President Reagan, in a strong demonstration of U.S. anger at Israel's effective annexation of the Golan Heights, yesterday suspended the recently concluded U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation agreement and postponed action on aid measures intended to build up the Jewish state's defense industries.
The aim, senior U.S. officials said privately, is to put pressure on Israel to ameliorate in some way the unyielding stance it has maintained since Monday, when the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, voted to extend Israeli law to the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since its capture from Syria in 1967.
Although the officials conceded that they do not expect Israel to rescind its action, they added that the administration wants some kind of conciliatory Israeli gesture in response to the U.N. Security Council, which Thursday unanimously declared the annexation "null and void." The United States voted for the U.N. resolution.
The administration, the officials continued, wants Israel to do something to defuse the tension before Jan. 5, when the Security Council is scheduled to consider "appropriate measures" if Israel refuses to comply with the resolution.
Should Israel continue its defiance at that time, the United States, which is expected to oppose efforts to impose sanctions against the Jewish state, would find its credibility in the Arab world and its ability to be an impartial mediator in the Mideast conflict under severe strain.
The strategic cooperation accord was proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin during his visit here in September and was given an official character by a memorandum of understanding signed Nov. 30.
It was aimed at combating military threats to the Middle East by the Soviet Union and its surrogates in the region. Because of U.S. concern about the Arab reaction, its initial goals involved only modest cooperative ventures such as joint naval and air manuevers in the eastern Mediterranean and the pre-positioning of U.S. medical supplies within Israel.
The agreement, however, is of great importance to the Begin government, which regards it as a highly symbolic sign of a special relationship with the United States and which also hopes that it can be broadened gradually to include more far-reaching joint military ventures.
For that reason, the U.S. officials said, Reagan's action was intended to underscore to Begin the depth of the president's anger and his insistence that the Israelis make some mollifying gesture.
That anger came through clearly in the announcement read yesterday by State Department spokesman Dean Fischer:
"The Israeli action was taken with no advance notice to us or discussion with us. We are particularly disappointed that the government of Israel took this action just as we were facing a serious political crisis in Poland and only a few weeks after we signed a memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation.
"The spirit of that agreement," Fischer continued, "obliged each party to take into consideration in its decisions the implications for the broad policy concerns of the other. We do not believe that spirit was upheld in the case of Israel's decision on the Golan."
He reiterated the U.S. position that the final status of the Golan Heights can only be determined through negotiations between Syria and Israel based upon Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.
These resolutions, which are the basis for Mideast peace efforts, including the Camp David accords, call for withdrawal from occupied Arab territories in exchange for the right of states in the region to live within secure boundaries and negotiations to achieve that end.
Because of Israel's action, Fischer said, the president had instructed Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. "not to proceed at this time with discussions" to implement the strategic cooperation agreement. That, he added, means cancellation of the coordinating council meeting set up in the memorandum of understanding and scheduled for next month.
In addition, Fischer said, Reagan has postponed further discussions on three military aid measures requested by Israel. These would authorize the Defense Department to make purchases of up to $200 million a year from Israel, permit Israel to spend part of its military financing credits from the United States on purchases from its domestic defense industries rather than U.S. firms, and allow other countries receiving U.S. military aid to use part of it to buy equipment and services from Israel.
In private, senior U.S. officials conceded that they do not think it possible for Begin to reverse the Golan decision outright because it would cause serious political upheaval in Israel.
But they insisted that Israel will have to be what one called "more forthcoming in making at least some cosmetic gesture of contrition or good faith," such as affirming clearly that it is willing to negotiate with Syria on a mutually acceptable disposition of the Golan Heights.
At the same time, the officials emphasized that there is no "line being drawn in the sand" about what Washington expects Israel to do. They said the United States was not demanding that Israel rescind the Golan decision and added that the administration, when it decides on its next steps, will take into account the total Middle East picture, including progress in the Egyptian-Israeli talks on autonomy for the Palestinian inhabitants of occupied Arab territories and the easing of tensions in Lebanon.
The officials said Jerusalem already has moved to ease U.S. concern that the buildup of forces in northern Israel might be a prelude to new clashes with Syria in Lebanon or the Golan region.