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Chances of War in Middle East Increasing, Arens Warns Leaders

July 24, 1990
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Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens compared Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler and told Jewish leaders here Sunday evening that his growing alliance with Jordan increased the prospects of war in the Middle East.

Arens met with a group of 15 or so Jewish leaders for an hour Sunday, primarily to brief them on his talks in Washington last Friday with U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, said Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The three-hour Pentagon meeting, which Arens described as “warm, friendly and productive,” resulted in the announcement that the United States will support the second phase of Israel’s development of the Arrow missile.

The Israeli defense minister told the Jewish leaders that he believed the U.S.-Israeli strategic relationship was solid and that Israel would continue to remain crucial to U.S. defense, particularly in view of U.S. arms and troop reductions taking place in Europe.

But Arens expressed concern over the continuing sale of weapons from the United States and Europe to hostile Arab states.

He told the Jewish leaders he was troubled that “the French and the British seem to be competing for military sales to the Arab nations,” Reich reported.

As for U.S. arms deals with the Arabs, Arens said that such sales should be linked to whether or not the Arab country in question is willing to recognize Israel and pursue the peace process.

He also said that while Israel could be hurt by across-the-board cuts in the U.S. budget, he did not believe Israel would be “singled out” for aid reduction, Reich said.


Arens generally avoided discussing details of the U.S.-Israel diplomatic relationship or the peace process, perhaps in deference to the upcoming visit of Foreign Minister David Levy to Washington. Levy is expected to meet with Secretary of State James Baker on Aug. 9 or 10.

Arens did say, however, that in his capacity as defense minister, he has “opened lines of communications to the Palestinians” in the administered territories, Reich recounted.

When asked about recent reports of Israeli arms deals with the Ethiopian government of Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, Arens reiterated previous denials of Israeli involvement in Ethiopia’s civil conflict.

Arens was “absolutely categorical” in his denial of cluster bomb sales or use of Israeli military experts by Mengistu’s regime, said Howard Squadron, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents who participated in the meeting with Arens.

Squadron, a former president of the American Jewish Congress, said that the feeling among the Jewish leaders attending the session was that while there is deep concern over the fate of Ethiopian Jews, the strong. U.S. opposition to Israeli cooperation with Mengistu’s government is “understandable,” given the Ethiopian leader’s “bloodthirsty” reputation.

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