Supporters of Israel are concerned over possible U.S. arms aid to Jordan in the form of mobile Hawk surface-to-air missiles and F16 fighters. Adnan Abu Odeh, Jordan's minister of information, derides Israel's apprehensions and charges that they are a diversion to mask her "provocative" policies ("Israel's 'Fear' of Jordan," op-ed, March 7). The issues in this debate reach far beyond the implications of any particular case of U.S. arms assistance to an Arab nation.
The debate began with speculation by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and his aides that mobile Hawk missiles and F16 fighters might be offered to Jordan as part of a policy of strengthening our "moderate" Arab friends and discouraging their flirations with the Soviet Union. On Feb. 15, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the Israeli Knesset registered their strong disapproval of these suggestions. President Reagan then assured the Israelis that their "qualitative edge" would always be maintained and that, in any event, Washington was not currently considering any new requests from Jordan for arms.
Nevertheless, the debate continues, and Jordan apparently does in fact want these arms. In this debate several points should be kept in mind by those committed to a lasting U.S.-Israeli security relationship.
First, assurances and guarantees easily become "scraps of paper." The U.S. assurance that Israel will retain a "qualitative edge" is judged continuously in the light of U.S. actions. The trends are disturbing for Israel, e.g., the 1978 Israel-Eygptian-Saudi jet "package" deal, the conditions of which have already been broken with the enhancement of the Saudi F15s; and the 1981 AWACS deal with Saudi Arabia. What may be only a gleam in the eyes of a Pentagon planner today may lead to another reduction in Israel's "edge" in the not-too-distant-future.
Second, mere "defensive" weapons systems may have offensive uses, depending on the strategic context. "Defensive" mobile Hawks provide anti-aircraft protection for ground forces that may attack under their cover, as in the Egyptian attacks in the Yom Kippur War. It is particularly ominous that the "defensive" Hawk missiles contemplated for Jordan would permit it to cover one-third of the total air-space over Israel. F16s, of course, are offensive as well as defensive weapons.
Third, a self-styled Arab "moderate" state may be a "confrontation" state, as Jordan is. Jordan would not be in its present predicament had it not foolishly attacked Israel in 1967. It is, moreover, questionable just how "moderate" Jordan's behavior would have been had it defeated Israel then.
Fourth, Arab moderate states that threaten to take their arms business to the Soviets should be viewed as less than moderate by Americans. In any event, one strives to recall what Jordan has done lately that would elicit our admiration and expanded military support. Jordan's most noteworthy policies have been subversion of the Camp David peace process and active support of a murderous Iraqi regime in its war of aggression against Iran.
Fifth, Jordan's charge that Israeli protests camouflage its hegemonic policies does not stand examination. Israel's actions, which Arabs term aggressive and expansionist, have consistently been taken in reaction to clear and present threats to its security, notably in 1956, 1967, 1973 and in the incursions into Lebanon.
Jordan accuses Begin of weakening Arab moderation and encouraging Arab radicalism. However, from Jerusalem's standpoint there is often little difference between moderate and radical Arab policies towards Israel. It is as appropriate for Begin to recall that the forces of Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia may confront Israel with 9,000 tanks, 1,400 first- line aircraft and 6,000 heavy artillery pieces as it is for Reagan to formulate U.S.-NATO security requirements in terms of dealing with the total order of battle of the Warsaw Pact forces. Sixth, Jordan's charge that the furor over the arms to Arabs issue is simply a cover-up for a long-predicted Israeli offensive in Lebanon is unpersuasive for a very good reason. Israel does not require any diversions to mask actions that, if taken, would be justified on their merits. The PLO buildup with Soviet heavy artillery, mobile missile launchers, SAMs, tanks and armored personnel carriers, dating back to early 1981, provides ample reason for Israel to contemplate defensive measures in Lebanon against terrorists with an increasing conventional war capability. Israeli restraint since the July 24, 1981, cease-fire, following the devastating attacks by the PLO with this Soviet weaponry on northern Israeli population centers, is proof that no new move will be made unless it is truly necessary for Israel's basic security.
Finally, the most crucial point in this matter is that the United States, by its ad hoc, incremental, ultimately mindless, dangling of military aid before the Arab "moderates," contributes to the perpetuation and acceleration of a technological spiral in Middle East arms races. The very continuation of this spiral, irrespective of U.S. intentions and, certainly, of U.S. assurances and guarantees to Israel, cuts steadily into Israel's "qualitative edge."
If the process continues, plucky little Arab "moderates" may become encouraged to join forces and try their luck again at defeating the "Zionist entity." It is not Israeli propaganda but the most obvious fact of the Arab- Israeli conflict that one defeat for Israel will remove the "problem" forever.