JERUSALEM (Mar. 21)
Israel may be willing to settle for something less than permanent sovereignty over the Sharm el-Sheikh strong point in southern Sinai as long as it is assured of firm control over the position and over a land bridge linking it to Israeli territory, well informed political sources indicated today. The sources emphasized that Israel insists on “control,” not a mere “Israeli presence” because Sharm el-Sheikh dominates the Straits of Tiran through which most of the nation’s oil imports must pass. Most observers here believe the stand of Sharm el-Sheikh implies a slight concession that may have been occasioned by Washington’s stiff resistance to Israel’s demands for geographical security. They said the position indicated that Israel may be more willing now to consider an American proposal that Israel lease Sharm el-Sheikh from Egypt on a long term basis. The Israelis nevertheless are making a major effort to convince public opinion of the importance of Sharm el-Sheikh to its security.
It was disclosed for the first time officially that most oil imports pass through the Straits of Tiran enroute to Eilat, the southern terminus of Israel’s new oil pipeline to the Mediterranean coast. Israel is also not willing to give up the new 150-mile road that runs from Eilat to Sharm el-Sheikh along the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. Political sources also sought to soften Secretary of State Rogers’ recent remarks on territorial acquisitions. They noted that he drew a clear distinction between “use” and “acquisition” of a territory, implying that Israel could very well use Sharm el-Sheikh without acquiring it. They recalled that the U.S. with its technological superiority, insisted on retaining its leased naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba. Political circles here said Friday’s talk between Foreign Minister Eban and Secretary Rogers in Washington was “frank and friendly.” They insisted that no pressure had been brought to bear on Israel. But it was apparent from reports here that the gap separating the U.S. and Israel was by no means narrowed.