JERUSALEM (Jul. 5)
Israel continued today to withhold official comment on American moves to counter the Soviet military presence in the Middle East. So far the moves have been entirely verbal, beginning with President Richard M. Nixon’s remarks on a televised question-and-answer session last Wednesday that the maintenance of the military balance of power in the Middle East–Israel’s deterrent strength — was vital to United States interests in that region. The nearest to an official reaction by the Government was Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s assertion in a television interview last night that “Mr. Nixon’s declarations were definitely in keeping with our overall impression of America’s diplomacy and makes it very clear that if Israel is weakened, the situation will invite war.” Mr. Eban did not appear concerned over the failure of Washington to announce its decision on the sale of more combat jets to Israel. He agreed with the position stated by Secretary of State William P. Rogers a week ago that the problem of weapons procurement should not be discussed publicly. Upon his return from visits to Luxembourg and London, Mr. Eban said Friday that President Nixon’s televised remarks on the Middle East constituted “an internationally important document” in which the United States “came to realize…the dangers of the Soviet involvement” in that area.
Mr. Eban, in his statement delivered at Lydda Airport, also observed that another important point in Nixon’s remarks was his clear recognition that the crux of the Mideast problem was that the Arabs “want to drive Israel into the sea.” The Foreign Minister refused to elaborate on the possibility of a speed-up on the U.S. decision regarding more jets for Israel, which Mr. Nixon did not discuss in his television interview. Asked to compare Mr. Nixon’s remarks with the Mideast peace “initiative” announced June 25 by Mr. Rogers, Mr. Eban replied: “I know of only one authority in the U.S.A., which is headed by President Nixon.” Mr. Eban said that British Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home had revealed in London an interest in the Mideast problem and a desire to help solve it after the new Tory (Conservative) Government concludes its formative stages. Other Israeli diplomatic circles welcomed Mr. Nixon’s remarks but thought they fell short of an unequivocal American warning that would deter Moscow from escalation of its military activities in the Mideast. “In spite of its (Pres. Nixon’s remarks) deterrent character, one such statement is not enough and in any case the question is whether it will be followed by action,” one diplomat told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today.
GALILI DENIES RUMORS THAT CABINET IS SPLIT OVER NEW U.S. MIDEAST PEACE INITIATIVE
Two Cabinet ministers expressed approval of the President’s view of the Mideast situation. Arye L. Dulcin, of the militantly nationalist Gahal faction said Mr. Nixon made it clear that Israel did not stand alone and this was important for Israel’s enemies to recognize. Israel Galili, a Labor Party Minister-Without-Portfolio who is a close adviser to Premier Golda Meir said Israel should welcome President Nixon’s remarks but “they did not make Israel’s application for more American arms superfluous.” Mr. Galili denied rumors that the Cabinet was seriously split over the new American peace initiative for the Mideast to a point where new elections were envisaged. Premier Meir, accompanied by most of her Cabinet, joined U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour in celebrating the Fourth of July at the Ambassador’s residence in Herzliya last night. Present, along with several hundred other Israelis were Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Mr. Eban, Minister-Without-Portfolio Menachem Beigin. Chief of Staff Gen. Haim Bar Lev and Justice Shimon Agranat, President of the Israeli Supreme Court. Discrete silence was maintained here over what was described as a major “trial balloon” lofted by the Nixon Administration last week which included the hint that an American military presence in the Mideast to counter the Soviets was not completely outside the realm of possibility. Israel has stressed repeatedly that it is not seeking American advisors or military personnel, only the modern weaponry it requires to counter-balance the Soviet-supplied armed might of the Arab states, notably Egypt.
(World-wide attention was focussed on a background briefing for correspondents at the San Clemente summer White House Thursday which enlarged on President Nixon’s words of warning on television the night before that the Mideast conflict could lead to a confrontation between the two superpowers which neither wanted. The President was described as convinced the U.S. would have to take some action to force the removal of Soviet military personnel from Egypt, just as the Kennedy Administration a decade ago took a stance that forced the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. Authoritative sources at the San Clemente briefing Thursday were told that the U.S. might have to have a “physical presence” in Israel to cope with the Russian threat. This was watered down somewhat on Friday when White House press secretary Ronald Ziegler said there were no plans to send American military personnel to the Mideast. But Mr. Ziegler refused to rule out the possibility that under some circumstances President Nixon might be forced to send some U.S. personnel to Israel to counter the Russian force in Egypt. “We do not intend to do this,” Mr. Ziegler said, adding that the Administration greatly preferred to settle the Mideast crisis by diplomatic means. Some observers here noted that Israel could be seriously embarrassed by a sudden surfeit of U.S. “generosity” in terms of military personnel. Knowing the deep divisions in the U.S. over the Indo-China war and anxious to reverse an apparent ebb in American public support of its own cause, Israelis do not want to become the focal point of another American armed adventure overseas, the observers claimed.)