PARIS (Dec. 17)
The 250-ton gunboat Eilat was launched at Cherbourg yesterday for the Israel Navy but it is still uncertain whether she and her four French-built sisters will ever fly the Israel flag.
As matters stand, the five speedy craft are “frozen” under the embargo on arms to Israel imposed by former President De Gaulle and continued by President Pompidou.
The Eilat is the last of 12 gunboats ordered by Israel in 1966, seven of which were delivered before the Six-Day War and the embargo. All 12 have been paid for in full. They are powered by German-made engines and armed with Italian guns and Israeli missiles. They have a speed of 40 knots (46 land miles per hour).
Five Israeli naval crews of 33 men each have been waiting in Cherbourg for months to take over the gunboats. A large colony of Israeli engineers, naval advisers and other personnel and their families, numbering between 200-300 persons, have been living in Cherbourg for three years while the boats were under construction. Most of them are quartered in houses built especially for them by the shipyard which had hoped for orders for an additional 12 gunboats.
A number of the Israelis are expected to return home next week and the future of the boats is obscure. A spokesman for the Israel Embassy in Paris said yesterday that there were no plans to sell them.