WASHINGTON (Jun. 13)
State Department officials told the press today that an allegation by Israel that Soviet pilots were flying for the Egyptian Air Force was a maneuver to pressure the United States into approving the sale to Israel of 50 Phantom jets that it is seeking. The officials spoke for “background only” and insisted on anonymity.
A press association report from Jerusalem today attributed to Israeli intelligence sources a statement that between 70 and 100 Soviet fliers were working as test pilots and instructors for Egypt and were flying extensive air patrols throughout the Middle East. (Newsweek Magazine said several weeks ago that 100 Soviet pilots are flying Egyptian jets.)
The Jerusalem report said this information was passed to the U.S. Government some time ago. Israel reportedly stressed that Soviet arms aid totalling $1,5 billion had been poured into Egypt and had now turned the power balance heavily in the Arabs’ favor. Israel has only one plane for every four Arab aircraft. The ratio was one to three at the start of the Six-Day War.
The State Department officials said that the Israeli intelligence disclosure in Jerusalem was to some extent true. It was confirmed that between 70 to 100 Soviet Air Force experts were working as instructors or test pilots for Egypt. But the U.S. sources would not confirm that the Russians were actually flying widespread air patrols.
Officials here said they had received many “pressures” from Congress to approve sale of the Phantom jets. This had produced no results, they said, because President Johnson remains unconvinced that Israel needs them. The status of the Israeli bid for the Phantoms was said to be exactly where it was last January, when the President met at the LBJ ranch with Prime Minister Levi Eshkol of Israel and promised to keep Israel’s request under review.
CELLER APPEALS TO RUSK TO MAKE PHANTOMS AVAILABLE
Congressman Emanuel Celler has called upon Secretary of State Dean Rusk for “immediate approval” of Israel’s application to buy American supersonic Phantom jet fighter planes. The New York Democrat, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said in a letter to Mr. Rusk that “it appears imperative that Israel’s application…be acted upon favorably and forthwith,” Rep. Celler said there is a five-to-one Arab superiority over Israel in supersonic aircraft which cannot be balanced by delivery of American subsonic Sky hawk jet fighters to Israel. He also noted that while “the Israelis are better trained and superior fighters…it is estimated that 2,500 Russians are now training the Egyptians, plus an unknown number training armed personnel in Syria, Iraq. Yemen and Algeria.”
“Just as we uphold our defenses and defense materiel to act as a deterrent against any possible aggressive acts against us, so I most strongly believe that Israel must have the Phantom jets to deter the Arabs who acknowledge openly and insistently their intent to destroy Israel,” Rep. Celler wrote. “It is a matter of acute concern to us that the Soviet Union has penetrated the Middle East with arms, materiel and personnel and that Israel, as a Western-oriented democracy in the Middle East, is of major importance to American security.” Mr. Celler said that to the best of his knowledge, approval of Israel’s application for the Phantoms was being held up against the possibilities that France would deliver the Mirage jet fighters purchased by Israel or that the Russians might agree to suspend arms shipments to the Arabs. “We know that neither of these events has come to pass,” he wrote.