JERUSALEM (Jul. 7)
Concern mounted here today over the introduction of Soviet-manned SAM-3 anti-aircraft missiles into the Suez Canal zone, reported last night by Chief of Staff Halm Bar Lev. Israeli officials are studying ways and means apart from continuing air attacks to overcome the new threat, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has learned. The Israeli Air Force is determined to retain its mastery of the air over the canal zone. However, a situation has developed beyond the point where numerical or qualitative balance of forces is of the same decisive significance as before the installation of the SAM-3s with Soviet technicians to launch them, the JTA has learned. The Israeli government is more optimistic than ever that it will get all of the additional Phantom and Skyhawk jets it has requested from the United States. According to sources here, the government considers President Nixon’s remarks on the Middle East last Wednesday to have marked a decisive turning point in U.S. thinking. The President made an unqualified pledge to maintain Israel’s deterrent strength and, according to government sources, that stemmed at least in part from information provided by Israel about the Soviet military escalation in Egypt. Gen. Bar Lev said last night that the Egyptian missile defense system consisted of a dozen SAM-2 batteries protected by at least two SAM-3 launchers deployed in a rectangular area extending westward through a 17-mile belt originating 15 miles west of the Suez Canal. He said Israeli pilots have reported that at least two SAM-3 missiles have been fired at them in recent days over the canal zone.
(In Washington, the State Department said today that it had “no reason to doubt the substance of the information” revealed by Gen. Bar Lev. “We can’t confirm or deny the details of the statement,” State Department spokesman Carl Bartch said. He had no comment on reports that SAM-3 missiles were deployed near the canal but said “any further movement toward the canal would be regarded as more serious.” Earlier U.S. government officials in Washington were reported to have questioned Israeli reports that SAM-3s have been installed within 20 miles of the canal. They said yesterday there was no independent information to confirm the Israeli reports. According to U.S. officials the Russians have so far refrained from moving the SAM-3s eastward toward the canal. They agree that Egypt’s Soviet-built missile defense system has improved lately but say that it is still deployed 20-35 west of the canal. They say there are no operational SAM-3s within 25 miles of the waterway and that the few SAM-2 sites situated 15-18 miles from the canal have been there for some time. The SAM-2 is a high-altitude missile and until last week had scored no hits on Israeli jets attacking at low level. The more complex, highly sophisticated SAM-3 is designed to down low-level planes. Israel’s admitted loss of three jets since June 30 has been attributed both here and in Jerusalem to SAM-2s. Gen. Bar Lev claimed last night that the SAM-2s are fired by Egyptians with the participation of Russian advisors who are “more than advisors.”)
RABIN: IF MEANS AVAILABLE ISRAEL CAN COPE WITH TOTAL ARAB MILITARY STRENGTH
(Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, said in a CBS News interview last night that “Israel, once we get the means, can cope for any foreseeable time” with the total military strength of the Arab world. “I believe,” he said, “we can cope with the very limited Russian military intervention. We don’t pretend to be able (to cope) with massive Russian military intervention.” Gen. Rabin said the Egyptians’ aim was to eliminate Israel’s freedom of action in the canal zone, and that if they achieved it they would be able to use their superior artillery and tank fire power on a larger scale than before and to mount cross-canal raids on a larger scale.) (The London Telegraph said in an editorial today that if Gen. Bar Lev’s report on Soviet SAM-3 missiles is correct, “this is the most dangerous escalation in Russia’s direct intervention against Israel.” According to the Telegraph, “It was a fateful step and one which America and her allies dare not and must not tolerate.” The Telegraph’s diplomatic correspondent wrote today that the reported intrusion of SAM-3 missiles into the Suez Canal zone “conflicts with Western hopes that Russia may have decided to take a cautious line in the Middle East.” The writer said that “firmer evidence of Russia’s intentions will come at the end of Nasser’s prolonged talks in Moscow and much will depend on whether Russia is as tough toward Nasser as the U.S. has been toward Israel.”)
(The semi-official Egyptian newspaper Al Abram denied yesterday that Soviet personnel were manning the Egyptian anti-aircraft missile positions defending the canal zone that downed three Israeli jets last week. According to Al Abram, the air defense systems in the combat zone were entirely Egyptian-manned and the Israelis know it.) Israeli officials said today that the loss of three planes in recent attacks on the missile-launching sites was not likely to diminish the Air Force’s offensive capacity, nor would further losses on the same scale deter the vigorous prosecution of Israel’s bombing offensive against targets in the canal zone. According to Gen. Bar Lev. Israeli planes have succeeded in destroying five missile sites in recent days. Nevertheless, it is conceded here that despite the raids, the Egyptians and Russians have managed to inch their missile defenses closer to the Suez Canal. Even with their present slow rate of progress they could eventually succeed in saturating the canal zone with missile bases. That would make Israeli air raids too costly and deprive Israel of her control of the skies over the waterway.