Several American-supplied F5 fighter planes have been sabotaged during the uprisings in Iran, apparently by Iranian military personnel, Carter administration officials said yesterday.
This first reported act of sabotage from within the military is being portrayed as an isolated incident by administration officials rather than a port from his officers and troops is unraveling.
Sources said that between seven and 20 F5s at an Iranian air base they did not identify had their internal wiring slashed by saboteurs last week. Since the base was heavily protected against outside demonstrators, the sabotage must have been done by Iranian military personnel inside, these sources said.
Despite the sabotage of the F5s, administration officials said yesterday that they have no intention of trying to remove sophisticated of trying to remove sophisticated American weaponry from Iran.
They said each F14 fighter plane, probably the most sophisticated weapon the shah has bought from the United States, is guarded night and day by an Iranian trooper.
Also, administration officials said, the Pentagon's concern is focused not on whether American-supplied weaponry will be destroyed but whether the Soviets obtain secret technology. There is no evidence that the latter is happening, officials said.
Besides worrying about the Soviets obtaining advanced weaponry, administration "worst case" scenarios also address the possibility of some of the extensive and sophisticated U.S. intelligence gathering equipment in Iran being compromised.
So far, officials have confirmed only that some dependents of U.S. intelligence specialists have left Iran. It is standard procedure to draft plans for removing sensitive U.S. intelligence eavesdropping gear, as was the case during the end of the Vietnam war.
The Pentagon is participating in the general Carter administration review of how the U.S. government could improve its intelligence-gathering effort in Iran, especially in regard to the shah's opponents.
One official said current administration efforts to help bring peace to Iran are handicapped by U.S. officials' not knowing the influential opposition leaders.
The shah in the past not only suppressed opponents of his regimebut also protested to the State Department whenever he learned that Central Intelligence Agency officers were talking with them. This, according to intelligence officers who worked in Iran, made the United States overly dependent on SAVAK, the shah's own intelligence organization.
One administration official said that what is happening in Iran today "is a real revolution" where it is always "hard to find leaders" because the ebb and flow of events is not controlled by any one group of dissidents.
In a change from past U.S. policy, government officials today are making a concerted effort to establish a dialogue with those who appear to be leading the fight against the shah. The idea is to find a formula for restoring order in Iran.
As part of this effort, U.S. officials have drawn up a list of Iranian generals who would be acceptable to the known opposition and the shah if they were named to a Regency Council being discussed as a partial substitute to one man rule in Iran.
While these diplomatic efforts are progressing behind the scenes President Carter is taking the position publicly that he expects the shah to survive his present troubles rather than be deposed.
Pentagon officials said yesterday that they have not stopped deliveries of additional U.S. weaponry to the shah, partly because there are few big items in the pipeline.
They also said that the shah has not cancelled his plan to buy the sophisticated AWACS (airborne warning and control system) aircraft from the United States. He might decide to cancel AWACS if the current crisis continues, they added.