Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said in an interview here that the United States benefits from its large-scale aid to his country, even though "occasionally she Israel may be undisciplined" about obeying U.S. wishes.
His reason: Israel is "a strong, vital democracy" that fosters U.S. interests in the Middle East.
"What would you like?" Peres asked. "Do you want a disciplined Israel with the participation of an American force, or a free Israel, an independent Israel, though occasionally she may be undisciplined in the way you want? This is the choice."
Peres said that there frequently are times when the U.S.-Israeli relationship -- under which the United States has provided the financial underpinning of Israel's military capability for 36 years -- permits actions that would not be possible under a more formal alliance.
"I don't think that you should be in a position to tell us everything we ought to do, as we shouldn't be in a position to tell you everything we should do in the Middle East," he said. "There must be a freedom of action, because you cannot approve some things that, deep in your heart, you know we have to do.
"Suppose we know about a location of some Iranian terrorists. You will not decide to act. We may decide to take them out. Do you want us to consult with you? What for? There is a difference between a superpower" and what a smaller, less constrained country like Israel can do.
Peres made these assertions in a meeting Friday with editors and reporters from The Washington Post and Newsweek. He returned home yesterday after talks in Washington last week with President Reagan and top administration officials about future aid increases to help his new national unity government overcome the severe problems besetting the Israeli economy.
Peres is known to have signaled his intention to ask for substantial increases next year in both economic and military assistance. Some preliminary estimates have shown these proposed jumps could run to $1.5 billion or more -- an amount that would increase U.S. aid to Israel from its current level of $2.6 billion to more than $4 billion a year.
The $28 billion that the United States has provided to Israel since it gained independence in 1948 is the largest single U.S. foreign aid program. In the interview, Peres was questioned heavily about why the United States should continue to give ever-increasing amounts of assistance to a country that in recent years has used its military power for actions like the 1982 bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor and invasion of Lebanon that were opposed by Washington.
"The problem is, are you ready to invest in the American posture in the Middle East?" he replied. "Because most of the money does not go for consumption. It goes for the maintenance of a strong, vital democracy . . . . The Israelis are not having for breakfast their planes or their tanks or their ships. You can say that this is an investment in the posture of the free world and the posture of the United States and also of Israel in an unstable area. Imagine the Middle East without Israel."
He argued that Israel's defeat of Egypt in the 1973 Yom Kippur war had caused an Egyptian shift in alliance from the Soviet Union to the United States, and that driving the Palestine Liberation Organization from southern Lebanon had destroyed a base for international terrorism.
"Is that against the prestige, the interest, the need of the United States?" he asked.
"Would you like us to be a sort of Czecholslovakia or Poland -- a satellite?" he continued. "Or shouldn't you be satisfied with the fact that we believe in the same values, have the same interests -- that we are not a satellite and you shouldn't try to make us one."
Peres turned aside questions about whether his government will accept President Reagan's moribund Middle East peace initiative calling for Israel to negotiate with Jordan on the future of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
He noted that King Hussein of Jordan continues to rule out such negotiations, and said, "The problem is the lack of a negotiating partner."
He also said that he theoretically might be willing to negotiate with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, if Arafat were to drop demands for destruction of Israel and creation of an independent Palestinian state. But, when pressed on this point, Peres replied: "You want my realistic answer. The 'if' does not exist. I do not expect him to change."
Peres reiterated his offer, made earlier last week, to withdraw Israeli troops confronting Syrian forces in the Bekaa Valley region of southern Lebanon, if Syria agrees to the stationing of U.N. forces in the area.
But, he warned, "We told the Americans, if Syria is not willing to clarify its agreement in an unequivocal way, we are going to remain there."
He also emphasized that a full Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon must depend on a continued role in policing the area for the Israeli-supported South Lebanon army commanded by Christian general Antoine Lahad.
Asked if that is an absolute precondition to Israeli withdrawal, Peres said, "Yes, because we do not see an alternative."