U.S. Providing Patriot Missiles to Israel Because of Iraqi Threat

President Bush is giving Israel two batteries of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to meet the “increased threat” from Iraq, the White House announced Monday.

The Patriot units are being provided under a law allowing “emergency military assistance from U.S. military stocks,” according to a White House statement issued in New York, where Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly.

“The Patriot system will help Israel to upgrade its air defenses, including an increased threat from ballistic missiles in the Iraqi inventory,” the White House said.

The missile systems, valued at $200 million, are being provided at no cost to Israel, according to sources within the administration and on Capitol Hill.

Bush notified Congress of his decision Saturday, two days after officially announcing a $6.7 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

The president’s latest move is being seen here as a quiet show of support for Israel, in the face of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s threat last week to attack the Jewish state if his country is squeezed economically by U.N. sanctions.

Last Friday, a senior State Department official warned that the United States would respond “immediately and forcefully” against Iraq if it attacked Israel. Both U.S. and Israeli officials agreed the warning was aimed more at deterring Iraq than assuring Israel.

There was no indication from the White House on Monday whether Israel would also receive 15 F-16 fighter planes and 10 cargo helicopters, items agreed upon in principle during a Pentagon meeting last month between Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens.

Congressional hearings on the $6.7 billion Saudi sale are scheduled this week. The package includes Patriot missile systems, armored personnel carriers, Bradley fighting vehicles with 1,570 TOW anti-tank missiles, Abrams tanks, Apache attack helicopters with Hellfire anti-tank missiles, and nine multiple-launch rocket systems.

The package was split from a larger $21 billion arms sale following congressional opposition. But the administration said it will propose the rest of the package, including more F-15s, in January.

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