Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens conferred with President Bush and other senior U.S. officials yesterday to remind them of Israel's forbearance in the face of Iraqi Scud missile attacks and to begin discussion of postwar U.S.-Israeli relations.
U.S. officials and diplomatic sources said the main purpose of Arens's day-long visit here was to brief Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Israeli intelligence estimates of the damage allied bombing has inflicted on Iraq.
The sources said he also described the damage done to Israeli population centers by the Scud attacks and reasserted Israel's right to retaliate if the number of Jewish casualties mounts or the Iraqis resort to chemical or biological warfare.
The sources said Arens made a new request for greater U.S.-Israeli coordination, including sharing of so-called "friend-or-foe" recognition codes to avoid conflict between the two countries' warplanes. Without such codes, Israeli planes could be shot down unrecognized by U.S. jets or gunners.
Leaving the White House after his talk with Bush, Arens said civilian damage in Israel "is very significant. We see sights of destruction in Israel that have not been seen in Western countries since World War II." Later, when reporters at the Pentagon asked if Israel can be counted on to show restraint indefinitely, Arens replied, "I don't think we can make any such commitments."
He refused to comment on the question of recognition codes or other aspects of greater military coordination. However, a senior U.S. official said that if circumstances make an Israeli attack inevitable, the United States will ensure that the code problem is resolved.
Arens, who also met with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, preceded Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, who is due here Thursday for a two-day visit. According to the sources, Levy is expected to give the administration an estimate of aid Israel hopes to receive as compensation for war damage and expenses of the Persian Gulf War.
Israel already is the largest U.S. aid recipient at $3 billion a year. U.S. officials, working from discussions the Israelis had with backers in Congress and elsewhere, said they expect a request at a later date for about $13 billion, including $10 billion in loan guarantees. The rest would include $1 billion in military aid -- for more of the Patriot missiles that have been so effective in intercepting Scuds, and other hardware -- and $2 billion in economic aid to cover damage and other war costs.
A senior U.S. official said the loan guarantees should not pose major problems because they do not add to the federal budget deficit. Israel is expected to argue that the rest should be included as part of the Operation Desert Storm supplemental appropriation request that the administration plans to submit to Congress shortly.
The official said the administration position is that such reimbursements should be undertaken by U.S. allies such as Germany, Japan and the wealthier Middle East oil states as part of their burden-sharing commitment to the war, rather than come from U.S. taxpayers.
The United States does not expect Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to contribute funds to Israel, with which they are technically still in a state of war, the official said, adding that large parts of the Israeli request might be referred to Germany and other European governments.
Staff writer Ann Devroy contributed to this report.