Israel wins U.S. pledge for defense Perry promises help in developing answer for Katyusha rockets

White House backs Peres

Israeli leader, Clinton tell pro-Israel group that peace will prevail

April 29, 1996|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The United States took new steps to calm the security fears of nervous Israelis yesterday as President Clinton declared that no one should be allowed to derail the Arab-Israeli peace through violence and terror.

Two days after a U.S.-brokered cease-fire went into effect on the Israeli-Lebanese border, the administration made a concerted effort to reassure Israel of U.S. support for its safety. In so doing, the White House also lent implicit political support to visiting Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in his fierce re-election battle.

Meeting with Mr. Peres at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary William J. Perry promised to send a team of experts to Israel next week to help develop a short-term defense against the Katyusha rockets that until Saturday morning had been fired into northern Israel by radical Muslim guerrillas based in southern Lebanon.

The team's visit is intended to find new ways to protect Israel until a longer-term system called the Nautilus -- which will use lasers to destroy incoming rockets -- is finished. A Nautilus prototype will be ready for tests in 1997, Mr. Perry said.

Mr. Perry also agreed to provide Israel with instant information from U.S. intelligence satellites of missile attacks.

"Warning will be given in a matter of seconds [of] any ballistic missile launch that in any way would threaten Israel," Mr. Perry said in a news conference with Mr. Peres at the Pentagon.

As expected, the two men also signed an agreement to continue development of the Arrow anti-missile defense system.

"Prime Minister Peres and I have agreed that we would work together jointly, and even more cooperatively than in the past, to accelerate and ensure the success of these programs," Mr. Perry said.

Mr. Perry said the joint effort by the United States and Israel to develop an anti-missile capability could help protect the Jewish state against attacks by Iran, which already has short-range ballistic missiles and is trying to develop long-range missiles.

Yesterday's agreements served to deepen the already close security relationship between the United States and Israel. Tomorrow, Mr. Clinton and the Israeli prime minister are expected to issue a joint declaration widening the two countries' strategic cooperation.

The accords clearly were intended to underscore the U.S. commitment to help Israel meet any new threat posed by opponents of Middle East peace, such as the Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and the radical Islamic Hamas movement among Palestinians.

In a speech last night to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, Mr. Clinton recited joint efforts the two countries had taken to weaken terrorists and other enemies of Arab-Israeli peace.

"We must not let it die," Mr. Clinton said of the Mideast peace process. "We must stand up to what they tried to do." He added, "Hezbollah and Hamas will not succeed where others have failed."

Going further than he has previously in boosting Mr. Peres politically, the president described Mr. Peres as a "true and reliable friend of our country and a true and reliable leader of his own."

The two men entered the AIPAC conference together, and Mr. Clinton joined in a standing ovation when Mr. Peres declared that Jerusalem "would remain united and the capital of Israel."

For his part, Mr. Peres said "we have recovered" from the threat to his election posed by terrorist violence, "and the plan that I have is to win the elections in clear terms."

"Our common resolve will bring us to our goal: Peace will prevail," Mr. Peres added.

Hailing the U.S.-Israeli agreement to expand the Arrow defense system, Mr. Clinton said the United States was committing $200 million to developing the program. The Nautilus laser program, he added, is "designed to destroy Katyushas in flight."

Friday's accord on the Lebanese border ended a brief but fierce crisis in which Israel tried to stop the Hezbollah attacks by bringing powerful pressure on the Lebanese government, forcing it to cope with heavy economic damage and a wave of refugees from southern Lebanon.

Israel's assault was curtailed when an Israeli rocket attack killed about 100 Lebanese civilians at a United Nations post in southern Lebanon.

The Clinton administration, which up until then had defended the Israeli actions, plunged into negotiations to secure a cease-fire, eventually prevailing on Syrian President Hafez el Assad to restrain Hezbollah.

Under the accord, Israel and Hezbollah are barred from attacking civilians in either northern Israel or Lebanon. Armed forces of the two sides may continue to fight in the occupied security zone in southern Lebanon controlled by Israel and its Lebanese allies.

The border cease-fire, and the high-profile negotiation that led up to it, put Mr. Assad in a powerful position by virtue of the military control he wields over Lebanon.

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