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U.S. Won’t Make Clear How It Plans to Respond to Attack Against Israel

A senior State Department official refused to confirm Wednesday that U.S. military forces would come to Israel’s defense if the Jewish state were attacked by Iraq.

Reginald Bartholomew, undersecretary of state for international security affairs, would only repeat a statement Secretary of State James Baker made Tuesday at a news conference in New York.

“There certainly would be an appropriate response by the United States” if Israel were attacked, Baker was quoted by Bartholomew as saying.

When asked at a congressional hearing Wednesday what an appropriate U.S. response might be, he declined to elaborate.

His remarks came as he and Paul Wolfowitz, undersecretary of defense, testified before joint hearings of two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees.

The meeting dealt mainly with the Bush administration’s proposed $7.5 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. But also discussed was a $21 million sale of tanks to Bahrain and the administration’s decision to provide Israel with two Patriot ground-to-air missile batteries taken from U.S. stockpiles.

The Saudi package includes six Patriot batteries; 200 Bradley fighting vehicles with 1,570 compatible TOW anti-tank missiles; another 150 TOW “stand alone” missiles; 150 M1- A2 Abrams tanks; 12 Apache attack helicopters and 155 accompanying Hellfire anti-tank missiles; nine multiple-launch rocket systems with 2,880 rockets; and various other armored personnel carriers, trucks and cargo carriers.

MORE WEAPONS THAN NEEDED?

Wolfowitz said the arms are needed to meet threat of an Iraqi attack and to build a Saudi force “that would be capable of doing so much damage in a defensive role that any aggressor would think very seriously about invading Saudi Arabia.”

But members of the committee said the massive arms sales to the Saudis both in the past and now do threaten Israel’s qualitative edge.

Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.) pointed out that Israel is being provided two Patriot batteries while the Saudis are getting six.

Wolfowitz said that the batteries are being provided to Israel not to balance Saudi capabilities but to counter the threat of an Iraqi ballistic missile attack.

Bartholomew rejected a proposal by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) that the arms be leased to the Saudis instead of sold.

Lantos expressed fear that if the Saudi government collapsed, highly sophisticated U.S.-made weaponry could fall into the hands of anti-American forces. He said this had happened in Iran and in Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion.

Throughout the hearing, some of Israel’s most ardent supporters in the House said they wanted to support the U.S. effort in the Persian Gulf but feared that more weapons were being sold to the Saudis than needed for the current crisis.

Levine said that for the long term, U.S. policy in the Middle East should focus on regional arms control rather than fueling the arms race.

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