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Israel Apprehensive over British Withdrawal from Suez Area

Apprehension is felt here at the prospect of the British withdrawal from the Suez Canal zone in Egypt, despite the fact that the British Government has announced its intention of reaffirming the 1950 British-American-French declaration which guarantees the present Arab -Israel frontiers.

It was pointed out here today that the withdrawal of the British troops from the Suez area provides for Egypt a splendidly equipped military base there, which, together with the present intentions on the part of the United States Government to give military aid to Egypt, will radically change the military situation and place Israel in greater danger of Arab aggression.

The British departure, it was explained here today, will bring a greatly strengthened Egypt up from her own lines on the other side of Sinai and of the Suez Canal, and right against Israel’s southern border from Elath, on the gulf of Aquaba, to Askalon, which is about one hour’s run from Tel Aviv. The present defensible border will then become a border requiring exceptional defense measures on the part of Israel.

This, in addition to the American rearmament of Iraq and possibly Syria, has created a situation of gravity and urgency for Israel, it was stressed here today. Israelis claim that the British reaffirmation of the 1950 Tripartite Declaration shows only that Britain understands Israel’s apprehensions, but does not by any means reassure Israel or redress regional equilibrium.

Although some circles here believe that the reaffirmation of the American-British-French declaration, if expressed unequivocally, would be better than nothing, they point out that it could not possibly relieve Israel from the back-breaking compulsion to raise her means of defense to a new high level.

EGYPTIAN ATTACK ON ISRAEL PORT OF ELATH HELD POSSIBLE

The general feeling prevailing here is that the factors now encouraging the United States to woo the Arab states by “adjusting” in their favor the military balance between them and Israel, would weigh just as much in the event of aggressive moves by Egypt against Israel, especially if these moves were piecemeal.

It is feared, for instance, that Egypt may be tempted to occupy the Israeli port of Elath with the object of bringing the Egyptian frontier up against the frontiers of Jordan. And few in Israel think that the signatories of the Tripartite’ Declaration would — if Egypt gained her objective — risk antagonizing the Arabs by compelling Egyptian withdrawal from the strategic Israeli port on the Gulf.

Foreign observers here consider as justified Israel’s argument that, when the Jewish State was at war with Egypt in 1948, her forces advanced deep into the Sinai peninsula but then withdrew to the north because it was felt that the Sinai Desert, with British forces at its southern edge, was an effective barrier to Egyptian military adventure against Israel.

Those in Israel who make this claim – and they include some influential members of the government – add that these circumstances were foremost also in the minds of the Israeli negotiators when the armistice with Egypt was concluded in 1949. Thus, British withdrawal from Egypt basically weakens Israel’s present defense positions vis-a-vis Egypt, since it changes the military balance in the area and make it easier for Egypt to attack Israel, government officials emphasize.

(The New York Times, in a cable today from its correspondent in Jerusalem, similarly emphasized that, if the present negotiations between Egypt and Britain result in the withdrawal of British troops from the Suez Canal base, Israel defense positions will be materially weakened. The report said that some Israelis are seeking means to match the expected Egyptian development by diplomatic action.)

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