U.S. is said to consider new weaponry for Israel Clinton says that a secure Israel is necessary if peace is to be achieved

September 15, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is considering the transfer of sophisticated new weaponry to Israel as concrete evidence of its pledge to strengthen Israel's security following its agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization, according to officials.

Mr. Clinton publicly has sought to reassure the Israeli people that the United States remains unalterably committed to protecting Israel, even as Washington sponsors the creation of an independent Palestinian entity on Israel's borders.

The president privately told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Monday after the signing of the Israel-PLO peace accord that the United States was prepared to share some advanced military technology that until now has been withheld from Israel, a White House official said yesterday.

In an interview with Israel Television broadcast Monday night, Mr. Clinton signaled his willingness to improve the quality of military equipment made available to Israel.

"We may wind up doing more in terms of shared technology," Mr. Clinton said. "We want to do some more joint strategic thinking just to recognize the fact that military technology itself has changed the dimensions of what Israel has to do to protect its security."

Mr. Clinton said he promised Mr. Rabin that he would use "the influence and the power" of the United States to make sure that Israel felt "more secure, not less secure," because of the agreement.

One senior administration official said discussions already were under way on a new sale of fighter jets to Israel.

"I don't think the Israelis have indicated which aircraft it is they want to buy, and as far as I'm aware there's no delay or no problem involved there," he said.

Another official, referring to possible sale of new military technology to Israel, said "a lot of things are on the table" as part of the U.S. pledge to guarantee Israel's continued military superiority.

Beyond that, officials would not discuss any specific military projects. The United States and Israel have worked jointly on a variety of military projects, including fighter aircraft, missile defense, surveillance systems and electronic warfare equipment. The United States has helped Israel's military maintain a qualitative edge over its Arab neighbors, but it has not always shared its latest generation weapons systems.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United States placed Patriot missile batteries in Israel to help defend against "Scud" missiles launched by Baghdad. The defensive missiles were largely ineffective, however, and Israel is building its own anti-missile system, the Arrow, with U.S. financial and technical support.

The United States provides $3.1 billion a year in security-related assistance to Israel and Mr. Clinton has assured Jerusalem the amount would not be reduced any time soon. Israel has asked for additional funds to help defray the costs of redeploying its troops from the Gaza Strip and Jericho and setting up new security arrangements on the periphery of occupied territories.

The administration has not yet decided whether it will honor the request, officials said.

Mr. Clinton repeatedly stressed the U.S. commitment to Israeli security not only in the Israeli television interview, which was seen in Israel as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and the occupied territories, but also in a separate interview on Arabic TV.

"I have no intention of doing anything on my own which would in any way raise the question in the mind of any citizen of Israel that the United States is weakening its support for the security of Israel," Mr. Clinton said in the Israeli interview. "The only way we can make this work is if every day more and more and more Israelis believe that they will be more secure if there is a just peace."

Speaking on Arab television, Mr. Clinton said: "All the progress yet to be made depends upon the conviction of the people of Israel that they are secure and that making peace makes them more secure. So I don't think anyone in the Arab world should want me to do anything that makes the Israelis feel less secure."

The expressions of reassurance were intended not only as a signal to the Israeli public, whose faith in the deal with the PLO is crucial to its success, but also to the Arab world. Mr. Clinton's emphasis on U.S. commitment to Israel's defense is aimed at a queasy Israeli public as well as at American Jews.

Both groups need constant reassurance that the U.S. president is wholeheartedly behind the Jewish state, according to Abraham Foxman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League.

"The greater the risk Israel takes, the greater the reassurance it needs from its friend and ally that it will be supportive," Mr. Foxman said. "It's a need Israel has domestically and in its bilateral relations with the Arab world, so they don't think Israel is dealing out of weakness or being forced or pressured by the United States."

Although he was welcomed warmly on Capitol Hill, Mr. Arafat received no specific pledges of financial support beyond a promise from congressional leaders to review -- and perhaps repeal -- legislation barring economic relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"We have ordered a complete identification of anti-PLO laws," PTC said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, who was joined by about 20 senators in an hour-long meeting with Mr. Arafat yesterday. "We want to be helpful in the peace process and if we have to change some laws to be helpful, then we intend to do so."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Warren Christopher sent a cable to all U.S. embassies and consulates directing diplomats to seek financial assistance whenever possible for the fledgling Palestinian government.

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