Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that the United States was informed in detail and in advance about his country's undercover supply of military equipment to Iran during the Persian Gulf war with Iraq.
Sharon said that despite the neutral U.S. stance, no objection was made by ranking American officials. A senior State Department official, informed of Sharon's comments, said Washington had sought unsuccessfully to discourage the Israeli shipments, estimated to be worth about $27 million.
The controversial and outspoken Sharon also said in an interview that plans have been drawn up to settle 70,000 more Jews in the occupied West Bank in the next three or four years. He said about 30,000 settlers are in place now, a higher figure than is generally used. The new plans, which he endorses, would bring the total of settlers to about 100,000.
The settlements in the disputed land are "the most important contribution" to Israeli security, Sharon declared, and also may be "the strongest guarantee" against future establishment of a Palestinian state in that area.
In any case, he went on to say, "Israel will never withdraw from Samaria, Judea [the biblical names for the West Bank area] and the Gaza district, and Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights." Sharon made clear that he rejects any withdrawal from any part of those areas.
Sharon insisted that plans for greatly expanded settlements, as well as refusal to withdraw, should not interfere with the success of Israeli-Egyptian negotiations on autonomy for Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian residents of the area, he added, will be willing to join the negotiations once they are assured of protection against the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The plans for the West Bank, as described by Sharon, contradict the Reagan administration's view that further settlement is unhelpful to the peace process and a warning by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. in a Chicago address Wednesday night.
Haig said that "unilateral actions by any party that attempt to prejudge or bias the final outcome of the [Palestinian autonomy] process serve only to raise suspicions and aggravate relationships."
Haig added, without mentioning names, that "a heavy responsibility" will be borne by those who darken the hopes for peace and friendly Arab-Israeli relations "without regard for either Israel's long-term interests or legitimate Palestinian aspirations."
Sharon, who is reported to have been arguing in his government for extensive cross-border operations into Lebanon, stopped short of forecasting such an invasion yesterday but had nothing good to say about the U.S.-arranged cease-fire in the area.
All efforts to solve security problems in the area through peaceful means have failed, he said.
Special U.S. Ambassador Philip C. Habib, who arranged the cease-fire in Lebanon last July, is "a nice fellow" and "very clever" and will be welcomed in his next trip to Israel, according to Sharon. But the minister said that terrorism has continued unabated since last July and that "nothing really happened" during Habib's earlier visits.
The Persian Gulf war between Iran and Iraq most stirred Sharon's penchant for international strategy during the nearly two-hour interview.
Iraq is implacably hostile to Israel, in Sharon's view, and "strategically, Iran is more important."
"We discussed this months ago with our American colleagues . . . . We said that notwithstanding the tyranny of [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini, which we all hate, we have to leave a small window open to this country, a tiny small bridge to this country, because one day the war will be over and somebody will come back to Tehran and have an influence in Tehran . . . .
"It might be the influence of those Iranian Army officers and commanders who are fighting a war of life and death now."
Sharon called the Israeli military sales to Iran, undertaken through a third country, "a symbolic supply" known to U.S. officials. "We gave them the lists, they knew exactly" what was moving from Israel, he said, and he confirmed reports that the shipments included tires and spare parts for U.S.-made F4 Phantom jets and "maybe some munitions."
Frank discussions of the Israeli supply plans, he said, took place during his visit here last November and during the visit of a senior U.S. official to Israel. But Israel was not asked to withhold the supply, Sharon said.
A senior State Department official, saying numerous discussions of the matter had taken place with Israel over many months, said U.S. officials refused requests to permit shipment to Iran of any military items over which the United States retained some measure of control.
The official, who asked not to be quoted by name, added, "We also expressed the strong hope that Israel would not ship any other items since we believed that all nations should follow the U.S. policy of not shipping arms to either side."
Israel, while saying that it was not sending U.S.-controlled military gear, informed the United States that it intended to sell several items outside of U.S. control, the official said. Israel reported recently that the amount of these sales has "not exceeded approximately $27 million," the State Department official said.
In other developments concerning weaponry for the area, the State Department announced sale to Israel Wednesday of 75 more F16 warplanes. And 47 U.S. senators asked the administration not to sell additional weapons to Jordan.