TEL AVIV (Nov. 20)
Premier Yitzhak Shamir refused Thursday to confirm or deny widespread reports that Israel served as a “conduit” for the shipment of American arms to Iran. It “has never been, and is still not, Israel’s policy to disclose anything about arms sales to other countries,” he said in reply to questions at a Foreign Press Association luncheon at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
He said President Reagan, in a nationally televised press conference Wednesday night had not mentioned Israel as the “conduit” and he did not want to “contradict anything that President Reagan said.”
But Reagan contradicted himself after the press conference. Asked by a reporter to “explain” a reported “Israeli role” in a 1985 arms shipment to Iran and reports that Israel had suggested his Administration make contact with the Teheran regime, the President replied, “(W)e, as I say, have nothing to do with other countries or their shipments.”
Shortly after the press conference, White House aides issued an amending statement in the President’s name that, in fact “there was a third country involved in our secret project with Iran.” The country was not named.
But both John Poindexter, the President’s National Security Adviser, and Donald Regan, White House Chief of Staff, conceded last week that the U.S. had approved at least one secret shipment of arms from Israel to facilitate the release of American hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon.
SITUATION OF JEWS IN IRAN
Queried about reports of a worsening situation for Jews in Iran, Shamir said Israel was concerned and would do everything to help. At the same time, he said, Israel Radio was “correct” in playing down alarmist reports, and foreign press reports of the plight of Iranian Jews were exaggerated.
Shamir may have been referring to, among others, a New York Times report from Vienna last week that “persecution of Jews in Iran has reached such intensity that hundreds of them have joined a much larger exodus of Moslem Iranians fleeing the country.” The Times attributed its information to refugees from Iran arriving in Vienna and officials of organizations there assisting them.
According to Shamir, the situation of Jews in Iran is no worse than that of other religious minorities and it has not deteriorated. Asked who he would like to see win the Iran-Iraq war, he said he had no sympathy for either side.
THE VANUNU CASE
Shamir also stood firm on his insistence that Israel violated no British laws in the case of Mordechai Vanunu, the former nuclear technician now in custody in Israel who was allegedly kidnapped in London by Israeli agents last month. “Vanunu left (Britain) on his own accord,” Shamir said.
“We are not obliged to give any promises to any country. I cannot say we have promised something to Britain but we have only stated the fact that we have not violated any British law. And this person (Vanunu) left Britain of his own free will. That’s all.”
But reports from London Thursday said the British government is not satisfied with Israel’s explanation of Vanunu’s disappearance from London October 1. David Waddington, Minister of State in the Home Office, said in the House of Commons Tuesday, that while there is no evidence Vanunu was kidnapped, “I certainly regard it as unsatisfactory that the Israeli authorities have declined to give any explanation, or even the date of his arrival in Israel.”
Vanunu is awaiting formal charges here for either espionage or treason for giving a British newspaper information about Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons capabilities.