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U.S. Pressuring Israel to Back Down from Its Military and Political Positions

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The impression seemed to be gaining here today that the United States, itself under severe international and some domestic strain, is putting pressures on Israel to back down from its hard won military and political positions. While little hard evidence was publicly visible, knowledgeable observers held that Washington is saying in effect to Israel–“We saved you from the Arabs and the Russians with our weapons and veto power in the UN. Now you listen to us and start moving towards a quick and practical solution with the Arabs–you know. UN Resolution 242 of Nov. 22, 1967.” President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger have reiterated, since Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Oct..6, the long-standing U.S. commitment to Resolution 242 and now it appears that the Administration is about to go through with insistence that Israel comply with it.

Domestic, European and Japanese fears of an oil boycott and the problems associated with that, the fragility of Soviet-American detente which underlies much of the Nixon Administration’s viability, and the U.S. desire to return to friendly relations with the Arab states underly the urgings to Israel not to “miss this opportunity” for a Middle East settlement. The paths to settlement are far from clear and while Washington may be looking towards some road-building, the factors of Soviet intentions and exorbitant Arab demands may deter U.S. severity towards Israel. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s despatch of his Acting Foreign Minister, Ismail Fahmi to Washington is based on the supposition that Washington is ready to listen to Egypt’s plight and the return of Egyptian feeling that only Washington can bring about Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai.

Some of the propaganda of peace and good will that preceded the Egyptian-Syrian attack on Israel Oct. 6 is again manifested in Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed H. el-Zayyat’s remark in Rome on his way home to Cairo from New York’s UN sessions that he trusts Israel will appreciate Egypt’s “authentic” desire for peace. These are indications that Washington may veer somewhat toward Egypt and away from Israel. Another indication was the statement yesterday by State Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey that the cease-fire should not be used to force the surrender of an army. This was the clearest U.S. rebuke yet to Israel since the fighting started. McCloskey’s remark came in his response to a question about Israeli reports that the U.S. pressured Israel into allowing help to be given to the trapped Egyptian Third Army.

McCloskey denied that providing food, water and medicines to the Egyptians was the equivalent of pressure on Israel. He noted that Israel had made the proposal for a meeting between field commanders. The aid was arranged under UN auspices. But privately a senior State Department official agreed that it was “perfectly obvious” that the Soviet Union was worried about the Third Army surrounded on the Suez Canal’s east bank and the effect its surrender would have on Soviet-Egyptian relations. This in turn had the effect of causing the Soviet government to urge the United States to tell the Israelis that it would rescue the Egyptian forces by its own troops if necessary. Such a threat of action is widely believed here. McCloskey denied that there was any discussion between the Soviet and American governments that the U.S. would have the role of pointing out the threat of confrontation to Israel.

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