Israel, which already receives more military assistance from the United States than does any other country, is likely to demand more as its massive debts to the United States come due, a report released yesterday by the General Accounting Office warned.
Disputing assessments by the State Department and the Agency for International Development, the GAO said Israel will have difficulty repaying the money it has borrowed in the past from the United States to buy arms. Israel's debt for arms purchases to the United States will total about $900 million in 1983.
Sources who saw a classified version of the GAO report that circulated earlier inside the government said it also charged that increased U.S. aid to Israel would be used to help pay bills for last year's invasion of Lebanon, which one source said is estimated to have cost $1.5 billion so far in direct expenditures. The version released yesterday said "it is possible" that additional U.S. aid requested by Israel would help compensate for the invasion.
While making no recommendation to Congress on how much aid should be given to Israel, the report suggested that only freezing it at present levels and reducing arms sales to all countries in the Middle East would begin to ease Israel's debt problems.
"Although U.S. assistance has been large and provided under liberal terms, U.S. decision-makers are now faced with an increasing dilemma in continuing to bolster Israel's economy and ensure support of its budget," the report said.
"It is likely that Israel will intensify its requests to the United States for increased assistance . . . ."
Noting that many Israeli arms purchases have been made to counter American arms sales to surrounding Arab countries, the report said only a negotiated settlement to the Arab-Israeli confrontation would halt the "spiraling arms transfer effect in the Middle East."
The GAO report thoroughly catalogued for the first time all the concessions and special favors the United States has granted Israel while providing it more than $25 billion in aid since Israeli independence in 1948.
It contended that the totality of these arrangements could set precedents that other countries will seek to emulate at considerable cost to the United States.
The GAO, the investigative and auditing arm of Congress, undertook on its own initiative a year-long study of American aid to Israel as part of a series of reports on U.S. foreign assistance.
Officials at the departments of State, Defense and Treasury suggested passages that were censored in the unclassified version of the report released yesterday.
Some officials said the classified version described American skepticism about Israeli assessments of the magnitude of the Arab threat.
At the same time, it acknowledged in more detail than did the unclassified version the role Israel plays in countering what the United States perceives as a Soviet threat in the region.
"In my opinion, it strengthens some of the major points we have been making all along," said Dan Halperin, who is minister for economic affairs at the Israeli Embassy here.
Adding that he agreed that Israel could eventually have trouble repaying its debt, he said this fact supported Israeli requests for aid packages containing more grants and fewer loans.
"Any country that is a democracy surrounded by enemies who are backed by the Soviet Union, that is using equipment so efficiently and sharing with the United States the benefit of its experience and technology, any country that meets those criteria," Halperin said, "should be given the same terms."
The GAO study, however, suggested that Israel might be better served if aid levels did not rise at all.
From 1950 until after the October war of 1973, the United States gave Israel $1.4 billion in military assistance.
Between 1974 and 1982, the report says, the total was $13.5 billion.
"First, Israel could manage at current assistance levels," the report said. "Secondly, increased aid would remove some of the urgency that exists for an economic austerity program."
Concentrating on military aid precedents that Egypt and other countries might seek to follow, the report cited the fact that Israel is permitted to contract for long-term purchases of planes and other equipment without having in hand the money to pay for them.
That practice, which Egypt and Turkey more recently have been allowed to emulate, effectively commits Congress to approve aid in future years.
"This could severely limit the flexibility of the Congress in authorizing future FMS Foreign Military Sales credit programs," the report said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers broke another precedent, according to the report, when it gave Israel $172 million worth of equipment it used to build air bases in the Negev Desert.
This replacement for facilities in the Sinai were part of the Camp David accords.
But when the work was finished, the report said, the Corps of Engineers wanted "to avoid seriously affecting the Israeli economy by selling construction equipment on the open market."
As a result, Israel took possession of the materials and sold some of them back to the multinational peace-keeping force.
"Since the United States pays for the peace-keeping force along with Egypt and Israel," the report said, "this means it, in essence, repurchased part of the equipment."