PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES Humphrey and Nixon have both promised to sell America's crack Phantom bombers to Israel if elected to the White House. The pledge is undoubtedly a good vote-getter, but it is also disastrous foreign policy.
The candidates claim that there can be no peace in the Middle-East unless Israel is assured weapon superiority over the Arab states. Thus, they say, since the Russians have made up for the Arab losses in the six-day war, we must provide Israel with the bombers to put them ahead again.
Such reasoning is based on a dangerous fallacy. It assumes that the Middle East is politically a vacuum, that the Russians will not react. This is just not true any more. The Russians have gradually been building up their fleet in the Mediterrancan, contesting American influence in the area more and more seriously.
As one diplomat told the New York Times last Sunday, "if the Phantoms do go to Israel, Moscow will have to react to save Soviet influence here, and the reaction will have to include delivery of the most effective equipment available."
It is clear that such a competition can have only one outcome: both the United States and the Soviet Union will find themselves trapped in a costly arms race that can only be counter-productive.
SO FAR President Johnson has refused to sell the Phantoms despite mounting pressure from Israel. Two weeks ago the Israeli newspaper Maariv claimed that the USSR had promised about 200 planes, including bombers, and an unspecified number of tanks to Cairo and that delivery was imminent. The newspaper also urged President Johnson to deliver the Phantoms.
Cairo sources contradict the Israeli report, and are worried that such rumors may force Johnson into a sale. They promise that the Russians are waiting to see what the U.S. does about the Phantom before they make a definite commitment of large scale aid to the United Arab Republic.
Two days ago the Vice President, in a discussion on the Middle East, wisely remarked that "arms beget arms." And yet he, like his opponent, still promises to give Israel the Phantom jets, claiming that somehow this will bring peace to the area. But as Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban said before the United Nations General Assembly last Tuesday: "There is no such thing as peace by incantation."