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Israel’s Supply of Arms to Iran Assessed by Two Former Chiefs of Israel’s Military Intelligence

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Two former chiefs of Israel’s military intelligence see advantages for Israel in the supply of arms to Iran but differ over whether Israel would benefit if Iran won its six year-old war with Iraq.

Res. Gen. Aharon Yariv, director of the Yaffee Institute for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, believes Israel’s interests would be served if the war continues, or at least ends in a stalemate because there can be no Eastern front against Israel as long as the war continues.

But Res. Maj. Gen. Yehoshua Saguy, a member of Yaffee Institute staff, said President Reagan was right to supply arms to Iran, even though he failed in trying to explain it to the American people. Yariv and Saguy participated in a seminar on the Gulf war last week.

According to Saguy, Israel has an interest in an Iranian victory in the Persian Gulf war because there is at least a chance it would then remain in the Western orbit. Yariv, however, said a victory for the regime of the Ayatollah Rohollah Khomeini would be “a disaster” for Israel.

Yariv said a good case could be made for Israel to supply enough arms to Iran to prevent an Iraqi victory, but not enough to ensure a victory for Iran. He admitted he did not know what had happened with respect to arms for Iran.

STATEMENTS BY REAGAN AND SHAMIR

Reagan got into deep trouble with his supporters and adversaries alike last week when he conceded that the White House had been secretly sending arms to Iran in hope of gaining ground with “moderate” elements who might succeed Khomeini.

He also admitted, after denying it in a nationally televised press conference last Wednesday night, that a “third country” had been involved in the clandestine operation. Reagan did not name the country but White House aides had said earlier in the week that it was Israel.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir refused to confirm or deny this. He said last Thursday that it “has never been, and is still not, Israel’s policy to disclose anything about arms sales to other countries.” He also said he had no sympathy for either side in the Gulf war.

Reagan insisted the supply of arms to Iran was not a quid pro quo for the release of American hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon, but admitted that White House emissaries had mentioned the hostages to their Iranian contacts.

Yaariv noted, “Whether the President did or did not say something, the point is hostages were freed. And from our point of view, if the U.S. approaches us for help and if — and I don’t say it happened this way — someone, an Israeli or a Jew, has an idea how to get them freed, all this I can understand. I can also see the other element … casting your bread upon the waters.”

He explained that even if Iran does not win the Gulf war, and whether or not it continues to have differences with its neighbors, “we have an interest, in the long term, in relations with Iran.”

Yariv said he understood “that we sell arms to Iran when she is in a difficult situation, and since we have no interest in an Iraqi victory. What I do not understand — and I hope this did not happen — would be the sale of arms to Iran in quantity and kind which could result in victory for the Khomeini regime, because this could be a disaster for us. We are not talking about monetary gain but about helping a great friend and preparing the ground for relations (with Iran) without giving Khomeini victory.”

He said Israel had lessons to learn from the Gulf war, particularly Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, which have not been used since World War I, except by the late Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser in his military adventure in Yemen in the 1960’s.

The peril, Yariv pointed out, is that other Arab countries also have chemical weapons and this must serve as a warning to Israel. (See related story.)

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