Israel's Cabinet will meet today in emergency session to discuss the U.S. Senate's affirmation of the sale of radar surveillance aircraft to Saudi Arabia and draft an official response, a government spokesman said early this morning.
The Foreign Ministry, which had prepared an official reaction in advance of the 52-48 Senate vote against canceling the arms sale package, withheld the statement. Ministry officials said they had been told to make no comment until after the Cabinet meeting.
"There can be no reaction, official or otherwise, until after the government meets," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
In Washington, Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron issued a statement noting "deep concern" over the Senate vote "because it is bound to accelerate the arms race in the area at a time when Israel in particular is anxious to devote its resources to development and progress."
A measure of the level of Israeli concern, however, came as the Senate debated the AWACS issue. Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon labeled the sale as only part of a larger problem of U.S. supply of sophisticated weaponry to Arab states bent on Israel's destruction.
In a toughly worded speech to European, Latin American and South African Jewish leaders of the United Israel Appeal, Sharon accused the United States of supplying arms to Iraq in its war with Iran.
"The United States is supplying weapons to Iraq. I couldn't imagine that the United States would supply weapons to Iraq. So, they do it under cover. They don't supply it directly," Sharon said.
"They supply it through the Saudis and through the Jordanians. But they have been supplying artillery, ammunition and shells to the Saudis for months and months now. And the fact that they are supplying these dangerous weapons to the Arab world -- sophisticated weapons -- puts us in a very difficult situation," Sharon declared.
He added, "We understand the United States must supply weapons to the Arabs. We understand that. The question is, why it should be the most sophisticated weapons."
Sharon said that the AWACS planes will be able not only to detect all Israeli aircraft and helicopters in the air, but also on the runways of Israeli bases even before they become airborne.
Turning to the peace treaty with Egypt, Sharon said he hopes that the Camp David accords last forever, but that he believes "on a realistic plane" that if they last 10 years, it will be an achievement. If the peace accords last 20 years, Sharon said, it will be a "tremendous achievement." If they last 40 years, he added, it will be a "dream."
Sharon outlined four "red lines," or circumstances, he said, Israel will not be able to tolerate from a national security point of view. They are:
Israel will not permit any Arab country to produce or possess atomic weapons. That, Sharon said, was the principle of the Israeli attack last June on Iraq's nuclear reactor near Baghdad.
Israel can never accept a movement of Egyptian troops into the demilitarized zone of the Sinai Peninsula.
If Iraqi troops move to Jordan, or to Syria, "Israel will not be able to accept it, and we will find ourselves in war immediately," Sharon said.
If Syrian peacekeeping forces in Lebanon move to the southern part of the country, "we will not be able to accept it, and we will find ourselves in war immediately."
Israeli opposition to the AWACS sale, while focusing largely on the surveillance aspects of the U.S. aircraft, actually has been directed as much against the strike command capabilities that the Saudis will gain.
Senior Israeli military officials, including Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan, have argued that the Saudis will be able to coordinate multiforce ground and air attacks against Israel in the event of another Middle East war.
Coupled with the extended-range F16 equipment that is part of the arms package, including fuel pods and midair refueling aircraft, the Saudis will be in a much better position to launch attacks deep inside Israel, Eitan has said.
Anxiety within the Israeli military establishment over the prospects of Senate approval of the AWACS sale has been heightened by reports that Syria will soon receive from the Soviet Union radar surveillance aircraft capable of impairing the ability of the Israeli Air Force to launch surprise attacks over Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.