PARIS (Jan. 5)
The French Government is still feeling the repercussions of the “gunboat affair.” An organization of leftist Gaullists, the UDT, has accused it of “complicity” with Israel. Defense Minister Michel Debre has demanded more “energetic” action against Israel for taking over the five boats in defiance of the French arms embargo. And an officers’ revolt appears to be brewing in the French Army over the dismissal of two high ranking generals in connection with the gunboats’ departure, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned today.
The UDT is a small group led by two ultra-orthodox Gaullists, Louis Vallon and Rene Capitant. But its demand for a thorough investigation and severe punishment for French officials allegedly involved in the gunboat episode could be troublesome. Its charge that the Government has “betrayed” former President de Gaulle’s Middle East policy is embarrassing to the Pompidou regime which strives to maintain the appearance of continuity with the General’s programs and needs the support of all Gaullist elements to remain in power. The UDT has claimed to see a link between President Pompidou’s statement of July 10 hinting that the total arms embargo against Israel might be eased and the gunboats’ departure from Cherbourg on Christmas Day.
ADMIRAL MORDECHAI LIMON ATTACKED BY DEBRE
M. Debre, who served as Foreign Minister in the de Gaulle cabinet, is trying to forestall any softening of France’s attitude toward Israel. He is known to have proposed a break in diplomatic relations with Jerusalem in the wake of the gunboat affair. In an interview broadcast by Radio Luxembourg last night, he made a personal attack on Admiral Mordechai Limon, the head of Israel’s arms purchasing mission in Europe. He accused him of having written him “false letters” and said, “I find it hard to believe that he knows the meaning of a senior officer’s honor.” The reference was to Admiral Limon’s letters clearing the way for the sale of the gunboats to a private firm for commercial purposes.
(In Jerusalem today. Foreign Minister Abba Eban asked French Ambassador Francis Hure to clarify the truth of press reports that M. Debre had accused Admiral Limon of falsehood. He also handed M. Hure his government’s note rejecting France’s views on the gunboat affair.)
M. Debre claimed in the broadcast interview that “President Pompidou had been considering reverting eventually to a selective embargo but now, after the Cherbourg affair, this is obviously out of the question.”
DISSATISFACTION GROWS AMONG FRENCH ARMY OFFICERS
Meanwhile widespread dissatisfaction with the way M. Debre administers the Defense Ministry has been reported among high ranking French Army officers. They have been especially incensed by the suspension, pending a hearing, of Gen, Louis Bonte who headed the interministerial commission on arms exports which approved the gunboat sale. The officers have reportedly informed the Chief of Staff that they “are tired of being made scapegoats for the mistakes of politicians.” They are also bitter over the reduction of France’s defense budget. Their feelings are said to have been communicated to the Elysee Palace.
A sharp attack on France’s arms embargo against Israel was published today in the leftist weekly Nouvel Observateur which does not normally take a pro-Israel stand. An editorial signed by the editor, Jean Daniel, asserted that the embargo is opposed by public opinion in France, civilian and military, because it is “contrary to the country’s sense of honor.” M. Daniel wrote that President Pompidou has not given in to Defense Minister Debre’s demand for harsh action against Israel in the gunboat affair because he knows it would not be tolerated by the French public. Instead, the President decided on a relatively moderate course of action after consulting with Premier Jacques Chaban-Delmas and Foreign Minister Maurice Schumann.