Israel reacted swiftly and vehemently yesterday to the U.S. Senate's decision to support President Carter's Middle East arms package linking the sale of military aircraft to Israel with sales to Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin said he "deeply regretted" the Senate's decision, which he said represents a turn for the worse from the point of view of Israel's security.
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman said, "We fought against the supply of the planes [to Arab countries] and I hope we shall not have to flight against the planes themselves."
Radio Israel carried a report from its Washington correspondent saying that White House aides Jody Powell and Hamilton Jordan had gloated privately over having "broken the back" of the Israeli lobby. Both had denied making such a statement, Radio Israel said, but it said that unidentified sources had described the presidential aides' remarks as anti-Semitic.
[In Washington, Powell said yesterdaythere was "no bitterness or bad feeling" resulting from the arms sale controversy, although he acknowledged emotions had risen sharply.]
[Alluding to "reports of a vendetta or involving anti-Semitism," Powell said, "That is not the view of the majority of the people who opposed the administration. it still concerns us as members of the administration and as individuals."]
[On Monday night, President Carter Vice President Mondale, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and other top aides made dozens of telephone calls, thanking administration supporters and trying to mend fences with opponents on the arms safe]
Begin told reporters that he objected to the arms package because the United State had made an unconditional commitment to sell Israel sophisticated war planes in September, 1975, as part of the Sinai disengagement agreement with Egypt. He said there was "no justification whatsoever to connect it with any supply to countries that are in a state of war with Israel."
Opposition leader Shimon Peres said that previously there had been a "tacit" understanding between Saudi Arabia and Israel whereby neither threatened the other. He said the supply of "long-range bombers" to the Saudis was an "unnecessary and unwelcome change." Peres also said he feared that relations with the United States had been damaged because, previously, there had always been an understanding that Israel was entitled to maintain a superiority in equipment to make up for its inferiority in numbers.
Military sources in Tel Aviv said that Saudi Arabia would now have to be considered a "confrontation state" in any future war plans.
Weizman alluded to that likelihood when he said in a television interview last night: "I suggest that, as from today, we leave the subject of the air craft package deal alone . . . and proceed to the question of how we shall handle the plane if, heaven forbid, it should come to a confrontation.
"It will be possible to stand up to 60 F15s also. There is nothing impossible. One must think, plan and prepare" Weizman said.
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, Moshe Arens, said the Senate's decision had "brought about a very serious change in the arms balance in the air." He said Egypt could be expected to ask for more and better planes in the future, and that in the meantime modern American electronic and weapons systems would for the first time available to Egypt.
As might be expected, bickering has already broken-out here over who is to blame for the failure of Israel's efforts to block the arms package. The opposition is blaming the government for not having done more, and Arens blames the previous government for not having embarked sooner on an Israeli fighter-bomber for the 1980's which would have made Israel less dependent on the United States.
Behind all the rhetoric is the grim recognition that for almost the first time the pro-Israel forces in the United States were unable to block a measure in Congress which Israel considered detrimental to its security. As Peres pointed out, it was the Congress, and especially the Senate, that could almost always be counted upon to block administration moves to which Israel was opposed. This, to many Israelis, is a much more serious development than the actual of airplanes to the Arab countries.