House Majority Whip Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) yesterday criticized Vice President Bush for blaming Israel in explaining his role in the Iran-contra affair.

"He blames Israel for all our mistakes," Coelho said at a breakfast with reporters. "It's unfortunate we would take an ally who was with us in every crisis . . . {and} have the vice president pointing a finger at them because popular support isn't with them."

Bush told CBS News anchor Dan Rather Monday that his primary reservation about the arms sales to Iran was over the "control of an operation in the hands of a foreign power."

Israel played a significant role in the arms sales to Iran, according to records of the affair, but the United States was a willing partner of Israel at some points and took control of the secret arms shipments at others.

Coelho said that Bush's emphasis on Israel's role in the arms deal coincides with a sharp decline in public support for the Israeli government in the face of its hard-line policy of beatings to discourage Palestinian protesters in occupied areas.

Coelho, one of Israel's strongest supporters in Congress, expressed his own "deep concerns" about Israeli conduct in the West Bank and Gaza.