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Israel and US square off over sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia

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The dangers perceived by Israel in the proposed Us sale of AWACS (airborn warning and control system) surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia are propelling its government toward an imminent head-on confrontation with the Reagan administration.

Israeli skeptics doubt if Prime Minister Menachem Begin's persuasive powers and the reinforcement of publicity through the American media can stop the $8.5 billion arms package from being approved by the Congress. And even if the deal does fall through, they predict, it will be a Pyrrhic victory.

The deterioration of relations between Israel and the US after US-made warplanes wereagainst Iraq's nuclear center near Baghdad and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters in Beirut -- symbolized by the embargo on F-15 and F-16 jets on order -- might be deepened by an anti-AWACS campaign.

These consideration, however, have not deterred Mr. Begin from pressing his case. He is presenting it personally to Mr. Reagan in Washington during his visit Sept. 7 and 8.

Far from regarding Saudi Arabia as a moderating influence in the Middle East and a helpful factor in restraining oil price rises, Israel's government regards the desert monarchy as extremist and implacably hostile. The Saudis are accused here of:

* Exerting pressure against states with diplomatic links with Israel.

* Mobilizing the Arab world against the Camp David accords of September 1978 and urging a boycott against Egypt for having made peace.

* bankrolling the PLO's terrorist assaults Israel.

* Participating in all of the Arab states' wars against Israel.

An official document made available here quotes Radio Riyadh as saying last March 21 that "Israel continues to be the principal and common enemy enemy of the Arab and Islamic nation. . . . The desire of the region's peoples for peace does not justify any weakening of the nation's need to uproot this danger."

The same document goes on to state that supply of five AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia will enable it to monitor all flights in Israel's airspace and would expose Israel's Air Force to observation day and night, in war and in peace.

It contends that possession of the AWACS planes would enable the Saudis to obtain detailed information about the deployment of Israel's Air Force, its aerial maneuvers, and its degree of combat readiness.

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