Soviets Reportedly Sold Libya Bombers That Can Strike Israel

The State Department is refusing to confirm or deny a newspaper report that the Soviet Union has sold high-performance bombers and airborne refueling planes to Libya, enabling its air force for the first time to strike targets in Israel.

But Deputy State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday that any such sale to Libya “would be a dangerous thing.” He added, “We would be concerned about a sale of this kind.”

The New York Times quoted unidentified Bush administration officials Wednesday as saying that the Soviet Union had sold Libya as many as 15 supersonic Sukhoi-24D bombers, six of which had already been delivered.

The bombers would be based at Bumbah, an airfield near the northeastern Libyan port of Tobruk, where the two Libyan fighters shot down by the U.S. Navy in January were also based.

Boucher described the Sukhoi-24D as a sophisticated weapon.

According to the Times, the bombers can travel 1,610 miles without refueling, more than covering the 1,300-mile round trip from eastern Libya to Israel.

The bombers’ maximum traveling distance could be increased by as much as 50 percent with midair refueling. The Times said the Soviets have agreed to refit a Libyan transport plane, the Soviet Ilyushin-76, so it can be used as an aerial refueler. The Ilyushin-76 can refuel three SU-24s at a time, the paper said.

Secretary of State James Baker will have an opportunity to raise the issue with the Soviets when he meets next month in Moscow with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

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