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Tanks for the Saudis - a vital US deal

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The Reagan administration has announced plans to sell Saudi Arabia 1,200 M-1 Abrams tanks at $2 million each. If the White House permits an election-season battle with Congress to veto a vital foreign policy decision, the lessons of the 1981 sale of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia will have been wasted.

The 1981 AWACS sale, with an air defense enhancement package, was President Reagan's first test of the ability of a Republican-controlled Senate to prevent a veto by Congress of a foreign policy decision. Its management could hardly have been more inept. Rivalry between the President's assistant for national security affairs, Richard V. Allen, and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. was largely to blame.

In a desperation attempt to prevent a congressional veto, the administration mobilized private industry for lobbying support. The firms selected had business interests in the Middle East; America would lose foreign earnings if relations with Saudi Arabia suffered and the Arabs sent business elsewhere. Arrayed against these administration supporters were Jewish organizations, bolstered by a visit by Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

The five AWACS aircraft sold to the Saudis now stand at Riyadh airport ready in case of attack on Middle East oilfields. None has threatened Israel in any manner.

By contrast, Israel's use of US-supplied EC-2 radar surveillance aircraft enabled its air force to violate the skies of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to bomb Baghdad in 1981, and these planes facilitated the raid weeks later on heavily populated Beirut. In 1982, the EC-2s permitted Israel to wipe out defensive anti-aircraft batteries in Lebanon and Syria, and then to destroy much of Lebanon after dominating its airspace.

Which country, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, or Syria, used US equipment for aggression? The answer must be Israel.

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