The White House has asked for a study of the accuracy and military uses of the controversial concussion bombs that Israel is seeking to buy from the United States, it was learned yesterday.
President Carter said at his press conference last Tuesday that he would decide within a week whether or not to permit the sale, which was approved by President Ford.
The effect of the study apparently will be to delay a final decision. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, who set out on a tour of the Middle East last night, will presumably be able to tell Israeli and Arab leaders that the sale is under study, rather than anger one side with a decision during his trip.
The new study was ordered after the White House learned of questions about the utility of the bomb called CBU-72.
The U.S. Air Force has not purchased CBU-72s because it "hasn't identified a need for them," a spokesman said yesterday.
The Mariners have the concussion bombs in their inventory, however, and would use them to clear minefields and to blast out landing zones for helicopters.
Israeli officials have said they want the weapon for three purposes: to clear minefields, to attack SAM missile sites that are partly underground and to attack airplanes protected on the ground by the concrete revetments.
The CBU-72 falls to earth under a small parachute and therefore is liable to being windblown away from its target.
However, it has a strong concussion over a rough circle of 50-foot diameter and lesser shock waves cover a wider area.
The United States has not sold CBU-72s to any foreign country. Israel promised in a letter to the Pentagon last Dec. 16 that it would use all varieties of CBUs only against military fortified targets and only if Israel were attacked by more than one country.
State Department officials recommended to Vance, however, that the Ford administration approval be reversed. Because the CBU-72 has a devastating effect over such a large target area, a ban on sales to any country was urged in a briefing paper for Vance.
Vance said he would make his recommendation to Carter before leaving for the Middle East.
He told Israeli reporters in an interview yesterday that the United States has three criteria for weapons sales to the Middle east:
"First, does the country requesting arms have a clear requirement for those arms for its national security?
"Second, what would the transfer of those arms do to the critical balance which exists in the Middle East?
"And third, if the sales were made, would they facilitate the movement to peace?"
It was not clear whether the purpose of the new study was to find the CBU-72 inaccurate and therefore present the weapon to Israel in an unfavorable light, thereby removing some of the sting from a disapproval of the sale.