JERUSALEM (Mar. 24)
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told the Israel Cabinet today that information obtained as a result of the Thursday thrust into terrorist bases in Jordan had made it more obvious than ever that the El Fatah commando group had been planning widespread terrorism against Israel and that these plans had been disrupted by the destruction of the bases.
Officials meanwhile reported a two-hour artillery and small arms fire duel touched off by Jordanian shelling of a tractor in the northern Beisan Valley at the Neveh Or settlement. The Jordanian guns were silenced without Israeli casualties. Settlements in the Beisan Valley were shelled last night. No casualties resulted. Israeli and Jordanian guns dueled Friday near the Sea of Galilee after Jordanian gunners fired at a tractor on the fields near Ashdod Yaacov. Israeli artillery halted that shooting. A tractor driver was seriously injured this morning when his vehicle hit a mine in the Gilboa area near the Jordan River. The reports came while funeral services were being held in ten cities and villages for the 23 soldiers killed in the Thursday action.
Foreign Minister Abba Eban reported at the Cabinet meeting that he had sent notes to the Foreign Ministers of many countries, explaining the reasons for the Thursday action. Mr. Eshkol and Mr. Eban spoke after the Cabinet received a detailed report from Chief of Staff Gen. Chaim Bar-Lev and from the Army Chief of Intelligence Brig. A. Yariv on the findings of arms, and on information on El Fatah plans obtained from Jordanian prisoners captured in the operations.
The Foreign Minister, speaking at a conference of the British Settlers Association before leaving for a curtailed visit to European countries, assailed Soviet ‘indulgence” for Arab terrorist aggression. He said that Israel would respect and give attention only to statements and resolutions — and apparent reference to the current Security Council session on the Thursday clash — which respected Israel’s inherent right to life and security and which placed central emphasis on the causes and not the results of regional tension. Mr. Eban left for Britain for a meeting with the new Foreign Secretary. Michael Stewart, and for visits to Holland and Belgium but not to Italy, as previously scheduled. He said he would return to Israel shortly to continue to direct Israel’s activities at the Security Council session.
REPORT 1,000 TERRORISTS BASED AT MAIN JORDAN CAMP AT KARAMEH
Israeli officials reported that about 1,000 terrorists were based at Karameh, which Jordan insisted was a refugee camp but where huge quantities of arms, ammunition and high explosives were found. Karameh and the surrounding area encompassed nine raider bases, two headquarters, a training center, equipment stores and a barracks. More than 80 of the prisoners taken there were identified as El Fatah members. Two of them were brought to Tel Aviv for questioning by newsmen. The terrorists revealed under interrogation that their operations against Israel and Israel-held territory were regularly supported by the Jordanian army which laid down covering artillery barrages. Jordanian units which intervened in Thursday’s fighting were reported to have suffered heavy losses of weapons. At least 30 Jordanian tanks were knocked out in armored battle on a plateau east of the Jordan Valley. Israeli military circles estimated Jordanian army casualties at 100 dead and a total of 40 tanks destroyed.
The list of Israeli war dead included one captain, three lieutenants, several sergeants and other non-commissioned officers as well as privates. Among the latter was 20-year-old Benzion Netter of Deganya, whose father was killed in Israel’s war for independence in 1948, the year young Netter was born.
The sorrow of most Israelis reportedly was compounded by uncertainty as to whether the strike did Indeed Improve Israel’s security position, whether the toll paid was too high for the results achieved and how the fundamental issue of peace in the Middle East would be effected by the episode. Israeli newspapers generally supported the Government’s decision to send the Army into Jordan to destroy terrorist bases. Davar said the action was unavoidable because no nation could honor a cease-fire its adversary failed to honor. Haaretz declared that the thrust was a police action to capture El Fatah members and to destroy their bases. For that objective, the paper said, a strong military push was necessary. Even the Communist dally, Kol Haam, supported the Government and said it would be naive to expect Israel to observe a cease fire repeatedly violated by Jordan.
Israelis were also concerned by repercussions abroad and within Jordan which many considered the Arab state most amenable to a peace settlement with Israel. Reports from Amman indicated that King Hussein was not so much determined not to take action against terrorists using Jordan as a staging area as he was helpless to do so. Observers here recalled Hussein’s statement of Feb. 16, following an intensive Israeli barrage, that he would not permit terrorists to give the enemy “further pretext for aggression.” He was, in effect, repudiated the next day by his own Prime Minister who said the Government planned no action against Arab commandos.
(The New York Times reported from Amman yesterday that King Hussein declared that neither he nor his government “would accept responsibility for the safety of Israel or the security of Israeli forces” occupying Jordanian territory on the West Bank. The King also said that about 50 people were killed at Karameh. “Newsmen found Arab commandos still in control yesterday at the camp there,” The Times reported, adding that King Hussein reported 30 “commandos” and about 60 civilians dead throughout the Jordan Valley and claimed that Israeli casualties “must have exceeded 200.”)
(Christian Science Monitor correspondent John Cooley reported from Beirut yesterday that “there is a real risk now, qualified observers believe, that the militant Palestine element will take over effective leadership of what remains of Jordan” as an aftermath of the Israeli attack. “Arab military tacticians are beginning to believe that Algerian and Syrian theories on the value of permanent guerrillas warfare may be substantially correct,” Mr. Cooley wrote. He added that “one aim of Arab propaganda media will be to discourage prospective Jewish immigrants which Zionist organizations are seeking.”)