JERUSALEM (Mar. 22)
The deployment of Soviet SAM-3 anti-aircraft missiles in Egypt– with Soviet personnel to operate them–shaped up today as Israel’s chief argument in an urgent attempt to reverse what Israelis believe will be a negative decision by Washington on their request to buy more Phantom and Sky hawk Jets at this time. The decision will be announced officially tomorrow by Secretary of State William P. Rogers. On the basis of remarks by President Richard M. Nixon at an Impromptu White House press conference Saturday, the Israel Government has already drawn up a statement of reaction which Foreign Minister Abba Eban will make public following Mr. Rogers’ announcement. Mr. Eban informed the Cabinet today of the general line the Israeli statement will take. The final formulation will be drawn up only after the full text of Secretary Rogers’ announcement reaches Jerusalem.
Mr. Eban told the Cabinet he had consulted with Premier Golda Meir, who is on leave regarding the points Israel will make. He indicated that Mrs. Meir will see the final wording before the statement is issued. President Nixon strongly hinted Saturday that his administration will not approve Israel’s purchase of 35 F-4 Phantom jets and 100 A-4 Sky hawks at this time but would reverse that stand on short notice if Israel’s air superiority were in Jeopardy. Israel’s contention is that precisely this condition has come about with the delivery of the SAM-3 missile defense system to Egypt. Mr. Eban told the Cabinet that Israeli representatives abroad are stressing the new dimension introduced to the Mideast with the Soviet SAM-3s which are designed to shoot down low flying aircraft.
Deputy Premier Yigal Allon is also reported to have outlined some of the military and political implications of the Russian deliveries to Egypt at today’s Cabinet meeting. On Friday night. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan referred to the missiles on a television interview. He said Israel’s concern stemmed less from the physical presence of the SAM-3s on Egyptian soil than from the fact that the Russians are creating the foundations for a Soviet military establishment in the Mideast. He indicated that the presence of Soviet personnel would not deter Israeli efforts to neutralize the missiles. He warned that if Israel receives the “French treatment” from the U.S. the quantitative superiority of the Arab air forces next summer would be in the neighborhood of four to one. These arguments are presumably being stressed by Israeli representatives in Washington. President Nixon called the delivery of the SAM-3s to Egypt “disturbing” but didn’t think it altered the Mideast arms balance. Foreign Ministry officials have linked the new Soviet missile deliveries to Egypt with a stiffening of Moscow’s attitude on the Mideast.
(The London Sunday Observer placed the number of Russian “advisors” in Egypt at 6000, the highest estimate ever published in the local press. The Daily Telegraph reported that the Soviets have sent 1500 “instructors” to install and man the SAM-3 ground-to-air missiles just delivered to Egypt. According to the Telegraph, Israeli reconnaissance has pinpointed SAM-3 missile sites outside of Cairo and Alexandria and in the Nile delta. The Observer’s correspondent, Robert Stephens, reported from Cairo that the number of Soviet personnel rose from 3500 to 6000, He said Russian moves were by no means simply military but reflected the Soviet’s heavy economic and political investment in Cairo.)