JERUSALEM (Jun. 14)
Implied threats of “action” against any country aiding and abetting attacks on Israeli shipping in international waters emerged here today in the aftermath of Friday’s bazooka attack on the Israel-bound Liberian tanker Coral Sea in the Straits of Bab el-Mandab. According to well informed sources, the Israel government is resorting to political measures for the time being to prevent a repetition of the incident. But most Cabinet ministers are reported to be convinced that the efficacy of this approach is extremely limited and that “the principal action to assure free navigation has to be taken by the security organs,” the sources said. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned that when news of the attack reached the government Friday, Israel approached “an important friendly Western power” and was advised by it to delay announcing the incident to give Liberia a chance to announce it. The Liberian government made no announcement over the week-end and Israel broke the news yesterday. Some details have been suppressed by the local censor. The tanker was steaming through the narrow channel west of Perim island when the attack occurred. Perim reportedly has been fortified by South Yemen.
Israeli circles cited the incident as one more reason why Israel should never withdraw from the Sharm el-Sheikh strongpoint on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula. Sharm el-Sheikh, about 1,000 miles from the Straits of Bab el-Mandab, is the Israeli base closest to that vital waterway. Should Israel give it up, the sources said, the protection of Israeli shipping in the straits would be difficult if not impossible. Maritime circles in Haifa said today that “special measures” have already been taken to protect Israeli shipping on all maritime routes leading to the port of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba. They did not indicate what the measures were. The word from Haifa, Israel’s largest port and maritime center, was “business as usual.” The Zim Lines, Israel’s largest shipping company, operates about 13 vessels from Eilat to Africa, Southeast Asia and Australia, all of which pass through the Straits of Bab el-Mandab. Some of the vessels fly the Israeli flag and the others are chartered foreign-flag ships.
The Coral Sea, a 65,000 deadweight ton tanker flies the flag of Liberia, has a Greek Master and a partly Greek crew. She is on charter to an Israeli firm and her agents in Israel are Cargo Ships El Yam Ltd., an Israeli company engaged in world-wide shipping. The owners of the tanker were not identified. They could be Israeli or foreign or a combination of both. Israeli circles appeared to be piqued over the apparent indifference displayed by the Liberian government over the attack on the Coral Sea. Israeli circles are inclined to dismiss the claim made yesterday by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Beirut that its commandos were responsible for the attack on the Coral Sea. They are also convinced that Egypt was not behind the attack. Although nothing official has been said about the identity of the sea-going terrorists, the feeling here is that they may have been harbored and otherwise aided by South Yemen and possibly by a terrorist organization in Eritrea.