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Arens Plans Visit to Washington to Discuss Israeli Defense Needs

Defense Minister Moshe Arens will meet with leaders of the U.S. defense establishment next week to raise concerns that Israel’s qualitative military edge over the Arab states is eroding.

Arens, who departs Saturday night for Washington, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that while Israel’s strategic status in the world has improved, the gap between Israel and the Arab countries, as far as sophisticated weapons are concerned, has narrowed.

“The Arabs purchase everything,” while Israel is hobbled by budgetary constraints, the defense minister said.

Although Israel has developed some sophisticated hardware, such as the Arrow anti-missile missile, financial pressures limit the Jewish state’s ability to arm itself with weapons designed and manufactured at home, he said.

Arens said he planned to discuss that problem with Pentagon officials in Washington.

The issue has already been raised by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, in a statement adopted Monday during its executive committee meeting in New York.

The statement commends the Bush administration for its response to Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait. But it expresses concern about the implications of the administration’s decision to “invoke emergency authority in order to sell Saudi Arabia over $2 billion of sophisticated military equipment.”

NJCRAC is “concerned about the impact this and other possible future arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states will have on the balance of power in the region,” the statement says.

U.S.-SYRIAN RAPPROCHEMENT

The umbrella group, which represents 13 national Jewish organizations and 117 local community councils, urged the administration “to develop controls and commitments associated with these arms transfers that will minimize the threats they may pose to important U.S. interests, such as the security of Israel and the stability of the region as a whole.”

Arens, meanwhile, told reporters Tuesday he is not concerned by the rapprochement between the United States and Syria, including the visit of Secretary of State James Baker to Damascus this week, the first by a U.S secretary of state since 1988.

“I believe this is part of the coalition built by the United States against Saddam Hussein, which includes an important Arab element,” he said.

The Israeli defense chief sounded a note of caution with regard to the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Although the intifada has subsided, it cannot be said that quiet prevails in the territories, Arens observed. “I suggest that we do not kid ourselves: The Palestinian problem will remain,” he said.

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