NEW YORK (Dec. 12)
Israel’s-leading military commentator today refuted claims that Sharm el-Sheikh has lost its strategic value to Israel because Egypt blockaded the Straits of Bab el Mandeb at the southern end of the Red Sea during the Yom Kippur War. Gen Haim Herzog, replying to questions at a press conference at the Israeli Consulate; observed that Egypt lifted its blockade because of the Israel’s counter-blockade of the Gulf of Suez which Israel’s possession of Sharm el-Sheikh helped make possible.
Sharm el-Sheikh, at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, controls the Straits of Tiran which gives access to Israel’s port of Eilat. The Straits of Bab el Mandeb, linking the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, were blockaded by Egyptian and Yemeni warships, cutting off Eilat’s access to the Indian Ocean
But Israel’s counter-blockade of the Gulf of Suez “is very important to her (Egypt) economically’ and therefore control of Sharm el-Sheikh is still important for Israel, Herzog said. He reiterated that the present cease-fire applies not only on land but to the sea and air as well.
Herzog said that in addition to re-emphasizing the need for an Israeli presence at Sharm el-Sheikh, the Yom Kippur War proved that the pre June, 1967 lines are “certainly not secure and defensible borders.” According to Herzog, Arab missiles, if deployed on the pre-1967 lines, would completely encircle Israel’s airspace and would pose a direct threat to Israeli cities and population centers.
He contended that Israel was surprised by the Egyptian-Syrian attack Oct. 6 not because it lacked correct intelligence but because it erred in evaluating the intelligence. He said the war never the less resulted in an “outstanding victory” for Israel He claimed that the Arab forces that attacked Israel were equivalent to the total force of NATO.
Herzog said it was “time that the world awoke to the plight of Israeli prisoners of war in Syrian hands.”.He said Israel was deeply concerned about their fate because their treatment by the Syrians has been “uncivilized.” Calling for world opinion to put pressure on Syria, Herzog said, however, that he did not see “at the moment” a resumption of hostilities with Syria over the POW issue. He noted, nevertheless, that Israel will not negotiate with Syria at next week’s peace conference in Geneva unless it provided a list of all Israeli POWs as required by the Geneva Convention. (By Yitzhak Rabi)