BONN (Mar. 13)
Israel is making a last-minute effort to dissuade the Bonn government from signing an arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The Israeli Ambassador here, Itzchak Ben Ari, warned today that such a deal would only increase tensions in the Middle East.
He also said Jerusalem was very much concerned over plans by several major West German arms manufacturers to open factories in Egypt.
But the Israelis are disturbed most by the probability that Bonn will sell advanced weaponry to the Saudis. It has been campaigning against this for months and has enlisted the support of American Jews to put direct pressure on West Germany and to get the American Administration to do the same.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was in Washington last week, said no final decision has been made on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But he indicated that the deal would be made. He insisted that the arms would be of a defensive nature and pose no threat to Israel. He specifically ruled out the sale of Leopard II tanks to the Saudis, considered by experts to be the best and most advanced tank in the world.
Israel’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Yaacov Meridor, said in an interview in Die Welt last week that he believed that Bonn, in the end, would not sell arms to Saudi Arabia. His remarks coincided with statements by government officials here that the government is not irritated by Israeli and Jewish objections to the sales.
Ben Ari said Israel was worried by the plans of such companies as Krauss Maffei and Thyssen Henschel to build tank assembly plans and other weapons factories in Egypt. Krauss Maffei produces the Leopard II. But company officials say Egypt is not interested in that tank but in a lighter version yet to be developed.
Ben Ari denied press reports here that Israel may be interested in buying arms from West Germany. The reports indicated that Bonn offered arms to Israel if the Israelis toned down their campaign against arms sales to Arab countries.