Israelis React Calmly to Soviet Threats Regarding Israel’s Reported Testing of New Ballistic Missile

Israeli officials reacted calmly to Soviet threats regarding Israel’s reported testing of intermediate-range ballistic missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads.

A report in the Geneva-based International Defense Review, which claimed Israel had successfully tested the Jericho 2 missile in a 500-mile range, prompted the Soviet threats. Radio Moscow, in a Hebrew-language broadcast last week, said development of the Jericho 2 amounted to a provocation against the Soviet Union.

“Israel has thus turned itself into part of the nuclear confrontation between the powers,” the broadcast said. The Soviets also warned that Israel would not enjoy a monopoly on deploying nuclear weapons in the area and would eventually pay the price for the development. The missiles could potentially reach Soviet targets in the Black Sea.

PUZZLED OVER DUAL SOVIET POLICY

Israeli leaders puzzled over the apparent duality of Soviet policy towards Israel, noting that the threats came at a time when Soviet-Israeli relations seemed to be thawing out. A gradual increase in Soviet Jewish emigration, the release of Jewish political prisoners and the visit of a Soviet consular delegation to Israel this month all pointed to a warming of relations.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres stated last week in the Knesset that Israel agreed to the Soviet delegation’s visit only after Moscow made certain concessions, such as the relaxation of emigration restrictions.

Peres, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin have all stressed that Israel has no interest in threatening Soviet targets and has only “defensive” interests, in Peres’ words.

Friday night, Moscow toned down its threats with a Moscow radio Hebrew broadcast calling on Israel to support the Gorbachev initiative for the climination of medium-range missiles in Asia. The broadcast encouraged Israel to join the initiative because Israel then would be able to live without fear of the Soviets stationing missiles in Arab countries.

The Sunday Israeli papers also reported the arrival of the first batch of advanced Soviet-made MIG-29 fighters landing in Syria next to stories about a visit by a Soviet church delegation to Jerusalem and a scheduled 1989 visit of the Red Army Choir and the Bolshoi Theater. (See related story.)

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