JERUSALEM (May. 14)
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told the Knesset (Parliament) here last night that the Egyptian Army has been restored to its pre-June, 1967 strength as a result of its re-equipment by the Soviet Union. Gen. Dayan spoke in reply to a question from Shmuel Tamir, of the Free Center faction. In answer to another question, Dayan disclosed that 17 Arab saboteurs recently captured have confessed to membership in Iraqi commando battalions made up of Palestinian refugees.
The Soviet re-armament of Egypt, long a matter of concern in Israel, is apparently not limited to equipment but includes military personnel. Observers here said that some 2,500 Soviet officers and noncommissioned officers have been detailed to the Egyptian Army since last June’s Six-Day War and their number is increasing. As a result, the Egyptian Army is growing ever more dependent on Russian support in all echelons, they said.
According to these observers, Russia’s heavy military investment in Egypt and its somewhat lesser investments in Syria are part of a long term strategic move to assume the predominant role in the Middle East once played by Britain. They noted that it has been a dream since Czarist times to establish a Russian presence in the Mediterranean. The large Soviet naval fleet in the inland sea has already accomplished this but the fleet must be supported by an air force and, the observers thin, the 100 Russian pilots flying under Egyptian colors may be the backbone of such a force.
(In Rome, Luigi Longo, secretary of the Italian Communist Party, defended the presence of the Soviet Fleet in the eastern Mediterranean as a “protector” of the Arab states against “Western imperialism.” He protested the presence of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and denounced Israel as “a tool of Western imperialism.”)