The State Department is trying to determine whether Israel violated U.S. law by selling planes with American jet engines to Honduras.
Israel sold six 20-year-old Super Mystere fighter-bombers to Honduras and is negotiating the sale of six more, Jim Anderson of United Press International reported. The Israelis fitted the Mysteres with Pratt and Whitney engines salvaged from other planes.
The United States did not give its permission for the sale, officials said. By law, U.S. parts and technology cannot be transferred to a third country without Washington's permission.
"We have a policy of asking the approval of the United States on every sale of arms that involves either U.S. parts or technology," an Israeli source said yesterday.
Israel is investigating whether the allegation is true, the source said. Ambassador Simcha Dinitz is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger today and the question is likely to be raised.
If the planes are found to have had American engines and the sale thereby violated the law, it appeared last night that Israel would take quick measures to undo the violation.
The Honduran sale is the only allegation of a violation of U.S. law, but some members of Congress and some administration officials are worried about Israeli arms sales that run counter to U.S. policy and about the broader question of coproduction of weapons systems that involves other nations as well as Israel.
Coproduction enables purchasing nations to acquire U.S. weapons technology as well as the individual weapons.
When a nation is granted coproduction, it often therefore receives the ability to copy what it is making and to sell its copies or modifications to third countries.
Congress has no oversight control over coproduction agreements and no vehicle for reviewing them.
Iran and NATO nations have pushed for coproduction agreements on recent weapons system.
A major decision in this area that will confront the Carter administration is whether to grant Israel's request for coproduction of the F-16 built by General Dynamics.
Aviation Week & Space Technology said last month that American industry and State and Defense Department officials were becoming increasingly concerned over Israeli imports of technology that might be "exported in competition with U.S. products."
"It's like a lion jealous of a mosquito," an Israeli source said yesterday. "Where do we compete with the United States?" Israeli sources say last year's Israeli arms exports were about $320 million in 1976. An aerospace trade publication estimate put the figure at $500 million.
Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations of the House International Relations Committee has writen to the State and Defense departments asking for answers about Israeli arms sales.
"We're in a holding pattern waiting for a reply," a staffer said.
Congress must be notified by the executive whenever a foreign military transfer takes place that violates U.S. law. No notification has been sent to Congress.
Whether the sale of Mysteres violated the law or not, it appears to run counter to the long-standing U.S. policy of not letting Latin American nations buy sophisticated weapons. When Honduras and El Salvador went to war in 1969, neither of the tiny Central American nations had a jet plane in its arsenal.
Israel has also recently sold small arms and missiles to Chile and patrol boats armed with missiles to South Africa, two countries to which the United States refuses to sell weapons.
South Africa is getting six Reshef patrol boats which cost about $25 million each. Chile has bought the air-to-air Shafir missile, Aviation Week reported.
Israel is also eager to sell the Kfir jet fighter abroad. The plane uses a General Electric engine and cannot be sold without U.S. approval. An official said that the United States does not want the technology of the Kfir's engine made available to other nations.
Another published reporte said Israel had sold military equipment to Greece and Turkey. The Israeli Defense Ministry denied the report.
Israel sells arms to help offset the cost of its massive arms purchases - most of them from the United States. Israel was promised $1 billion in arms credits this fiscal year, one half of which does not have to be repaid.
Although the amount of weaponry the United States provides Israel is huge, it is topped by the cash arms purchases Iran has been alarmed by the sale of U.S. weapons, including such sophisticated items as Sidewinder missiles to one of Israel's Arab enemies, Saudi Arabia, and the sale of small amounts of military equipment to its frontline enemy, Egypt.
Israel is also known to believe that the present levels of U.S. military and economic aid it is receiving are too low. Dinitz will raise this with Kissinger today.