Prime Minister Menachem Begin said today that a sale by the United States of F16 fighters and Hawk mobile missiles to Jordan would violate a "categorical" promise made by President Reagan in September to maintain Israel's "quantitative and qualitative" military superiority in the Middle East.
As Israel's parliament overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the proposed arms sales and expressed its concern over U.S.-Israeli relations, Begin charged that Jordan in the last year had joined with Iraq in a "single united anti-Israel front" and is equipping itself for joint attacks on Israel.
Begin said there is "no greater, no graver danger" to Israel. He added that if Israel is attacked, it will "mount a counterattack and, with God's help, we shall again vanquish our enemies and shall ensure the future of our people and their liberty and dignity."
In a speech laced with references to previous U.S. commitments to Israel's security and assurances that he intends to hold the Reagan administration accountable to those commitments, Begin strongly implied that the United States would be responsible for Israeli civilian casualties if sophisticated American weapons were allowed to alter the balance of power in the Middle East.
The Israeli leader's anxiety appeared to be outpacing events since no formal arms-sale proposal to Jordan has been made, although Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said on his recent trip to Jordan that he had discussed the possible sale of Hawk missiles and F16 planes with King Hussein but made no final commitments. Begin made it clear, however, that Israel intends to launch a lobbying and public-relations drive against such a proposal.
"We must not postpone, even for a single day, the registering of our opinion in the face of this grave threat to the security of our people," he said.
The parliament vote was 88-3, with the left-wing Mapam faction of the opposition Labor Party alignment abstaining.
Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor Party, joined with Begin in condemning the sale of arms to Jordan, calling it a "real danger to the security of Israel" and compared it to the sale of Airborne Warning and Control System planes to Saudi Arabia.
Peres, talking with reporters during the debate, said, "Like with the supply of AWACS to Saudi Arabia, without calling the Saudis to join in any peace momentum in support of Camp David and in any acceptance of U.N. Resolution 242 as an opening position for peace negotiations, we consider this as a grave mistake, which is basically counterproductive to the American motives, namely bringing peace to the Middle East."
Rhetorically addressing himself to President Reagan, Begin said, "In September last year you told me, Mr. President, on your own initiative, that you will fulfill the commitments of the United States with regard to the security of Israel, namely the preservation of the qualitative edge of its defensive strength vis-a-vis its enemies."
Begin was referring to a meeting he held with Reagan in the White House.
Begin said that in the meeting he noted that "there is a certain quantity which creates a new quality" in military strength. Begin said Reagan agreed with him at the meeting, adding that "the defensive edge promised to Israel by the United States will be both quantitative and qualitative."
Begin's sharpest edge, however, was reserved for Weinberger, who, Begin said, had made "strange and astonishing statements" during his recent trip to the Middle East.
During that trip, "senior officials" aboard the defense secretary's aircraft were quoted as saying the U.S. administration is "getting tough with Israel" as a result of a policy shift in Washington, and apparently inaccurate press reports said that the United States plans to "redirect" its policy objectives away from Israel and toward moderate Arab states.
Of Weinberger, who tried to reach military cooperation agreements during his tour, Begin said, with evident sarcasm, "He did not have much to say about the success of his mission in Saudi Arabia, or about his achievements in Oman, or about the readiness of King Hussein to forego his arms deal with the Soviet Union. But all his pronouncements, or nearly all, were devoted to us."
Begin warned repeatedly of the Jordan-Iraqi axis, saying, "In simple and plain language, militarily speaking, there is today a joint command, a joint staff and joint planning between Baghdad and Amman. And if they are now directed against Moslem Iran, they shall, when the day comes, be directed all the more so against the Jewish state."
Coupling Syria and Saudi Arabia with the axis, Begin said Israel faces on its eastern front 9,000 tanks, 1,400 first-line aircraft and 6,000 heavy artillery pieces.
"Given such a situation, will the president of the United States allow or agree to supply the forward front-line state, Jordan, with F16 aircraft, which will be able in a matter of a few minutes to reach our population centers?" Begin asked.
He said ground-to-air missiles, while by nature defensive weapons, become offensive weapons when acquired by a country "which is in a state of war with another and is preparing to attack it . . . " Begin offered no specific evidence to support his contention that Jordan is preparing to attack Israel.
However, other Israeli officials said that if the U.S.-supplied Hawk missiles were stationary, they would be considered defensive weapons. Once they are made mobile, they could be moved close to the Jordan River to cover Jordanian tanks crossing into the occupied West Bank.
When the United States sold Hawk missiles to Jordan in 1975, Israel insisted on a congressional rider stipulating that the missiles would be stationary.