Peres stresses strengthening of US-Israeli relations. Intelligence services cooperated closely during cruise-ship crisis
As the Reagan administration scrambles to repair relations with Italy and moderate Arab countries in the wake of the Achille Lauro hijacking, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is stressing that links between Israel and the United States have been strengthened. During visits to Washington and New York, the prime minister has said in public appearances that ``Israel is not neutral'' and has praised the strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States.
The most recent manifestation of the links between the two nations was the close cooperation of their intelligence communities during the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship, officials traveling with Peres said.
Although they refused to detail the nature of that cooperation, officials said it contrasted sharply to the problems that arose during the hijacking of a Trans World Airlines (TWA) jet by Lebanese Shiite fundamentalists last June.
The TWA hijacking produced strains in US-Israeli relations as pressure mounted on Israel to release some 700 Shiites it held in an Israeli prison in exchange for the TWA passengers.
In contrast, the Israelis remained low key during the Achille Lauro affair, and publicly applauded the administration's decision to force the Egyptian airliner to land in Italy.
Last week Israel released an edited transcript of a ship-to-shore conversation between the Achille Lauro's hijackers and Palestine Liberation Front leader Muhammad Abul Abbas it said proved Mr. Abbas directed the hijacking.
Israeli officials have said that Israel worked closely with the United States in monitoring communication during the episode.
But what an Israeli official described as the ``second honeymoon'' between Israel and the United States that began when the Achille Lauro hijacking ended has been accompanied by damage to United States relations with other longtime allies in the region.
Reagan dispatched Assistant Secretary of State John Whitehead to Italy, Egypt, and Tunisia on Friday in an effort to repair the damage done to relations with those three pro-Western countries in a series of diplomatic clashes this month.
The Tunisians were infuriated by Reagan's qualified endorsement of Israel's Oct. 1 attack on Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunis.
The Egyptians were humiliated by America's interception of the unarmed Egyptian civilian airliner carrying the suspected Achille Lauro hijackers and Egyptian diplomats.
The Italians were wounded by administration criticism of Prime Minister Bettino Craxi's handling of the Achille Lauro affair.
Mr. Craxi was forced to resign last week when the strain in relations between Italy and the United States resulted in one pro-Americn party of his coalition withdrawing from his government.
Peres, his aides say, has strongly encouraged the administration to smooth over relations with Egypt, which is considered a prime backer of King Hussein's effort to reach a negotiating table with Israel.
Egypt remains the only Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, and even the Israelis now fear that President Hosni Mubarak's position has been endangered by fallout from the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.
At the same time, however, the Israeli Prime Minister has been eager to stress the harmony he has found in United States-Israeli positions on most issues during his visit.
In a speech to Jewish leaders over the weekend, Prime Minister Peres confirmed for the first time that the United States actively participated in the secret airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews from Sudanese refugee camps last year.
``Operation Moses,'' as Israel dubbed the airlift, is thought to have contributed to the overthrow of pro western Sudanese strong man Jaafar Nimeiry. Some Sudanese officials have been put on public trial for their involvement in the airlift.
The Ethiopians, Peres said, ``were brought back partly on American wings with the help of the United States government.''
Peres said he thanked President Reagan for his assistance in the airlift during their Thursday meeting at the White House.
Peres said that the President was moved to tears as the prime minister explained the process of absorbing the Ethiopians into Israeli society.
The prime minister also cited Israel's agreement to build a Voice of America transmitter on its soil and its decision to participate in ``star wars'' research as further examples of cooperation between the two nations.
Both decisions caused a public debate in Israel, where some critics argued that they would unnecessarily anger the Soviet Union. Israel has been seeking to improve relations with the Soviet Union, which broke diplomatic ties with Israel in 1967.
Speaking at a fund-raising dinner in New York, the prime minister said that Israel's relations with the United States improved greatly in the last year.
``We have arrived at a strategic cooperation understanding,'' Peres said.