On eve of Bush-Shamir talks, Israel signals agreement with U.S. on gulf

December 11, 1990|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- On the eve of President Bush's first talks with Israel's prime minister since the Persian Gulf crisis began, Israel is working to defuse any impression that it is out of sync with the United States on either tactics or goals.

Israel signaled yesterday that it would trust the United States to see that it is protected from Iraqi weaponry if the Persian Gulf crisis is settled peacefully but that it would balk at any deal reached at Israel's expense.

Officials' statements agreed with the U.S. pledge not to attack Iraq if it withdraws totally from Kuwait and restores the ruling al-Sabah family.

"Israel [will] not take aggressive action on its own initiative," Defense Minister Moshe Arens told the Reuters news agency in an interview.

Asked about a first strike, Mr. Arens said: "I don't see that as a real possibility." He said the situation now was different from that in 1981, when Israeli bombers destroyed Iraq's Osirak atomic reactor. "The military capability [now] is spread throughout Iraq."

In statements over the past week, the United States has sketched for Iraq a post-crisis landscape in which its dispute with Kuwait could be negotiated and its weapons arsenal curbed peacefully -- provided it withdrew totally from Kuwait.

Israeli concern about its continued vulnerability to Iraq had raised doubts on whether Israel would live with this scenario.

Mr. Arens' comments helped put those doubts to rest, smoothing the way for what both sides hoped would be a productive U.S.-Israeli effort to remove mutual suspicion and clear up misunderstandings on a number of fronts.

Israeli sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said last week that since Iraq poses a long-term threat not just to Israel but to Syria, the gulf states, Iran and Turkey, it is a "world problem" to be handled by "world leadership," with the United States playing the chief role.

In a New York speech yesterday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said, "We support, wholeheartedly, the determined position of President Bush on the gulf crisis. . . . Together with the entire free world, Israel looks to the U.S. to provide the leadership and resolve that will rid the Middle East of such dangers in the future."

But, he noted, "We will not be surprised if soon a number of states, not only Arab governments, will move to appease Saddam Hussein at the expense of Israel.

"Let me, therefore, state at the very outset: Israel in 1990 is not Czechoslovakia of 1938. We shall not acquiesce to any deal with enemies who wish to destroy us."

The United States was poised last night to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution if it emerged from consultations in a form that endorsed an international conference to settle the Palestinian dispute.

"This is certainly not the appropriate time for a resolution which calls for an international conference," said a State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher.

But U.S. officials were working to remove language that would draw a veto, which could inflame Arab masses and put new stress on the anti-Iraq coalition.

The fact that it was prepared to veto the measure sent a reassuring signal to Israel following U.S. participation in a condemnation of Israeli force in the Temple Mount massacre in Jerusalem, which left at least 18 Palestinians dead.

"My sense is, his effort here on this trip will be to re-establish communication" and an improved understanding of common problems, said Martin Indyk, of the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But the two must discuss how they would cooperate in the event of a war with Iraq, he said. Although Israel has adopted a low profile in the crisis, "they have to discuss how Israel would respond" if attacked. Israeli officials have complained recently of a lack of strategic cooperation.

Both the United States and Israel agreed that with the outcome of the gulf crisis so uncertain, there is no point now in attempting to jump-start the Mideast peace process, which was stalled even before Iraq invaded Kuwait.

"The gulf has a bearing on everything," an Israeli source said.

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