BRUSSELS (Nov. 18)
The NATO Ministerial Council concluded its semi-annual meeting here Saturday with a warning to the Soviet Union that any intervention “directly or indirectly affecting the situation in Europe or in the Mediterranean would create an international crisis with grave consequences.” The warning was contained in the final communique issued by the 15-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization which for the previous three days had been considering the threat to world peace posed by Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia and the build-up of Soviet naval strength and political influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The communique was deliberately vague in that it mentioned no specific countries that were threatened by Soviet activity in the Mediterranean area. It said, however, “Determined to safeguard the freedom and independence of their countries, they (the NATO powers) could not remain indifferent to any development which endangers their security.” The communique noted as well that “the expansion of Soviet activity in the Mediterranean, including the presence of Soviet naval units, requires vigilance to safeguard allied security.”
The NATO deliberations, though conducted mainly behind closed doors, obviously took a very grave view of the growth of Soviet naval strength in the Mediterranean for the first time in history. Reports by military and strategic experts noted that the Soviet fleet was making use of the Egyptian ports of Alexandria and Port Said and the Syrian port of Latakia. Throughout the proceedings, however, no mention was made of Israel, which has been the target of Soviet denunciations since the June, 1967 Arab-Israel war and would be the most likely victim should the Soviets intervene directly in renewed hostilities in the area. Informed sources pointed out that most delegates believe it is not NATO’s task to become involved in the Arab-Israel conflict and that the best way to counteract Soviet penetration is to achieve an Arab-Israeli peace. It was pointed out when the NATO sessions started that Israel is not a member of the alliance and is not even one of the fringe nations which NATO would consider itself obliged to defend in case of aggression.