TEL AVIV (Aug. 17)
Israeli circles today were puzzled by an action taken by the government of Ceylon, which seems to be awaiting the “permission” of the United Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia to transit from the Red Sea through the Straits of Tiran to pick up two frigates which Ceylon has bought from Israel.
The ships, Israel’s Miznak and Mivtach, are riding in the harbor of Eilat, awaiting Ceylonese sailors who are on the way to Eilat to pick up the vessels. The first group of Ceylonese sailors were expected here nearly two weeks ago. Today, it became known that the Ceylonese sailors, aboard the Colombo government’s minesweeper, the Parakram, are at dock in the Protectorate of Aden, awaiting word from Egypt and Saudi Arabia as to whether they may pass on toward Eilat.
The ships belong to Ceylon now; they have been bought and paid for. It was learned today, however, that Ceylon notified the two Arab governments and the United Nations Emergency Force that it was about to sail through to Eilat to pick up the vessels. The UNEF stands guard over the Straits of Tiran, at Sharm-el-Sheik. UNEF is understood merely to have acknowledged Ceylon’s notice. Saudi Arabia, it is understood, has not answered at all; while the UAR replied evasively.
Nathaniel Lorch, Israel’s representative at Colombo, capital of Ceylon, has approached the Ceylonese Foreign Ministry with an explanation that no “permission” to sail through the Straits of Tiran or the Gulf of Akaba are needed from either Saudi Arabia or Egypt. While the waters in question are bordered by shores under the jurisdiction of these two states, Israel had reminded Ceylon that, in fact, the Straits and the Gulf are international waters, open to the shipping of all national. Israel is using these waters as an international highway, and hopes that Ceylon will act the same way.
Israel has also pointed out to Ceylon that, while it has a perfect right to inform any government about armament purchases, it is under no obligation to ask any government’s acquiescence to ship those armaments. The frigates in the Eilat harbor are stocked with supplies that Ceylon has bought from Israel, including Israeli-made Uzi submachine guns.
Israel’s step in selling the frigates to Ceylon was a purely practical matter. Israel does not need those ships any longer. The Miznak and Mivtach made sensational trips in 1956, immediately after the Sinai campaign was launched, sailing from Haifa around the Cape of Good Hope to Eilat. However, recently, Israel shipped overland to Eilat a number of fast, highly-maneuverable torpedo boats which are considered far superior as guardians of Israel’s port of Eilat.
There is confidence here that, once Ceylon understands the situation clearly, it will order the minesweeper Parakram to continue its journey to Eilat, so that the Ceylonese crews could take over the two frigates after some preliminary training by Israeli experts.