State Department says allies defy S. Africa arms embargo

The wall of Western solidarity designed to isolate South Africa because of its apartheid policies appears to have developed some major cracks. According to a report issued yesterday by the State Department under a congressional mandate, several United States allies, including Great Britain, France, West Germany, and Italy, have been secretly selling arms to Pretoria in violation of a 10-year international embargo.

As expected, the report also identifies Israel as one of the countries that have circumvented the 1977 arms ban, which originated with the the United Nations.

Classified versions of the report were transmitted yesterday to the House and Senate intelligence and foreign affairs committees, while an unclassified version was expected to be made public.

Strong public criticism is likely to be directed toward the named countries from opponents of South Africa's white minority government. But a source familiar with the State Department's investigation says that South Africa's most important arms relationships may be with various Soviet-bloc and Asian countries. The names of those countries do not appear in the report, however, because of the department's inability to substantiate allegations about their arms dealings.

When it voted sanctions against South Africa last year, Congress asked the State Department to identify countries selling arms to Pretoria ``with a view to terminating military assistance to those countries.''

Two weeks ago the State Department welcomed as a ``positive development'' news that Israel was suspending its lucrative arms trade with South Africa. Israel is estimated to have earned $400 million to $800 million last year from sales of military technology to South Africa.

Israel made its decision not to sign new arms contracts with South Africa in order to avoid yet another tiff with Washington. Relations between the two countries have been strained by the Pollard spy case and the Iran-contra affair. Israeli officials were concerned that the new disclosures of arms sales to Pretoria, combined with the other strains and US budget pressures, could result in a move on Capitol Hill to trim US military aid to Israel, which amounted to $1.8 billion last year.

But sources on Capitol Hill say it is inconceivable that Congress would use the findings to renege on its commitment to Israel. ``This is not a Congress that's anti-Israel, to say the least,'' says one congressional specialist on Africa. ``No one's going to use the report to pick a fight with Israel.''

Informed sources say that arms sales from European countries named in the report have been made by individual companies rather than in government-to-government transactions.

Arms sales are but one aspect of broad cooperation between Israel and South Africa on a range of trade, economic, and security issues, sources say. As minority outposts on hostile continents, Israel and South Africa have been drawn together by broadly compatible strategic interests.

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