Israel Will Fight for Freedom of Passage Through Strait of Tiran, Says Eshkol

After a special meeting of the Israel Cabinet devoted to the current Arab-Israeli crisis, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol announced on the radio here tonight that Israel would fight for its security along the borders and for its right to freedom of passage through the Strait of Tiran. The Cabinet meeting lasted more than four hours.

Voicing his confidence in Israel’s army’s capacity to repulse any act of aggression, Mr. Eshkol asserted that the Israel Government would act “to procure not only the opening of the Strait of Tiran, but also the withdrawal of Egypt’s military build-up along Israel’s borders.” He characterized Egypt’s blockade of the Strait of Tiran as “an aggressive act,” and reiterated Israel’s “right to defend itself, should conditions warrant” such action.

Mr. Eshkol told the nation that the Cabinet has approved directives for securing the withdrawal of Egyptian forces from the Sinai Peninsula. Directives for political action, he said, have also been approved by the Cabinet. After repeating his assertion that Egypt’s current military build-up and the blockading of the Strait of Tiran endanger Israel’s security, the Premier paid tribute to Israel’s army which, he said, is “strong and has the highest morale, and is capable of repulsing any attack.” He called the army “Israel’s bulwark.”

Israel is relying not only on its army, Mr. Eshkol said in his address, but also on political and diplomatic means for efforts to find a solution of the current crisis. He said that Israel is “in constant contact” with the United States, Britain, France and other governments, including the Soviet Union. Israel’s mobilization of its army reserves, he said, has played an important role in securing a possible solution of the crisis.

At the conclusion of his address to the nation, Mr. Eshkol said that additional details about the decisions taken at today’s Cabinet session will be revealed tomorrow, when the Knesset debates the current crisis. The Premier spoke in an emotion-packed voice, especially when he emphasized Israel’s desire to secure Egypt’s withdrawal of its military build-up along Israel’s borders.

The Premier’s speech to the nation was viewed here as Israel’s reply to the anti-Israel declaration made in Cairo today by Egypt’s President Nasser. While recognizing the gravity of the current situation, Israel was seen as employing all political and diplomatic means for easing the situation, while not failing to envisage the possibility of an armed clash as a result of Nasser’s aggressive intentions.

(Egypt’s President Nasser told a news conference in Cairo today that any effort to interfere with his blockade of the Strait of Tiran would be considered an “act of war,” He said that the Gulf of Akaba and the Strait of Tiran are “Egyptian waters” and stated that the matter “is no longer a subject for discussion.”)

Israeli political circles today were studying the report filed with the United Nations Security Council yesterday by Secretary-General U Thant. It was stressed here, however, that Nasser’s latest speech, in which he reiterated his intention to destroy Israel, have made Mr. Thant’s proposal for a revival of the Egyptian-Israeli Mixed Armistice Commission devoid of meaning.

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