SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 15)
Supporters of Israel will actively fight a proposed $15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia unless it is significantly scaled down, a top pro-Israel lobbyist warned here this week.
“It’s time to put the brakes on the runaway arms race in the Middle East,” Thomas Dine told delegates to the 59th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations here Wednesday night.
Israel, he said, cannot run forever on the “arms treadmill.”
Dine, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, expressed hope that the Bush administration would not follow through on plans to send the proposed arms package to Congress early next year.
“It is in the power of the president” to avoid a clash with the pro-Israel community on this issue, said Dine. “We hope the sale will not even be sent to Capitol Hill.”
But if it is, he added, Israel’s friends in Washington “will have no other choice but to oppose” the sale.
“We expect major opposition in Congress” if the arms sale is presented in its current form, said Dine.
“A further acceleration of the arms race does not help American interests in the Middle East,” he explained.
The proposed sale is the second phase of what originally was a $21 billion arms sale proposed by the Bush administration in September.
After Congress raised strong objections, the administration sent a much leaner $6.7 billion package to Capitol Hill on Sept. 27, and said it would propose the balance early next year. The scaled-down package sailed through Congress with little opposition.
Of particular concern to AIPAC is the likely inclusion in the new package of 24 advanced F-15 fighter planes, including the F-15F, which has offensive capabilities.
Dine pointed out that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, next in line to the throne, has said publicly that “Saudi arms will be turned against Israel” someday.
The Bush administration favors such a sale as a way of bolstering Saudi Arabia against the threat of an Iraqi attack.
But Dine pointed out that most of the weapons contained in the package “won’t be delivered for years, well after the current crisis in the Persian Gulf.”
The AIPAC leader, who is widely admired for his effectiveness on Capitol Hill, had uncharacteristically strong criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the Gulf crisis and Middle East policy in general.
While Dine gave President Bush high marks for swiftly mobilizing world opinion against Iraq after its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, he said the administration “seems to have lost its compass” on Middle East policy and U.S.-Israel relations in particular.
The Bush White House has “made the error of attempting to curry favor with the Arab countries” while “distancing itself from Israel,” he said.
And when Washington moves away from Israel, he said, “the potential for Arab attacks increases.”
Dine described 1990 as a “year of new tensions in the U.S.-Israeli relationship.” But he also said it had been a year of tremendous accomplishments.
He recalled that the year had started out with Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) calling for a 5 percent reduction in U.S. aid to Israel and other top foreign aid recipients. But the congressional term had ended with Israel receiving all $3 billion of its requested foreign assistance package for the 1991 fiscal year.
Furthermore, he said, the outcome of this month’s elections have been a net gain for the pro-Israel community.
FOUR TARGETED ARE RE-ELECTED
Twenty-seven friends of Israel in the Senate were re-elected, he said, and three new members of the Senate — in Colorado, New Hampshire and Idaho — are expected to be more supportive of Israel than their immediate predecessors.
Arab-American groups had targeted four pro-Israel senators for defeat, Dine said, and all of them were re-elected.
In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, AIPAC figures a net gain of 19 pro-Israel members of Congress. There are two new Jewish representatives, Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders and Richard Zimmer, a New Jersey Republican.
But Dine conceded that the defeat of Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) had been a major blow to the pro-Israel community. “Rudy is an irreplaceable asset,” he said.
He pointed out, however, that Boschwitz’s successor, progressive Democrat Paul Wellstone, is also Jewish and “has stated he is a supporter of foreign aid to Israel.”
“We look forward to working with him,” Dine said.
The AIPAC leader shared the platform at the CJF forum with Mark Talisman, director of the council’s Washington Action Office.
Talisman also spoke about the new Congress, which he said would contain “few changes, in terms of members, but (contains) many members who have been changed” by the budget crisis that immediately preceded this month’s elections.
WIDESPREAD VOTER DISGUST
He was referring to the widespread disgust voters felt for a Congress that seemed incapable of trimming the massive federal budget deficit.
Talisman observed that Bush had already renewed his pledge for “no new taxes,” meaning the budget-cutting environment would undoubtedly grow tougher.
That is likely to have a negative impact on a range of domestic issues of concern to American Jews, he said.
“Make no mistake — Uncle Sugar is finished. There is no open till,” he said. “Everyone’s in deficit now.”
Talisman talked passionately about the historic emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union — and the high cost of resettling them in Israel and the United States.
He noted that despite the intense budget pressures, the American Jewish community had succeeded in getting full federal funding to bring another 40,000 Soviet Jews to the United States during the new fiscal year.