The atmosphere was grim Wednesday as a leading congressional supporter of Israel warned more than 100 Jewish leaders here that the belligerence of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein represents “one of the greatest threats in the history of the Jewish people.”
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait poses both a short-term threat and a long-term danger to the Jewish state.
As an immediate concern, Israel faces the threat of military attack from Iraq, Inouye said. He told reporters that “if this thing erupts and if I know Saddam Hussein, shells will be falling on Tel Aviv.”
But Inouye said it should also be worrisome to supporters of Israel that the United States has found itself “cozying up” to Arab states opposing Iraq, while “distancing” itself from Israel.
The potential long-term effects of this alignment would “not be easy” for either Israel or its supporters in the United States, said Inouye, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
“This will be a trying time for those who call themselves Jews, because it is a difficult time for Israel,” he said.
Yet Inouye indicated there was little the pro-Israel community could or should do about the current U.S.-Saudi Arabian alliance.
When asked whether Israel and its supporters should oppose the transfer of advanced weapons from the United States to the Saudi Arabian government, the senator replied, “I don’t see how they can.”
ANTI-MISSILE SYSTEM SALE POSSIBLE
He was echoed by Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, who said that helping Saudi Arabia fight Hussein “would be difficult to oppose,” though the United States “would have to consider making up the disparity” between Saudi and Israeli might.
Inouye told the Jewish leaders that he would talk to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney about solidifying America’s long-term commitment to maintain Israeli strategic superiority in the region.
The Hawaiian senator focused specifically on the idea of selling or leasing Patriot anti-missile systems to Israel, in order to help it fend off the threat of missile attacks from Iraq.
“I have been working feverishly to get the Patriot for Israel,” Inouye said.
Until now, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens has not advocated purchasing the Patriot, both because the system is extremely expensive and because Israel and the United States are in the process developing their own anti-missile device, the Arrow.
But some members of the Israeli defense establishment have publicly expressed their hope that Arens will ask the United States to arrange purchase of the Patriot.
In Washington, Dov Zakheim, former deputy undersecretary of defense, said that “the ball is in Israel’s court” as far as acquiring the Patriot is concerned.
He said that there had been “a positive response” from both the Pentagon and Raytheon, which manufactures the Patriot, about seeking “innovative ways of getting the costs worked out.”
Inouye said in his speech that sophisticated defense systems aside, Israel’s safety is now a point of serious concern.
“For the first time in 31 years, I see Israeli officials scared,” the senator said. “I have never seen them so concerned, so frightened.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.