JERUSALEM (Jan. 7)
Foreign Ministry circles today unofficially interpreted the French Government’s total embargo on shipment of arms and military spare parts to Israel, announced yesterday, as an attempt to impair Israel’s defense capability and win Arab favor. One authoritative source said France’s stand “now approaches open enmity toward Israel and in turn encourages enmity by the Arab states.” The Defense Ministry was silent on President de Gaulle’s decision to ban shipments of spare parts for already purchased French-built Mirage V fighter-bombers, backbone of the Israel Air Force, and for helicopters. The embargo, which began Jan. 4, also applies to ammunition and “certain naval equipment.”
An embargo on delivery of Mirages was imposed by Gen. de Gaulle following the June, 1967 Six-Day War, and 50 Mirages bought and paid for by Israel more than a year ago are still held in a French warehouse. That embargo did not include spare parts for the repair and maintenance of the aircraft.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said the measure had been taken as “a warning to Israel in view of Israel’s aggressive acts, especially the recent raid (Dec. 28) on the Beirut International Airport.” The spokesman said the ban had been ordered because the reprisal raid “threatened to enlarge the area of the conflict.” In the Beirut raid, following an Arab terrorist attack on an El Al plane in Athens, Israeli commandos destroyed 13 commercial planes including several in which France reportedly had a 30 percent investment.
The consensus among diplomatic observers here was that while the embargo was officially announced to be a consequence of the reprisal raid, Gen. de Gaulle may have contemplated it earlier when agreement was announced in Washington for the sale of 50 F-4 Phantom jets to Israel. The French leader was believed to have concluded that the Phantom deal would strengthen Israel’s insistence on a negotiated peace treaty with the Arabs. France’s official stand is that only prior Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied in the June, 1967 war will solve the main problems of the Middle East, observers said, and Gen. de Gaulle was said to be determined not to support Israel’s position even at the cost of millions of dollars in hard currency that Israel would pay for armaments and that France needs.
Semi- official Israeli sources said the latest de Gaulle move fits in with France’s Middle East policy which is to court oil-rich Arab countries to win oil franchises in order to become less dependent on British and American oil companies. The Middle East supplies about one-third of France’s oil needs and France is irked by the near monopoly enjoyed by British and American firms in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf oil shiekdoms, they said.
A spokesman at the Israel Embassy in Paris said the embargo caused a “dangerous situation” and could ground the Israel Air Force within “a matter of months.” Spare parts inventories for the French aircraft were understood to have been well stocked in Israel in advance in anticipation of a possible embargo. Since the embargo placed on the 50 Mirages last year Israel has been seeking alternative sources of supply. Some of the Phantom jet fighter-bombers to be sold to Israel by the United States, will be delivered this year. (Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told Israel’s Parliament today that the Beirut raid would not interfere with delivery of the Phantoms.) Israel’s Air Force is made up of Mystere, Mirage and Vautour fighters, as well as American-made Sky hawks. The $200 million Phantom deal, announced Dec. 27, includes spare parts and crew training.
Some diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said the French move places Paris squarely behind the Arabs and loses for it any standing as a possible intermediary in the Middle East dispute. The “total embargo” announcement shocked Israel as there had been no hint that such action was contemplated. But diplomatic observers believed that while Jerusalem-Paris relations would be frigid they would not be broken.
Editorial comment was bitter. The independent daily Haaretz declared: “We will never forget de Gaulle’s hostile intention to make us surrender. But we will not surrender.”
(Paris newspapers, with the exception of the Gaullist La Nation and the Communist Humanite, severely criticized the French Government for its “total embargo.” Le Figaro termed it a “further escalation of France’s anti-Israel attitude.” L’Aurore called the de Gaulle decision a “breach of honor.” Several prominent French political personalities also criticized the de Gaulle move, among them George Duhammel, president of the Independent Party, and Daniel Mayer, president of the French League for the Rights of Man.)