JERUSALEM (May. 17)
The Knesset (Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Security Committee held an emergency meeting here today to discuss the following series of swift aggravations of tensions in the area: 1) Egypt demanded the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force from the Gaza Strip border; 2) Egypt vastly increased its troop and armored concentrations in the Sinai Peninsula; 3) Jordan declared a state of emergency, placing its armed forces on a war status; and 4) Syria continued building up its forces along its borders adjoining Israel. Attending the Knesset committee’s emergency meeting were Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Maj, Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, chief of staff of all of Israel’s armed forces.
The gravest view here was focused on Egypt’s demand regarding UNEF’s withdrawal. The unef has been stationed on the Egyptian side of the Gaza Strip border and at Sharm e-Sheikh by a decision of the United Nations. Should the U.N. Secretariat now accede to Egypt’s demand, the development would be viewed here as the gravest breach of the status quo. It was stressed here that Egypt’s demand regarding UNEF is not clear. It seemed that Egypt demanded only that the U.N. troops be taken away from the border of the Gaza Strip. The belief was expressed here that Egypt wants to enable its army to prepare to move against Israel for war in case Israel should attack Syria or any other Arab state.
Reports received here regarding Egypt’s troop concentration, while Cairo was issuing more and more bellicose statements, indicated that Egypt has added 10,000 troops to its forces in the Sinai, to supplement an army division it already had there. Foreign sources also reported that Egypt has considerably increased its tank forces in the Sinai in the last few days, and now has several hundred tanks in that area.
While Jordan was putting its forces on war stand-by, and asserting that Amman would “not stand by with arms folded, should war break out,” other reports brought the news that Syria’s chief of staff and Defense Minister were carrying out inspections of the massed Syrian troops on Israel’s borders.
ISRAEL IS CALM; ESHKOL REPORTS TO CABINET ON NASSER’S MOVES
However, while reports continued pouring in here of Arab army concentrations and troop movements the feeling here is generally calm and confident. Even the man in the street does not seem excessively worried by the Arab moves and the Arab declarations of readiness to come to the aid of any of their brethren who might face war with Israel. It is believed here that Egypt basically, is now engaged in a vast propaganda operation aimed at rebuilding its position in the Arab world and to show the Arabs that it is the major “protective” power in the region.
The critical situation along the Syrian border, and the saber-rattling by Egypt’s President Nasser, were reviewed here by Israel’s Cabinet last night in discussions led by Mr. Eshkol and Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Mr. Eshkol reported on Egypt’s army moves and bellicose statements against Israel of the last few days.
It was learned reliably after the Cabinet meeting that Israel attaches no special significance to the Egyptian army moves. These movements are seen here as designed to bolster Syrian morale and to emphasize Egypt’s central role in the Arab world. Past experience has convinced the Israelis that Nasser would not let Syria push him into anti-Israel action which he would consider untimely. This evaluation by authoritative circles here was believed bolstered by the fact that the Cabinet meeting had not been attended by any of Israel’s military leaders, indicating that the situation is considered political rather than military.
Mr. Eban told the Cabinet that only Syrian cessation of encouraging and engineering sabotage inside Israel would reduce the tensions in the Middle East. He reported he had sent instructions to Israel’s diplomats abroad to make that point clear to the governments to which they are accredited. The Soviet and British governments, he said, were given the same point of view. He reported that Britain was informed through diplomatic contacts in London while the USSR received clarification of Israel’s views on the current crisis at a conference at the Foreign Ministry here between Aryeh Levavi, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, and Dimitri Chuvakhin, the Soviet Ambassador to Israel.