WASHINGTON -- The United States announced Tuesday it has delivered 400 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and a huge tanker jet to Saudi Arabia to bolster the Arab kingdom's defenses against air attacks in the Persian Gulf war.
President Reagan bypassed legally required notification of Congress of the Stinger sale by citing the 'current emergency circumstances' in the oil-rich Gulf region, where Iran and Iraq have escalated their 44-month war of attrition to include attacks on commercial shipping.
A State Department spokesman said immediate action on the sale was in the 'national security interests' of the United States and reflected 'grave concern' over the fighting.
The new U.S. hardware will be used to protect Saudi oil, port and naval facilities, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Announcement of the sale, made by the State Department, came four days after the administration decided to launch the emergency military airlift. The heat-seeking missiles, 200 shoulder-held launchers and a KC-10 tanker -- a converted DC-10 jetliner -- arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday.
While the Stingers will be used by Saudi troops, after training by a special U.S. Army team dispatched with the shipment, the tanker will be flown by an American crew and conduct refueling only over Saudi territory, the Pentagon spokesman said.
The missiles and launchers are value at about $30 million. In addition, the administration decided to speed up deliveries of previously purchased special fuel tanks for Saudi Arabia's U.S.-built F-15 fighters, enabling them to stay on patrol longer, plus ammunition and spare parts, the State and Defense Departments said.
The missiles, taken from U.S. stockpiles and flown to Saudi Arabia aboard a C-5 Galaxy transport plane, and the KC-10 were dispatched under an emergency order signed by Reagan Friday without advance consultation with Congress, which normally has 30 days to disapprove an arms sale.
Congress was wrapping up its Memorial Day recess Tuesday and opposition was expected from some lawmakers to the administration's move and Israel objected to the decision. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens is to meet Wednesday at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
Victor Harel, spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, said: 'We have said before we are opposed to the supply of sophisticated arms to Saudi Arabia. We are concerned they will fall into terrorist hands and we believe the Saudis had everything they needed to defend themselves.'
An Israeli official said there is 'not much we can do about it now - it's a post-mortem.'
White House spokesman Larry Speakes, traveling with Reagan on a two-day trip to Colorado, indicated the administration is not concerned by the Israeli reaction.
The Stingers, he said, 'are purely defensive in every sense of the word.' Asked if he is satisfied the Saudis will be to keep the missiles out of the hands of terrorists, Speakes said, 'We'd assume their security would be adequate.'
The administration scrapped previous plans to sell 1,200 Stingers to Saudi Arabia in March when a parallel sale to Jordan ran into insurmountable congressional opposition.
In accordance with a clause in the Arms Export Control Act, Reagan waived notification to Congress on the Stinger sale 'due to the current emergency circumstances which require an immediate sale in the national security interests of the United States,' State Department spokesman Alan Romberg said.
The missiles, which have a three-mile range and are fired at low-flying targets within view, can be put aboard Saudi patrol boats. Stingers were distributed to U.S. 6th Fleet ships off Lebanon several months ago to help protect them against terrorist suicide dive-bombing missions.
The action coincided with increasing tension in the Gulf and growing global concern over Iranian air attacks against Saudi and Kuwaiti oil tankers. Reagan has vowed that the United States and it allies will not allow the strategic waterway to be closed to commercial traffic.
Although only 3 percent of U.S. oil supplies come from Gulf states, the region is has been a major supplier to Western Europe and Japan.
'The president's determination reflects the United States' grave concern with the growing escalation in the Gulf and its implication for the security of our friends in the region,' Romberg said. 'The Stingers will be used to defend port facilities, docks, oil fields and Saudi naval vessels,' Pentagon spokeman Michael Burch said. He said they will not be transferred to other countries but 'are for use by Saudi personnel on Saudi territory.'
The KC-10 and the first 12 of 101 conformal fuel tanks bought by the Saudis will be used to extend the patrol time of the Saudi F-15s, which thus far have not engaged Iranian warplanes attacking ships in the Gulf. The tanks were developed by Israel and give the F-15s a range of about 3,000 miles.
U.S. AWACS aircraft have been based in Saudi Arabia since the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in September 1980. Three smaller KC-135 tankers, converted Boeing 707s that are smaller than the KC-10s, are with them.
Romberg said the tankers will be protected by Saudi forces and 'we don't expect them to be subjected to attack.'