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Israel Concerned over Scale of British Arms Supplies to Arabs

November 2, 1977
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Premier Menachem Begin is expected to complain to Prime Minister James Callaghan about the scale of British arms supplies to the Arabs and the danger this poses of a new war in the Middle East, when he visits Britain later this month. Israel’s anxiety has been heightened by confirmation here that Britain is on the verge of becoming Egypt’s most important arms supplier in the West with the general agreement of the United States.

Although Washington reports of a single multimillion Pounds Sterling British arms package with Cairo have been denied, it is no secret that a chain of separate negotiations between British companies and the Egyptians have recently made considerable progress.

One of the most significant is a deal whereby Rolls Royce will help to recondition Egypt’s 200 Soviet-built MIG-21 aircraft. Egypt is also likely to purchase from Britain 200 Hawk jet trainers, most of which will be assembled in Egypt.

A few months ago, it appeared that Egypt had decided to purchase the Franco-German Alpha-jet aircraft but now the betting is on the British winning the contract. Under another contract, expected to be signed in the next few weeks, Westland Helicopters will build a production line in Egypt to manufacture up to 250 Lynx helicopters.

Another production line in Egypt, on which agreement has not yet been reached, will be for the British Aircraft Corporation’s Swingfire antitank missile. The corporation has already sold Egypt 20 million Pounds Sterling worth of Swingfires.

The deals, according to analysts, have the blessing of the United States which is anxious to help President Anwar Sadat to consolidate his pro-Western and anti-Soviet policies. Because of her strong commitment to Israel, backed by Israel’s American supporters, the U.S. is inhibited from acting herself as Egypt’s principal armorer and for this reason has given the green light to Britain, France and Italy, analysts observe.

In the past, Britain has claimed that her arms supply policy has been governed by a wish not to upset the Middle East military balance or to obstruct peace negotiations. However, the Israelis feel that the scale of the impending arms deals could dangerously tilt the military balance in the Arabs’ favor, and therefore harm the prospects for a reconvened Geneva conference.

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