JERUSALEM (Feb. 10)
Defense Minister Moshe Arens’ brief and quickly arranged visit to Washington on Monday may be intended for him to review scenarios with U.S. defense policy-makers in the event of an allied ground attack on Iraqi forces.
Such an attack could trigger escalated Iraqi retaliation against Israel in various forms. The United States and Israel would want to work out ahead of time their respective reactions to various of several possibilities.
But this assessment of what the nature of the talks would be was little more than speculation, since Israeli officials kept a tight information blackout on the trip Sunday as the defense minister and his aides made ready to depart for the United States.
Arens is to see Defense Secretary Dick Cheney shortly after his return from Saudi Arabia, where he and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have just consulted with field commanders about the timing of a ground operation.
Some observers suggested Israel’s own sworn retaliation against Iraq could come around the time of the allied land action, and that this, too, could be under discussion in the Washington talks.
Observers here discounted suggestions that Arens would be discussing the prospect of longer-term military aid for Israel. Given the pressures on top U.S. policy-makers at this crucial juncture in the war, they said, it was unlikely that the U.S.-Israeli dialogue would dwell on non-operative matters at this time.
Observers also noted reports of ongoing efforts by both countries to introduce improvements into the Patriot anti- missile rockets, in order to afford better protection against Iraqi Scuds hitting civilian areas.
Foreign Minister David Levy is due in New York and Washington later in the week. Predictions here are that he will focus on the longer term picture in his talks with Secretary of State James Baker and other officials.
During the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Science Minister Yuval Ne’eman of the Tehiya party warned against any concessions by Levy to the Americans, and this reportedly provoked sharp exchanges across the table.