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Unofficial Israeli Reaction to Nixon’s Mideast Views is Favorable but Cautious

Unofficial reaction today to President Richard M. Nixon’s remarks on the Middle East last night was highly favorable here. Especially welcome was his assertion that the maintenance of the Mideast balance of power–meaning Israel’s deterrent strength–was “an American interest.” There was no official comment today. The Foreign Ministry was reported to be closely studying Mr. Nixon’s statement on the Middle East, made during an unusual hour-long television question-and-answer session with correspondents representing, each of the three major American networks. The Ministry was reportedly withholding an official statement pending the return of Foreign Minister Abba Eban from Luxembourg and London later tonight. (The bulk of President Nixon’s televised Interview, broadcast from Los Angeles, was devoted to the Indo-China war. But the President made it clear that he regarded the Middle East situation more dangerous than Vietnam “because it involves the possibility that the two nuclear superpowers may be drawn into a confrontation that neither wants.”)

(Declaring that the Middle East situation Is “terribly dangerous…like the Balkans before World War I,” the President emphasized that the United States considers the balance of power between Israel and the Arab states essential to its interests. If Soviet aid to the Arabs upsets the balance, there will be war, he said, and for that reason the U.S. will “do what is necessary to maintain Israel’s strength” at a level that will “deter its neighbors from attacking.”) One official here observed that “This removes the Israel-American dialogue from the level of pressure and lobbying and places it in the sphere of practical polities.” Others maintained that Mr. Nixon’s unequivocal commitment to maintain the military balance in the region could have an affect on the Arabs and the Russians particularly at this time when President Nasser of Egypt is visiting Moscow, reportedly to ask for more Soviet arms. But the general satisfaction with Mr. Nixon’s words was tempered by caution. Some Israeli circles observed that Israel has better friends in the White House than In the State Department and warned that pressure to accept the proposals made last week by Secretary of State William P. Rogers cannot be excluded. Israel has reacted coolly to those proposals, the details of which have not been disclosed.

NIXON: VOWS U.S. WILL MAINTAIN MIDEAST BALANCE: PROBLEM BROADER THAN ARAB-ISRAELI DISPUTE

(President Nixon spoke at greater length and in more detail on the Middle East than he has at any of his formal press conferences. He said the problem in that region had ramifications farbroader than in the Arab-Israeli dispute. He noted that Soviet Russia was moving Into the region which was of vital importance because it “is the gateway to the Mediterranean, the hinge of NATO and the gateway to India.” He said, “If the military balance shifts to where Israel is weaker, then there will be war.” Israel, he declared, “is not desirous of driving other countries into the sea but some other countries are desirous of driving Israel into the sea. It is in United States interest to maintain balance of power and we will maintain the balance of power…Not because we want Israel in a position to wage war, but because that is what will keep its neighbors from attacking,” President Nixon confirmed for the first time officially that the Soviet Union has submitted its own proposals for a Middle East solution to the Four Powers. He said he has not had time to study them, but added that anything that would “cool it” in the region would be helpful. The President said that to have peace the “Arabs must recognize Israel’s right to exist and Israel must agree to withdraw” from territory occupied in the June, 1967 war.)

(The President made no mention of the specifics of American aid to Israel and did not mention Israel’s request for more Phantom and Skyhawk Jets. The implication of his remarks was that Israel’s needs will be met whenever it appeared that the military balance had shifted to its disadvantage. A further implication was that in America’s view, that time has not arrived. A White House official who spoke to newsmen before the interview was broadcast said yesterday that if the Soviet build-up in the Mideast continued there must necessarily be some U.S. counteraction but he added that the need not be an overwhelming American presence. He said that Israel could not permit Itself to be gradually strangled and that the Soviet Union is aware that a point could be reached when the Israelis must do something. In view of the American commitment to Israel, the Nixon administration would be forced to strengthen Israel to a point where it cannot be destroyed. The official said that the Soviet Union has shown some interest in a Mideast settlement because it realizes the dangers of its activities In the region.) (Arab reaction to President Nixon’s remarks was sparse and hostile. The interview received heavy coverage in broadcasts from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Cairo radio emphasized that the U.S. was concerned that Israel’s military strength must be equal to the Arabs’. Damascus radio, which speaks for the Syrian government, said “Nixon emphasized his government’s enmity toward the Arab nation and America’s complete bias In favor of Israel.”)

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