JERUSALEM (Oct. 30)
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan revealed in the Knesset today that an exchange of wounded prisoners of war with Egypt is already under way. But that is only the first of four demands concerning POWs that Israel has presented to Egypt, Dayan said. The other three, so far not implemented, are for full lists of names of POWs, permission for Red Cross representatives to visit’ Israeli POWs in Egyptian hands and a full POW exchange. Dayan said that about 320 Israeli soldiers were missing on the Egyptian front and presumably were taken prisoner. Egypt so far has submitted 82 names which Dayan said he believed included about 60 wounded soldiers. He said that there has been no response whatsoever by Syria on POWs despite appeals from the International Red Cross. He said 120 Israelis are missing on the northern front and may be in Syrian hands. Two Israeli prisoners are held by Lebanon.
Dayan addressed the Knesset in the course of a debate called by the Likud opposition on the POW question which has become a major political issue in Israel. The Defense Minister said he welcomed Likud’s call for a debate. About 300 relatives of missing soldiers demonstrated outside the Knesset today against the government’s agreement to permit convoys of food and water to the encircled Egyptian Third Army before Egypt agrees to a POW exchange. A delegation of protestors was received by Knesset members. Meanwhile, new complaints of cease-fire violations by Egypt were lodged by Israel with the UN observers corps. Israel charged that Egyptian forces fired three ground-to-air missiles at Israeli aircraft on a reconnaissance flight over the Gidi area of Sinai. Two bazooka rockets ready for launching were found near Nahal Golan on the Golan Heights this morning and dismantled.
Dayan said the exchange of wounded POWs included Israelis captured by Egypt before the Aug. 1970 cease-fire. One of them, Lt. Dan Avidan, imprisoned in Egypt for four years, is already home, Dayan reported. He mentioned 75 wounded Egyptians, some of them POWs in Israeli hospitals and others in the Third Army, who will be repatriated. He said Arab behavior toward the POWs was criminal, but contended that the POW issue must be seen in the context of the whole war which is not yet over. He noted that Likud leader Menachem Beigin had quoted soldiers at the front who were embittered over the feeding of the Egyptian Third Army. “What the soldiers did not know, but what Mr. Beigin did know, was that the shells they fired today were not in Israel one week ago,” Dayan said in a reference to the U.S. resupply operation. Israel did not feed the Third Army out of humanitarian reasons “but because we had no choice,” he said.
The Defense Minister told the Knesset that Israel could have faced Egypt and Syria backed by the entire Arab world, but not backed by Moscow to the extent they had been. “This (Soviet) aid reached such dimensions that Israel alone could not stand against them (the Arab countries), and to counter this great assistance to the Arab countries there is only one power ready to help us, the United States,” Dayan said. “Whoever suggests that we conduct a war while having a break with the United States suggests that we conduct a war without the capability to win,” he added.
Beigin retorted that no one was making such suggestions. He said that Israel had a right to demand a speedy POW exchange “and we all know from the experience of Israeli POWs in Arab captivity just how important speed is.” He challenged Dayan to explain why Israel agreed to feed the Third Army and demanded assurances that there would be no further action of this kind in the future until all POWs were exchanged. Shmuel Tamir of the Likud (Free Center) backed Beigin and assailed Premier Meir. “She promised that the war would not end until the enemy was crushed, but that has not happened,” Tamir said. “She promised there would be no cease-fire unless the Bab el Mandab straits are reopened, but they are still shut. She promised to link the plight of the Third Army with Israeli POW demands, but she gave way there, too. The tragic truth is that Israel has ceased to play a role in events. It is being forced to do things.”