JERUSALEM (Apr. 29)
Israelis were officially told by their government this morning that Russian pilots are flying Egyptian jets on air defense missions over Egypt. An announcement on the state-owned radio at 7 a.m. local time said, “In the Soviet involvement in the Middle East there has been a grave development. In recent days it has become clear beyond any doubt to the government of Israel that for the first time Soviet pilots are flying operational missions from military installations under their control in Egypt.”
The Israel government has officially informed the United States government of this development. Premier Golda Meir has reportedly sent a message to President Nixon requesting urgent reconsideration of his decision last month to withhold action on Israel’s request for more Phantom and Sky hawk jets. Israel has reportedly told the U.S. that so far the Soviet-piloted Egyptian planes have kept out of the Suez Canal zone and there has been no combat contact between them and Israeli pilots. But over the last ten days, Russian pilots have been scrambling into attack formations at almost every potential approach by an Israeli plane into Egyptian air space beyond the canal zone, the Israelis informed Washington. They reported that two of their planes were pursued by eight Russian-piloted Egyptian MIG fighters on April 18, the day the new pattern of Soviet operations was detected.
(In Moscow today Soviet Foreign Ministry officials declined to confirm or deny the Israeli claims. They said, “We have no information on this.”) (It was reported in Washington today that U.S. officials are still studying their own intelligence reports in an atmosphere of mounting concern. Washington sources said the Israelis have been reporting daily for more than a week the new role of Soviet pilots in Egypt. The Israeli reports were said to be based on intercepted radio messages. Russian pilots flying Egyptian MIGs appeared to be communicating in Russian deliberately to let Israeli pilots know of their presence. So far they are said to have scrupulously avoided the Suez Canal zone, where Israeli jets continue almost daily to pound Egyptian military positions. But their presence has apparently deterred Israel from new air raids inside Egypt. The last announced raid on the Egyptian inter for occurred April 13.)
RUSSIAN PILOTS BELIEVED TOLD TO SHOOT DOWN ISRAELI PLANES OVER CENTRAL EGYPT
The Israeli government’s radio announcement today said, “The operational activity of the Soviet pilots has not extended so far to the cease-fire line and they have not been involved in air combat in this region.” The announcement noted that in March the Russians began installing SAM-3 anti-aircraft missiles in Egypt manned by Soviet personnel. “Now there is a further step of Soviet operational participation at the side of Egypt in the military campaign which Egypt is waging against Israel. This involvement has already enabled Egypt to increase its aggressive acts against Israel.” Israeli military sources have noted a resurgence of Egyptian military activity in the air and on the ground after a comparative lull during the winter months. While Soviet-piloted planes so far have not interfered with Israeli retaliatory air-strikes at Egyptian positions in the canal zone, their activity has freed Egyptian pilots for attacks on Israeli positions on the waterway and deep inside the Sinai peninsula.
(According to American sources all Soviet-piloted Egyptian jets have come from one air base at Ben Suef, about 60 miles south of Cairo. But other diplomatic sources have suggested that the Russians are flying out of several bases in the Nile Delta. Diplomatic sources have estimated the number of newly arrived Russian pilots at 50 to 100 and speculate that their orders are to intercept and shoot down Israeli planes over central Egypt. Such orders would be tantamount to a Soviet commitment to defend Cairo, Alexandria, the Aswan High Dam and the newly installed SAM-3 missile launching sites. Past Israeli sorties into central Egypt have been intended to demonstrate to President Gamal Abdel Nasser the vulnerability of Egyptian cities and vital targets. According to reports from “defense sources” in London, the Russians have decided to use the Middle East as a testing ground for the SAM-3s and for their new, highly sophisticated MIG-23 fighter. Up to now there have been no reports of operational MIG-23s in the area. The Russian pilots are flying the slower, short-range MIG-21, which gives credence to the theory that their mission is defensive for the time being.)
Today’s Israel government statement said “The escalation of Soviet involvement in Egypt must cause concern not only to Israel but to all freedom loving peoples. This latest development is a continuation of the policies of the Soviet Union and of its consistent identification with Egyptian aggression before the Six-Day War.” The statement accused Russia of supporting President Nasser’s abrogation of the cease-fire and encouraging him to reject appeals by Israel and other states to reinstate it. It said Russia further encouraged Egypt to adhere to the “no’s” of the Khartoum summit meeting of Arab states–No recognition, no negotiations and no peace with Israel. “Israel will continue to defend itself against all aggression which violates the cease-fire arrangements and which aims at renewal of a war in the area,” the government’s statement said. Premier Golda Meir said today that Israel has no intention of shooting down Soviet pilots or any other pilots but is forced to defend itself. She said war operations from Egypt forced Israel into active and preventive defense. Mrs. Meir spoke at the inauguration of a new soldiers home in Jerusalem.
WASHINGTON SAID TO BE CONCERNED THAT FURTHER SOVIET INTERVENTION WILL UPSET BALANCE
(New York Times Washington correspondent James Reston said today that diplomats in the capital differed in their interpretation of the meaning of the new Soviet involvement in Egypt. “The most alarming interpretation is that the Soviets, seeing President Nixon in trouble at home and in southeast Asia, are stepping up the pressure in the Middle East while the Administration is pre-occupied else where,” Mr. Reston wrote. “The more moderate interpretation is that Moscow is not engaged in a major power play at all–having economic troubles and Chinese preoccupation of its own–but is merely warning the Israelis to stop their deep aerial penetrations of Egypt or risk the fire of the Soviet pilots and technicians.” According to Mr. Reston, even the latter interpretation worries the Israelis lest President Nasser misjudge his power, as he did in 1967, and stumble into another war. Mr. Reston reported that Washington is concerned that if Soviet pilots go beyond their implied threat of force in Egypt to actual shooting, the Middle East balance of power will clearly be upset, a development President Nixon has committed himself to avoid. The Washington Post quoted an un-named U.S. official as saying that Israel was using the growing Soviet pressure to try to build a case for more U.S. help. “They’re trying to make it our problem,” the official was quoted.)
BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE: IF ISRAELI REPORT CORRECT MIDEAST FACES ‘SIGNIFICANT’ DANGER
(In London, the British Foreign Office declined to comment on the Israeli report. Informed sources said the reason for the declination was that the Foreign Office “had no independent evidence” on which to make a statement. According to an informed source, the unofficial view of the Foreign Office was that if the report was correct the presence of the Russian pilots “would increase significantly the danger in the area and would indicate a pressing need to step up a search for peace in the Middle East.” The political editor of the (London) Evening Standard reported that the British Cabinet’s assessment of the latest Mideast crisis is that Soviet Russia is not out to ensure Israel’s defeat by Egypt but rather to see to it that the Egyptians are adequately equipped to maintain a military balance. The paper said the Russians have carried out a top-level take-over in Egypt, installing senior Warsaw Pact general staff officers in charge of operations sections of the Egyptian high command.
The London Evening News said Israel’s charge that Russian pilots are flying missions over Egypt is cause for serious concern. However, it added, “It must still be difficult to believe that the Russians will take the Middle East gamble to a point of military combat with Israel. The Kremlin has too much trouble along the border with China to want to become involved in a shooting war in another region and a confrontation with the U.S.A. in the Mideast would look like the last thing the Soviet Union would be promoting at this time.”) (New York Daily News correspondent Henry Maule reported from London today that massive Soviet economic and military aid to the Arab states is one of the major causes of Russia’s present economic difficulties, which may lead to the fall of the present Kremlin triumvirate–Brezhnev-Kosygin-Podgorny–with Communist party boss Leonid Brezhnev assuming full power. According to Mr. Maule, one possible outcome would be a more accommodating attitude on settling the Middle East conflict in order to improve the economic picture at home.)