Soviet Newsman’s Secret Visit to Israel Seen As Possible Warning to Egypt

The secret visit to Israel this month by Soviet newsman Victor Louis, who has served as a “middleman” for Soviet authorities on previous occasions, gave rise to speculation that Russia was feeling out Israel on the resumption of diplomatic ties. But knowledgeable Israelis believe that if there was any purpose behind the visit it was more of a warning to Egypt than an overture to Israel, Christian Science Monitor correspondent Francis Ofner reported from Jerusalem today. “Some Israeli officials view his visit as a Russian warning to Egypt that the Soviets could become friendlier toward Israel, should the Sadat government of Egypt “flirt with the U.S.,” Ofner wrote. (At Moscow airport where he went to greet visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad yesterday. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko scorned reports that Russia and Israel were negotiating a resumption of diplomatic relations. Gromyko was quoted as saying that the rumors did not even deserve refutation. Riad will be in Moscow four days during which he will discuss the latest Mideast developments and exchange ratification documents of the new Egyptian-Soviet 15 year treaty of friendship and cooperation.)

The Victor Louis visit to Israel was cloaked in secrecy. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem admitted it only after stories appeared in the press that Louis had conferred with Simha Dinitz, Premier Golda Meir’s political adviser and close confidant. According to Ofner, Israeli skepticism that Louis’ trip was a fence-mending excursion on behalf of the Kremlin is based on two considerations: First, Louis does not have the background and experience for such a diplomatic mission and second, the Soviets are not likely to employ “cloak-and-dagger” methods for such a conventional move as resuming diplomatic relations. Ofner reported that Israelis recall that when the Soviet Union desired to resume relations with Israel in 1953 after a nine-month break, the Soviet Ambassador in Bulgaria simply communicated that desire to the Israeli chief of mission in Sofia. Israeli officials believe that this time too, the Soviet government could have found many opportunities for such a diplomatic initiative, Ofner wrote.

NEXT STORY