Bush to boost Israeli arsenal while urging arms restraint U.S. giving planes to Israel, will underwrite new missile system.

May 31, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

TEL AVIV, Israel -- One day after President Bush unveiled a proposal to restrain the Middle East arms race, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney announced yesterday that the United States will give Israel $65 million worth of U.S. fighter planes and underwrite most of a new Israeli missile program.

Cheney said the United States had agreed to pay 72 percent of the cost to continue development of Israel's Arrow missile, a system that, like the Patriot missile, is designed to shoot down short-range ballistic missiles. Iraq launched such missiles, its own versions of the Soviet "Scud" missile, against Israel and Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf war.

Cheney said the United States also would transfer 10 F-15 fighter jets to Israel under a congressionally mandated agreement to give Israel as much as $700 million worth of U.S. arms. A senior Israel official noted that the fighters are an early model of the F-15 -- not the ground-attack F-15Es that Israel is eager to get but cannot afford.

Coming a day after Bush's speech, Cheney's gesture is likely to raise concerns among Arab nations that Washington will not be even-handed in demanding restraint of Middle East countries. U.S. officials, however, said the long-planned move was intended in part to coax a reluctant Israel to consider the U.S. arms control program even though it has serious qualms about it.

After cautiously welcoming Bush's arms control announcement, Israeli officials switched positions and virtually dismissed the proposal as inadequate. They complained that the Bush approach fails to tackle a wide range of arms issues.

In addition, a Foreign Ministry official said, there is no guarantee that the United States could prevail on a host of emerging arms dealers to stop sales to the Middle East even if traditional suppliers in Europe and the Soviet Union comply with the U.S. plan.

"The Bush proposal covers neither all the supplies of weapons nor all the suppliers," the official said.

Israel has been pressing for controls on all weapons sales to Arab countries, notably to Syria and Saudi Arabia, two countries that have many tanks and high-tech jets, and missiles that can reach Israel.

The Israelis worry that their technological edge in arms is being quickly eroded by Arab off-the-shelf purchases.

For the past few years, weapons have begun to flow to the Middle East from China, North Korea, Argentina and Brazil. It is not clear how Bush would stem the flow, the Foreign Ministry official said.

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