MALTA (Jan. 25)
In spite of the resumption of the negotiations between the Maltese and British governments, large numbers of Egyptian and Libyan military experts have continued to arrive here. This correspondent learned that 43 Egyptians and 16 Libyans have arrived in the island capital of Valletta in recent days. Most of these experts are examining the British bases in case the Maltese government of Dom Mintoff should decide to grant them to the Egyptian or Libyan governments.
Though government spokesmen continue to assert that under no circumstances would Malta give up its friendly ties with Israel, opposition leader Vincent Tabone, head of the Maltese National Party, told the JTA “I fail to see how Mr. Mintoff can accept Arab money and an Arab presence on the island while pretending to maintain a neutral attitude in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Tabone said that he fears that reality will turn out to be very different from what the government actually plans to do and “an Arab presence on the island would eventually spell an end to the close and confident Maltese-Israeli relations.”
Political circles here give the following reasons for Libya’s interest in a foothold on the island: Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, seems interested in expanding his influence not only throughout the Arab world but throughout the Mediterranean area; Libya would like to stem the influence of the West in the area and would also like to take part in any oil drillings which might be carried out off Malta or on the island itself; a strong Arab position in Malta could eventually block Israel’s naval communications with Europe. Some Arab diplomats here have also expressed the fear that Israel itself might try to move into the island.
NO CONCESSIONS AT ISRAEL’S EXPENSE
A Maltese government spokesman today described relations with Israel as “excellent” and said that despite Malta’s difficult economic situation, the government has clearly informed the Arab states that “no economic assistance can be accepted from them at the price of our good relations with Israel.” The spokesman, Paul J. Naudi, who also serves as Mintoff’s press officer, told the JTA that the speaker of the Maltese Parliament, Ettard Bezzina will visit Israel probably in April. Naudi said that this visit was to have taken place earlier but had to be postponed because of “the island’s political crisis.”
Israel is one of the very few countries to have a resident ambassador in Malta. The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1966. At the beginning, the Israeli ambassador in Rome also served as envoy to Malta but last year Israel appointed a resident ambassador, Isaac Ben Yaakov. Israel has granted technical assistance to Malta in the industrial and agricultural fields and a number of additional Israeli experts are due to arrive here soon to join the three already at work.