WASHINGTON (May. 1)
Congressional quarters friendly to Israel said today that Israel’s “first credibility gap” had developed in the handling of reports on yesterday’s Israeli commando strike into southern Egypt. The Congressmen, who asked not to be quoted by name in order to avoid offending some of their constituents, said that official Israeli communiques first reported heavy damage done to an Egyptian dam, a bridge and electric power lines, but commentators later “backtracked” with a different story that the raid was aimed at inflicting psychological rather than physical damage.
The Congressmen put the blame on Premier Golda Meir’s office, not the Israeli armed forces. One Congressman said in a cloakroom comment that Israeli politicians were getting involved “in the same kind of publicity game played by the El Fatah, involving exaggerated actions and phony raids.” He said, “The politicians in Israel are taking over from the military men and we won’t know what to believe.”
The criticism emanated from legislators who have high respect for the efficiency and reliability of the Israeli military forces and who feel the commando raid was fully justified. But they were dismayed when Israeli announcements of a damaging strike were followed by dispatches from foreign correspondents who said they saw no evidence of the claimed damage when they flew over the target area.
Egypt complained to the Security Council yesterday over what it alleged was an aborted air raid attempt by Israel on civilian targets in southern Egypt. Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad said in a letter that “notwithstanding the failure of this Israeli attempt, the gravity of the matter lies in the Israeli persistence in its endeavors to destroy economic installations and attack civilian targets.” It did not ask for a meeting.
The means by which the raid was carried out are still unclear. Israel stated officially that the raid was intended “to remind Egyptian authorities of their responsibilities for violating the cease-fire agreements, and to make them aware that their acts of aggression cannot continue without being reacted to.” When Israeli commentators appeared to be stressing the psychological effects of the raid rather than the physical damage done, observers were led to conclude that either the raid was not as successful as the Israelis had hoped, or else that its chief purpose was to demonstrate the vulnerability of southern Egypt with its complex of dams, power stations and high tension lines that feed electric current to the populated northern regions of the country. Israeli spokesmen stressed that the commandos did not have to fire a single shot despite Egypt’s claims to have strengthened its civil defense and local gendarmerie after an attack on Naj Hammadi last Nov. 1.
The implications of unopposed Israeli action several hundred miles beyond the Suez Canal cease fire line appeared to have been lost on the Egyptians. Their shelling of Israeli positions on the canal’s east bank yesterday and today was the most intensive in many days, the Israelis conceded. After last October’s raid, the Israelis enjoyed a respite from artillery bombardment.
Israeli sources said however that the raid was necessary because a lack of reaction would be taken as a sign of weakness and encourage the Egyptians in their escalation of fighting along the canal. There were hints in the Israeli press today that more severe punishment awaited Egypt if it persisted in its shelling, sniping and commando forays across the canal.
(The New York Times said in an editorial today that the Israeli commando strike “points up the vulnerability of Egypt’s long Nile River lifeline and the futility of Cairo’s recent belligerence.” It said, “The Egyptians can hardly expect sympathy from the international community after their open repudiation of the Suez Canal cease-fire line.” The editorial observed that “for the moment, the greatest impact of Israeli commando raids inside Egypt is probably psychological.”