JERUSALEM (Jan. 5)
Israel’s Cabinet has sharply criticized the French Government for demanding the recall of Admiral Mordechai Limon, head of Israel’s military purchasing mission in Europe, in connection with the gunboat affair. A statement issued by the Cabinet after its meeting yesterday, insisted that Israel had violated no international law when it took over five French-built gunboats at Cherbourg on Christmas Day and sailed them to Israel in defiance of France’s arms embargo.
The Cabinet statement said the French demand was “unjustified” and placed the onus on the arms embargo that “withholds equipment legally acquired and paid for by Israel in violation of normal international conduct and with damaging effects on peace prospects in the Middle East.”
Israel’s views on the matter will be made known to France by Foreign Minister Abba Eban through diplomatic channels. The Cabinet statement pointed out that while the arms embargo is in effect against Israel, massive shipments of French arms are going to Arab states and a major French arms deal is being negotiated with Libya, a country that has said it will lend its forces to an attack on Israel.
NO LAW VIOLATED IN GUNBOAT PURCHASE
Israel insists that the unarmed gunboats were purchased by a private company for use in offshore oil prospecting and that Admiral Limon violated neither the letter nor the spirit of the law when he signed papers making their sale possible.
The civilian role intended for the 40-knot craft was emphasized today by Capt. Milla Brenner, a director of Maritime Fruit Carriers Ltd., the principal owner of the Panamanian firm that bought the boats. Maritime is an Israeli shipping company that specializes in the transport of frozen produce. Capt. Brenner said it was establishing a subsidiary, Oil Ventures International, which holds leases for oil prospecting off the coasts of Canada, South Africa and in the Adriatic Sea. He said the boats would be employed wherever they were needed. Meanwhile, they are on a long-term charter to Netivei Nepht, an Israeli company that plans to drill for oil off Israel’s shores.
The boats were purchased by Starboat & Weill S.A., of Panama of which Mr. Brenner is a director The French Defense Ministry had identified that firm as Norwegian when the boats left Cherbourg two weeks ago and an international furore arose when Norway denied this. Starboat & Weill has a representative in Oslo in the person of Martin Siem who heads the Aker group, Norway’s largest shipbuilding enterprise. Mr. Siem is a close friend and business associate of Mr. Brenner. His firm built most of the Maritime Fruit Carriers’ fleet of fast refrigerated ships.