JERUSALEM (May. 16)
The visit to Egypt of the Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Andrei Grechko, reports of a new infusion of modern Soviet weapons to that country, and the latest overflight of Russian MIG-23 supersonic jets over Sinai this morning has aroused speculation here that the Soviet Union may be countering President Nixon’s latest moves in Vietnam with a new display of force in the Middle East.
Some observers said that Moscow is responding to the mining of North Vietnamese harbors by increasing tension in the Middle East where it does not run the risk of a direct confrontation with the US. Grechko’s visit was described today by the semi-official Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram. as a follow-up of President Anwar Sadat’s visit last month to Moscow. The Egyptian news agency referred in a dispatch today to new weapons allegedly having been supplied to Egypt but did not make clear what type they were.
SOVIET MIGS OVERFLY CANAL
At 9 a.m. local time, two Soviet MIG-23s took off from the vicinity of Port Said and flew south along the Suez Canal and the Israel-held east bank of the Gulf of Suez as far as the Sharm el-Sheikh area before turning westward back to Egyptian territory. An Israeli announcement said Israeli jets were sent up to intercept them but there was no indication that contact was made. The MIG-23 is rated by experts as the fastest, highest-flying combat aircraft in the world without counterpart in the Western arsenal.
On three previous occasions in the past year they have overflown Israel-occupied Sinai, apparently on photo reconnaissance missions, and once they flew parallel to Israel’s coastline near Ashkelon, coming within the radius of the Lydda Airport control tower. A small number of MIG-23s have been stationed in Egypt for some time but more were reported to have reached Egypt recently and, according to reports, are now flown by Egyptians as well as by Russian pilots.
EXERCISE BY ADVANCED AIRCRAFT
The Egyptian news agency reported today that Marshal Grechko and the Soviet Air Force commander accompanied Sadat yesterday to an Egyptian air base where they witnessed an exercise by advanced aircraft. The aircraft were not identified but the news agency dispatch attributed to them the same performance capabilities known to be possessed by the MIG-23.
The news agency story said that long-range fighter bombers also participated in the exercises. It was unclear whether the report referred to the Tupolev-16 type which has been in the area for six years or to the much more advanced Tupolev-22. According to informed sources, Egypt has been asking the Soviet Union for the Tupolev-22 but up to now has been refused. Speaking last week in Beirut, Grechko told his Arab audience that the regaining of their territories could be “by other means.”