Two Soviet Foxbats Overfly Sinai; Seen As Direct Soviet Intervention in Mideast; Israeli Interceptor

Israeli leaders have taken a grave view of yesterday’s overflight of the Sinai peninsula by two Soviet MIG-23s. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said at today’s Cabinet meeting that the overflight was clearly intended to impress upon both Israel and Egypt that it is the Russians who hold the real military power in the Middle East.

Israeli sources claimed that the overflights dealt a severe blow to the American argument that Israel retains substantial air superiority over the Arabs despite continuing Soviet deliveries of aircraft to Egypt. They said it amounted to a direct intervention by the Russians in the Mideast, more serious than the Soviet presence inside Egypt. The MIG-23, known as the Foxbat, is the fastest, highest flying plane in the world.

Shortly before noon yesterday, a pair of them obviously piloted by Russians, covered some 200 miles in less than three minutes over the heart of Israel-occupied Sinai. Their flight path took them from a point west of El Arish on the Mediterranean coast to Ras Sudar on the Red Sea. It lay about 100 miles east of the Suez Canal. The planes, spotted on Israeli radar, were flying at an altitude of 70,000 feet and a supersonic speed of Mach. 2.5. That speed and altitude are beyond the maximum capabilities of the American F-4 Phantoms in the Israel Air Force.

Israeli interceptors were sent up but were unable to make contact with the Russian jets. Israeli sources said the flights must have been planned and approved by the highest Soviet authorities. The incident was regarded as far more serious than the one on Oct. 10 when two MIG-23s skirted the Israeli coast off Ashkelon and came within the control radius of the Lydda Airport traffic tower but did not actually violate Israeli airspace.

ISRAEL TO REQUEST MORE PHANTOMS

Israeli circles said yesterday’s overflight had a two-fold purpose–as a demonstration intended to intimidate Israel and as a practical reconnaisance mission. From their altitude the MIGs were able to photograph Israeli positions not only in the Sinai but in the southern portions of Israel proper. The sources said the Russians were seeking to prove to the Arabs that they were prepared to assume functions other than advisory and defensive. Some sources said Moscow may have decided on the demonstration in view of the entry of its great rival, Chins, into the international political arena. They recalled that the Oct. 10 MIG-29 flight was timed to coincide with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s departure for Moscow.

Officials said the Soviets appeared intent on increasing tensions in the area, pressuring Israel and making the Egyptians more than ever dependent on the Soviet Union. Israelis said that if there is renewed anxiety in Jerusalem there should be an equal feeling of anxiety in Washington over the Soviet demonstration of its aerial superiority. In view of yesterday’s incident, Israel was expected to intensify its demands for more Phantoms which the Nixon administration has been withholding on grounds that Israel does not really need them at this time.

Only a small number of Foxbats are believed to be in Egypt and these are piloted by Russians and maintained by Russian ground-crews. It is held unlikely that Egyptians would be permitted to handle Russia’s best jet particularly in view of the poor experience with Egyptian pilots in the slower, less sophisticated MIG-21s and MIG-17s. Should the MIG-23 ever be thrown into combat against Israel, the contact would be between Russians and Israelis. Israeli Air Force sources acknowledged today that they had a problem on their hams and said they would try to tackle it.

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