Idea of Curb on Arms Sales to Mideast Gets Mixed Review in Pro-israel Circles

The idea of a moratorium on U.S. arms sales to the Middle East has picked up support in recent days from pro-Israel lawmakers and lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

But some Israeli officials are expressing concern that a unilateral U.S. ban could adversely hurt Israel, since the Jewish state relies much more on America for arms than do the Arab nations, which also purchase materiel from suppliers in Europe and Asia.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pre-eminent lobby for Israel in Washington, endorsed the concept of a curb on U.S. arms sales to the region last week.

During an April 9 question-and-answer session with the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, AIPAC’s executive director, Thomas Dine, said he supported a letter sent to President Bush earlier this month by five key Democrats in the House of Representatives that calls on the administration to halt any new sales unilaterally.

“We write to urge you to declare a unilateral pause in arms sale to countries in the Middle East and Persian Gulf,” the letter began.

The letter’s authors, who include Majority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Rep. Dante Fascell of Florida, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, also called on the administration to work to obtain agreements with other countries to halt their sales to the region.

The letter cited as a source of instability the “proliferation of arms, including chemical, biological, nuclear, and conventional weapons and missile technologies.”

But it did not explicitly call on the administration to withdraw recent packages working their way through Congress to sell billions of dollars in arms to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

BUSH APPEARS TO OPPOSE IDEA

Also signing the letter were Reps. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East; David Obey, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations; and Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut.

Gejdenson said such an embargo would be a “vital step” to “secure peace in the Middle East and stability in the region.”

But Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) said during an April 11 House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing that he opposes a unilateral embargo. While a multilateral embargo is a “great idea,” if the United States goes ahead with unilateral curbs, “we will find ourselves rather lonely,” Hyde said.

The administration has also been skeptical of the idea. When Bush was asked March 1 about ending arms sales to the region, the president replied, “I don’t think there will be any arms embargo, because we are not going to let any friend come into a role where its security is threatened.”

Those Israeli officials and lobbyists in Washington who oppose an arms moratorium fear it will work to the detriment of Israel’s security.

They argue that the Jewish state has used arms sales to bolster its security over the past 43 years despite the fact that the Arab world has expanded its arsenal at a much greater rate.

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