Menu JTA Search

Bush’s Pick for Pentagon Post Favors Stronger Ties to Israel

Former Sen. John Tower (R-Texas) is expected to work to increase the strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States while supporting continued arms sales to Arab countries, if the Senate confirms him as the new secretary of defense.

Tower, who was named to head the Pentagon by President-elect George Bush on Friday, had a record of support for Israel and Soviet Jewry during his 24 years in the Senate.

Even before Bush’s election in November, Tower had been expected to be named to the post he has long sought. But the announcement, expected weeks ago, had been held up by rumors about Tower’s personal life, his closeness to defense contractors and the push by some Bush advisers for someone with more management experience at a time of fiscal austerity.

Bush said Friday that Tower had received a “clean bill of health” and will be stronger in his new job because of the intensive investigation he had undergone.

Tower, who was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee during President Reagan’s first term, when the Republicans controlled the Senate, has visited Israel eight times and made five trips to other Middle East countries.

He was a strong supporter of the development of strategic cooperation during the Reagan administration, in the belief that Israel is the major ally in preventing Soviet influence in the Middle East.

Tower was considered influential in the adoption of the strong plank in support of Israel at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans last August, according to pro-Israel activists.

SUPPORTED AWACS SALE

He supports foreign aid in general and aid to Israel in particular. He also was a strong supporter of the 1978 Camp David accords, which led to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

Tower was one of 76 senators who wrote President Gerald Ford a letter in 1974 objecting to his “reassessment,” which held up arms sales to Israel. He was also critical of the Carter administration in 1980 for the U.S. vote in favor of a U.N. Security Council condemning Israel’s settlement policy. President Jimmy Carter later apologized for the U.S. vote.

But Tower has not supported congressional moves urging the United States to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on the grounds that this is a decision to be made by the president, not Congress.

Tower was quoted in 1981 as supporting a “balanced policy” in the Middle East. He has supported all U.S. arms sales to Arab countries.

In a Senate speech supporting the sale of AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia, Tower stressed that the United States “has no better friend in the Middle East than Israel.” He stressed that the sale to the Saudis did not jeopardize Israel’s security and he would never vote for anything that did.

Tower was first elected to the Senate in 1961, in a special election after Lyndon Johnson gave up his seat to become vice president. He was the first Republican senator elected in Texas since the Reconstruction era.

Although he had planned to return to private life after retiring from the Senate at the end of 1984, just two weeks later President Reagan named him as the United States negotiator on long-range missiles at the nuclear arms talks in Geneva. He served in this capacity for 14 months.

HEADED IRAN-CONTRA INQUTRY

Reagan called upon him again after it was revealed that the United States had secretly sold arms to Iran and used profits from the sale to help the Contras in their rebellion against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Tower headed the three-member panel that investigated the role of the National Security Council in the affair. Another member of the committee was Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who Bush has named as his national security adviser.

The Tower Commission’s report, issued in February 1987, did not blame Israel for the U.S. involvement in the Iran/Contra affair. “U.S. decision-makers made their own decisions and must bear responsibility for the consequences,” the report said.

Tower was born in Houston on Sept. 29, 1925. During World War II, he enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17 and served aboard an amphibious gunboat in the Pacific. He was later a senior chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Southwestern University and a master’s in the same subject from Southern Methodist University, both in Texas.

NEXT STORY