JERUSALEM (Sep. 30)
Israeli Government circles, questioned by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today, listed a wide variety of possible motives behind the recent build-up of Soviet naval and amphibious strength in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the last analysis, however, they admitted that Israel can only guess for the time being what Soviet intentions are – and remain alert for any possibility.
The question was put by JTA in light of reports that the new Soviet aircraft carrier, Moskva, passed through the Bosphorus last week bound for Egyptian waters. She carries a large complement of marine commandos and a fleet of troop-carrying helicopters and helicopter gunships. There were also reports of a Soviet dredge near the Mediterranean end of the Suez Canal which gave rise to rumors that the Russians intended to start clearing the waterway shortly.
According to Israel Government experts, the present Soviet moves were foreseen some years ago when it became apparent that Moscow had adopted a policy of “flexible response” utilizing conventional armed forces rather than nuclear strength to achieve its political ends. The presence of a Soviet fleet, numbering some 50 ships in the Mediterranean may be intended to prevent military action by an adversary such as the landing of American Marines in Lebanon in 1958, they said. The fleet may also be intended to provide an “umbrella” for Egypt against possible Israeli retaliation for commando attacks across the Suez Canal. Or, the experts said, the Russians may merely be building up pressure to coincide with the fall session of the United Nations General Assembly; they may be trying to bolster Arab morale; or the whole build-up may be for the benefit of Yugoslavia and Albania, both of whom long ago broke away from the Soviet bloc.
As for a Soviet attempt to unilaterally re-open the Suez Canal, Government authorities noted that the dredge has been moored at Alexandria for several months, but it has not been reported moving toward Port Said where work to clear the canal might begin.