Israel Offers Help in Hijack Crisis : Shift of Position Seen as Bid to Repair Strained U.S. Ties
Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in a shift of position, today offered to cooperate with the United States to gain the release of the 40 TWA hijacking hostages.
The move, seen here as an attempt to repair strained relations with Washington, came in a letter from Peres to President Reagan, state radio and television reported.
In the past, Israeli officials have publicly sympathized with the United States, but called the June 14 hijacking purely a U.S. affair.
‘Concern ... No Different’
Asked during a visit to Julis, a town in northern Israel, about the contents of the letter, Peres told reporters: “I talked about relations of understanding, friendship and cooperation.
“I said, as I really feel, that our concern for the safety of the hostages is no different than if it were our own hostages.
“I see this as a struggle of the entire enlightened and Free World against the ugly phenomenon of terror, and of course, we stand by the United States.”
In Jerusalem, officials close to Peres said the prime minister’s letter offered more intensive cooperation with the United States on ending the hostage impasse.
The officials said Peres’ message was sent Monday, the same day Israel freed 31 Lebanese who had been jailed in Israel. Israel still holds 735 prisoners, whose release has been demanded by the Shia Muslims holding the 40 Americans captive in Beirut.
Peres drafted the letter after meeting with the 10-member Cabinet committee on defense, indicating that the message reflected policy rather than a simple expression of support, sources said.
Until now, Israel has said that it will not bow to terrorism and that the United States should make the first move and approach Israel if it wants help.
Israeli politicians and newspapers have voiced concern that Israel’s crucial relationship with Washington may become a victim of the hijacking crisis.
They are worried that American public opinion, vital to assuring continued U.S. aid, may blame Israel if the affair drags on.
The change in Israeli policy also was reflected in remarks made Monday night by Deputy Prime Minister David Levy.
“Israel is an active party in this affair,” Levy said on Israel radio. “It cannot afford to sit back until a formal address (request) is made. Israel must take the initiative.”
He added that Israel had to be informed about developments.
“There must be maximum coordination between us and the United States in appraising the repercussions of each activity,” Levy said.
Stop ‘Playing Games’
As recently as last week, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said the Americans should stop “playing games,” adding that Israel would not act to help resolve the crisis unless the United States made a public request for Israeli help.
But in a speech Monday, Rabin acknowledged that the hijacking had occurred “at the least convenient moment” for Israeli-American relations and relations with the Shia Amal movement in Lebanon.
Rabin indicated to an audience at Tel Aviv University that the hijacking has become Israel’s problem too because it “is the first test of Israel’s declared defense policy in Lebanon” that will require the tacit cooperation of Amal. Amal’s leader, Nabih Berri, is mediating for the hijackers.