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Israel Eyeing Developments in Jordan, but Believes King is Still in Control

There are no signs yet that King Hussein of Jordan is losing control of his kingdom, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Monday.

But Israel is watching developments across its eastern border “very closely,” and not all of them are seen here as favorable.

That was the gist of what Shamir reportedly told Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) on Monday during a private discussion of the U.S.-Iraqi confrontation in the Persian Gulf.

Authoritative sources said the prime minister stressed Israel’s interest in the stability of the Jordanian government.

Lautenberg came to Israel with the annual Prime Minister’s Mission of the United Jewish Appeal.

The American lawmaker reportedly told Shamir there has been a favorable change in U.S. public attitudes toward Israel as a result of the crisis with Iraq. Americans have a greater understanding of Israel’s problems and its value as an American ally in the region, the senator said.

There was no elaboration from any quarter of Shamir’s reported assertion that not all developments in Jordan are favorable from Israel’s viewpoint.

The prime minister spoke only hours before the Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, held a news conference in Amman, Jordan, in which he made ominous statements.

Aziz was quoted as saying Iraq is “ready to talk” to the United States, but if necessary “will fight, and the fight will be bloody to us and to them.”

The use of the Jordanian capital as a platform by the Iraqis is troubling to Israel. It signals a willingness by King Hussein, probably born of fear, to be used by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who is no relation.

Israel has made clear that should Iraqi troops enter Jordan, Israel would regard it as an act of war and respond accordingly.

WAITING ON WORD FROM EGYPT

Meanwhile, Israel is waiting for word from Amman with respect to thousands of Egyptian refugees from Iraq and Kuwait who are trying to get home by crossing through Jordan.

Egypt, which lacks sufficient shipping to ferry the refugees from Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba to Sinai, asked that they be allowed to cross through Israeli territory near Eilat. Foreign Minister David Levy agreed Monday to facilitate the overland route.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported Tuesday that large numbers of Egyptian refugees flooding into Aqaba staged a violent demonstration against the bureaucratic bungling that has kept them for days sweltering in the desert heat.

Israeli observers said there were several crossing points a few miles north of Eilat from which the refugees could be bused to the Egyptian border at Taba, a ride of less than 40 minutes.

In Israel, meanwhile, the controversy continued over when to start distributing gas masks and anti-chemical-warfare kits to the public.

Israelis take seriously the Iraqi threats of chemical attack. At the same time, they want to avoid panic by hastening to issue gas masks sooner than originally planned.

The Ministerial Defense Committee will discuss the issue at its weekly meeting Wednesday.

The leaders of the opposition Labor Party, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, have sided with Defense Minister Moshe Arens, who is in no rush to distribute the masks and kits. Rabin, a former defense minister, was briefed Monday on the Gulf crisis by Arens and Gen. Dan Shomron, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff.

Peres did not have the benefit of a briefing, but favored Arens’ position over that of Foreign Minister David Levy, who thinks gas masks should be issued immediately.

Peres faulted some government ministers for “talking too much” and fostering panic.

Both Laborites support the national consensus that Israel should keep a low profile in the Persian Gulf crisis while doing what it can to prevent the United States from being humiliated by Saddam Hussein.

That concern was heightened Tuesday, when an American and eight British civilians in Kuwait were rounded up by Iraqi troops at gunpoint.

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