TEL AVIV (Oct. 12)
Two Soviet MIG-23s, apparently piloted by Russians, invaded Israeli airspace Sunday morning, it was disclosed here last night. The supersonic jets were detected about 19 miles offshore from Ashkelon flying at an altitude of about 80,000 feet and at a speed of Mach 2.5, 1,700 miles per hour. The serious implications arising from this flight was a topic at tonight’s Cabinet meeting. The meeting was postponed from the afternoon when members of the government attended the funeral of Mrs. Shoshana Sapir, wife of Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir.
Two Israeli jets sent up to intercept them were unable to make contact before the MIGs headed south for Egypt. Officially Israeli airspace extends 12 miles from shore. The MIGs however entered the airspace controled by the Lydda Airport traffic tower which extends 20 miles to the sea. It was the first such penetration by Soviet aircraft. The MIG-23, known to the West as the Foxbat, is the most sophisticated Soviet plane yet supplied to Egypt. It has a ceiling of nearly 100,000 feet and a top speed of Mach 3 compared to the Mach 2.2 speed of the American F-4 Phantoms employed by the Israeli Airforce. The plane is said to outperform any known Western aircraft including the Phantoms.
There was no information as to how the two MIGs were detected but the fact that they were able to come within seconds flying time of Israeli territory was considered to have serious implications for Israeli defenses. Some sources said today that the Russians may have been trying to test the capabilities of Israel’s reported new, highly sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons, in which case the overflights may be repeated. The MIG-23s have been kept heretofore well inside Egypt to protect such vital targets as Cairo, the Aswan Dam and Soviet-manned SAM missile sites. Reports several weeks ago said that MIG-23s were seen in the Suez Canal zone and even over the waterway.
American intelligence, however, has insisted all along that the planes are intended only for a defensive role inside Egypt. According to foreign sources there are no more than four-six MIG-23s in Egypt, all manned by Russian pilots. Some Israeli circles viewed the overflights as a Soviet demonstration of strength in support of Egypt timed to coincide with President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Moscow. Another theory was that the Russians have taken over intelligence tasks carried out until now by Russian planes piloted by Egyptians. One such plane, a Sukhoi-7 fighter-bomber was shot down by Israeli gunners over the Suez Canal last month.