Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Israel Denies Threat to Missiles, but U.S. Complains Anyway

March 24, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The reported threat by a top aide to Premier Yitzhak Shamir of a possible Israeli pre-emptive strike to destroy Chinese-made intermediate range missiles sold to Saudi Arabia is seen as ruffling Israel’s relations with the United States.

Yosef Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, denied he had made such a threat, and Premier Yitzhak Shamir lost no time in affirming that denial when he returned to Israel from the United States Tuesday.

The Israeli media reported Wednesday that the United States has complained about Ben-Aharon’s reported remark, pointing out that it hampered Washington’s efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman confirmed Wednesday, “We expressed our concern about those kinds of statements (to the Israeli government). We don’t believe that they are helpful.”

The sale of the 2,000-mile-range missiles to the Saudis was publicly disclosed in the United States last week. Israeli reporters insist that Ben-Aharon said in a taped interview with Voice of Israel Radio in Washington last Friday that “Israel has acquired a reputation of not waiting until a potential danger becomes actual.”

This was a clear reference to Israel’s 1981 air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear facility in which, according to the Israelis, an atomic bomb was being manufactured.

Israeli military analysts have pointed out that while the Saudi purchase is surely intended for defense and deterrence again Iran, it could have serious repercussions on the Arab-Israeli balance of power, especially after the Iran-Iraq war ends.

The analysts noted also that the Chinese-made missiles, the CSS-2, also known as Dong Feng-3, are designed to carry nuclear warheads. The Chinese government insists it has not equipped the missiles it sold to Saudi Arabia with nuclear capability and that it believes the Saudis will keep their promise to use the missiles only in defense.

The United States raised no objections to the missile sale.

Experts at Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies have noted that the CSS-2 could create havoc if armed with nuclear warheads.


But with conventional warheads they pose little danger. According to the experts, the CSS-2s are obsolete and often miss their targets by as much as two miles. Israeli jet bombers can deliver far greater payloads with pinpoint accuracy.

Nevertheless, the CSS-2s are the first intermediate-range missiles to be introduced in the Middle East, Haaretz military correspondent Zeev Schiff wrote Monday, and can be viewed as a step toward building up an intermediate-range arsenal.

Clearly they give the Saudis the potential to make war on Israel and hit population centers. But Schiff thought the Israelis should pay more attention to Iraq’s emerging long-range missile capability, an outgrowth of its eight-year war with Iran. The Iraqi missiles can be equipped with chemical weapons.

Recommended from JTA