Late Bavarian Prime Minister Was Proponent of Arms to Arabs

Franz-Josef Strauss, the prime minister of Bavaria, who died of a heart attack Saturday at age 73, was a strong advocate of close military cooperation between West Germany and Israel.

But he was also, in recent years, a powerful proponent of the sale of sophisticated West German weaponry to Arab states officially at war with Israel, notably Saudi Arabia.

Strauss headed the ultraconservative Christian Social Union, a party indigenous to Bavaria but influential in national politics.

As defense minister during the late 1950s. Strauss was responsible for developing a military relationship between Israel and the Federal Republic.

Under his leadership, Bonn became an important arms supplier of the Jewish state, despite Israelis’ fresh memories of the Holocaust.

Strauss also became a close partner and personal friend of Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, when he was a rising star in Israel’s defense establishment, eventually becoming minister of defense.

But by the 1960s, West Germany, under intense Arab pressure was obliged to abandon its arms shipments to Israel.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Strauss became acutely critical of Israel’s retention of the Arab territories it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. He remained fully committed, however, to secure borders for the Jewish state.

Nevertheless, Strauss openly challenged Bonn’s policy of limiting arms sales to Arab countries. He personally pledged massive shipments of tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East states.

Strauss served as an artillery officer in the German army in France and on the Russian front in World War II, until he was invalided out of service. He was cleared of Nazi affiliations by the Allies after the war.

In later years, he successfully brought libel suits against West German magazines that accused him of having been a Nazi.

NEXT STORY