LONDON (Oct. 19)
Four modern Soviet tanks which form the backbone of armored divisions facing Allied troops in West Germany were captured by Israel when it raided Egyptian positions on the Gulf of Suez and have been sent to Britain for tests, the Daily Express says. The report, by the newspaper’s usually well-informed defense correspondent, Chapman Pincher, has been denied by British and Israeli defense officials. But the newsman insists on his accuracy and says “an official denial was inevitable because of the diplomatic implications.”
Mr. Pincher said that the captured T-62 medium tanks and their powerful 115-mm. guns, which until now Western military experts had not yet inspected, were taken by the military forces that crossed the Suez Gulf on Sept. 9. He reported that the tanks were sent to Kirkcudbright in Scotland for firing range tests against the modern British Chieftain tanks which Israel is seeking to buy in quantity.
He said that the tanks, which are regarded as far superior to any captured during the Six-Day War, had been painted with Israeli markings before being shipped to Britain. The London Sun disputed Mr. Pincher’s story saying that while tanks had been shipped from Israel to Britain, they are Chieftains. It was reported a few days ago that Chieftains had been sent for tests to Israel.
Meanwhile, a retired British Army colonel has been appointed head of a Chieftain tank sales operation in Israel although the British Government has not yet officially consented to the deal. The retired Tank Corps soldier has already spent several weeks in Israel choosing sites for tank testing and preparing training programs for Israeli tank crews, the Daily Mail reported. If the deal is not approved by the Government, the Israelis will call it off and buy tanks from the United States, the Daily Mail reported. Meanwhile, the British plan to proceed with the sale of Chieftains to Libya, an arrangement made before the Sept. 1 leftist pro-Nasser military coup which ousted 79-year-old King Idris.
The Defense Ministry decided to go ahead with the sale despite the security danger that the Chieftains may be made available to the Russians through the Egyptians. The Government had agreed originally to send Libya the tanks, after King Idris had sought to protect his rich oil fields against Egyptian or Algerian takeover. Britain’s current reasoning is that the contract was signed in April and legally binding and that if it is broken, the Libyans might repudiate their treaties for oil supplies badly needed by Britain since the closure of the Suez Canal.
Writing about the Sept. 9 capture of the Soviet T-62s, Mr. Pincher said that Israeli intelligence had earlier confirmed their arrival in Egypt. The tanks have been in service with the Kremlin’s front-line troops for only two years and their 115-mm. gun is heavier than any on Israel’s existing tanks, he said. The new tanks were moved down to the Red Sea coast for desert trials because the Egyptians assured the Russians that they would be safe from attack. In addition to coveting the tanks for military tests, the Israelis wanted to show the Russians that they were making a major security blunder in supplying front-line weapons to their Arab clients, Mr. Pincher wrote.