WASHINGTON (Jan. 23)
Lt. Gen. Haim Barlev, former Chief of Staff of Israel’s armed forces, said here yesterday that Israel is prepared to pull back from the Suez Canal in the interests of an interim accord with Egypt but has not yet decided how far back it is prepared to go. “Israel has stated very clearly that we do not regard the Suez as a final border,” Barlev said in response to questions by reporters at a press conference.
“We know that sooner or later we will have to withdraw. Exactly to what extent has not only not been disclosed but has not been decided among us because the situation has not reached the point where a decision needed to be made,” he said.
Barlev, who retired from the Army last month and is slated to enter the Cabinet as Minister of Commerce and Industry later this year, is on a three-week tour of the US during which he will appear at fund-raising functions of the United Jewish Appeal. He made it clear to newsmen that his present capacity was that of a private citizen. He described the Suez Canal as a “strategic and a bargaining element” and stressed that Israel will keep its forces on the east bank “until there is a proper return.”
PULLBACK NOT PART OF TOTAL WITHDRAWAL
Barlev said he meant by “proper return” that Israel would pull back when the war is over and that the pullback will be “an independent step, not a phase of the so-called total withdrawal.” Another factor, he said, was that any agreement with Egypt must preclude elements that would put Israel in an “impossible military position.” Asked if Israeli forces would withdraw beyond the Mitla Pass, a point about 20 miles east of the Suez Canal, Barlev replied, “I don’t think so.”
He expressed optimism over the prospects of peace during the current year. The most important change that has taken place, Barlev said, was the realization by Egypt and the Soviet Union that “they are not capable of moving us.” Another important factor is that the cease-fire continues, he said. He praised the United States for having “fully kept every commitment” with respect to the supply of arms to Israel. “There has not been one item promised that has not been carried out,” Barlev stated.