent at all. Moreover, they say, the required technology does not now exist and the system, if ever developed, would not be put in place much before the turn of the century, by which time an enemy would have developed counter-measures.

Patt conceded that there would be political “connotations” for Israel if it joined the project, far exceeding any that may arise from the recent agreement to allow the U.S. to erect a Voice of America radio transmitter in Israel to relay broadcasts to the Soviet Union. Many Israelis opposed the transmitter on grounds that it would involve Israel in the propaganda war between the U.S. and the USSR.

Patt said that Israel should seek to become involved in “civilian aspects” of SDI research. He maintained that if Israel were “in on the ground floor” it could participate in projects involving “tens or hundreds of billions of dollars.” He said that Premier Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Rabin were favorably disposed to the U.S. invitation.

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