WASHINGTON (Nov. 18)
The State Department revealed today that since Nov. 1, the Soviet Union had added up to 10 TU-16 Badger jet reconnaissance-bombers to its “inventory” in Egypt. The planes, which carry Egyptian markings, are being flown by Soviet crews. Department spokesman Charles Bray refused to confirm or deny that the planes were supersonic or that they would ultimately be turned over to the Egyptians. Bray did say, however, that this was not the “first indication” that Egypt had received other defensive weapons.
In announcing the arrival of the Badger jets in Egypt, the State Department apparently modified its assessment of the Middle East situation made on Monday when Bray told newsmen that based on information available to us as of Nov. 1, the Soviet Union is showing “remarkable restraint” in the shipment of arms to Egypt.
Bray said the US would, in the course of its continuing review of the Middle East situation, “look to see” if these deliveries may not have opened a gap “in what we have described as Soviet restraint.” But he would not say if the shipment of planes had affected the balance of power in the area.
Bray did say that the TU-16s were the planes used by the Soviets to keep the American fleet in the Mediterranean under surveillance. He added that the US did not know if that was the purpose of the TU-16s in Egypt.
Earlier in the day, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Yitzhak Rabin, met with Joseph J. Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East and South Asia. Rabin later told newsmen that Israel had the right to buy planes from the US that are needed for Israel’s defense and to maintain its “fighting and deterrent” capabilities.
Rabin said he did not know of any cessation of Soviet arms shipments to Egypt. He said that deliveries of jets were continuing and that what the State Department called a “slowdown” of arms deliveries from the Soviet Union would be considered “most prosperous” compared to what we are getting. Rabin also said that Israel was not opposed to an Egyptian clearing of the Suez Canal while talks continued in attempts to reach an interim agreement. He did not say what he and Sisco discussed.