TEL AVIV (Sep. 1)
While the first of the two frigates sold by Israel to Ceylon is now already in the Red Sea ready to be transferred there to a Ceylonese crew, the second frigate will be handed over to the Ceylonese at Israel’s port of Eilat in a traditional flag-changing ceremony, it was reported here today.
The order to move the first frigate from Eilat through the Tiran Straits to the Red Sea–in defiance of Egypt’s pressure on Ceylon against the purchase of the frigates from Israel–was given by Premier David Ben Gurion following his return from his vacation in France, Mr. Ben Gurion revealed last night addressing a Mapai election rally.
The Premier told the audience that Ceylon, instead of coming to Eilat and taking the frigates, had asked President Nasser of the United Arab Republic about the procedure they should use and Nasser “either did not reply or replied negatively.” The two ships remained at Eilat until he gave the order to sail, the Prime Minister said.
The Israel press today welcomed the Premier’s decision and pointed out that this action highlighted the fact that free navigation through the Tiran Strait, unlike the situation in the Suez Canal, was not only possible but even secured.
It was reported that the Israel-manned frigate made the passage without interference. Ceylonese inscriptions have been made on the ship, but she flew the Israel flag while going through the Straits of Tiran. The transfer to Ceylonese officials was scheduled to take place somewhere in the Aden Gulf. The Israel sailors will stay on the ship for a short time after the takeover.
Political pressure on the Premier in connection with the Suez Canal deadlock was eased somewhat with the disclosure that the first frigate had left Eilat. Opposition parties had been denouncing Mr. Ben Gurion and his Mapai party for an alleged failure to take a firm stand on Suez or on the UAR’s pressure on Ceylon against its purchase of the two Israeli frigates. The Premier was seen as having scored a political victory in ordering the frigate moved without “asking anybody’s permission,” thus reasserting full freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Akaba.