JERUSALEM (Mar. 20)
The weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday was thrown into an uproar over a broadcast threat by one of Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s top aides that Israel might act to destroy Chinese missiles reportedly sold to Saudi Arabia.
Energy Minister Moshe Shahal, a Laborite, urged Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to reprimand Yosef Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, for leaking information to the media.
Shahal charged that was not the first time Ben-Aharon made unauthorized leaks that could jeopardize Israel’s security. Peres, who is vice premier, presided at the Cabinet meeting in Shamir’s absence.
Ben-Aharon, who is accompanying Shamir on his visit to the United States, told the Voice of Israel Radio correspondent in Washington that the issue of the missiles in Saudi hands was discussed at length by Shamir in his talks with Reagan administration officials.
He said Israel was likely to remove the missiles on its own. “Israel has acquired a reputation of not waiting until a potential danger becomes actual,” Ben-Aharon said.
The Washington Post reported Friday that China was selling medium-range missiles to Saudi Arabia with nuclear warhead capability that could reach any point in the Middle East.
The State Department confirmed the report Friday, but said both China and Saudi Arabia have assured the United States that nuclear warheads would not be used with the missiles.
The Saudi government “assured us categorically at the very highest level that they don’t have, nor do they intend to acquire, any nuclear capability,” department spokesman Charles Redman told reporters at a news conference.
He added that the Chinese government has “stated categorically that they will not export nuclear weapons to any government.”
(Washington correspondent Howard Rosenberg contributed to this report.)