JERUSALEM (Jan. 6)
The Cabinet heard today from Defense Minister Moshe Dayan a report of his talks with U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. Sources said no decisions were taken and they expected another meeting of the Cabinet later this week. (See separate story on Day-an-Kissinger talks.) The sources said Dayan’s report was mostly informative and was the subject of some questions and discussion. Premier Golda Meir was ill with a virus cold and her place as chairman was taken by Deputy Premier Yigal Allon. Observers said no decisions would be taken till Mrs. Meir returned to her post. Some sources said the idea now is for Kissinger and perhaps U.S. diplomats in Cairo to seek from the Egyptians their reaction to the general ideas on disengagement which Dayan outlined to the Secretary. The U.S. will also transmit Dayan’s views to the Kremlin. Only when the Egyptian reaction is known will the Israel Cabinet draft concrete and detailed formulations of these general ideas, the sources said.
Without going into precise detail, many sources here are pointing to a general scheme involving an Israeli pullback to the Mitle and Gidi Passes. UNEF would take up a wide strip between the Israelis and the remaining Egyptian forces on the canal’s east bank, while Egyptian forces would, of course, replace the withdrawing Israelis on the west bank. The size and power of the Egyptian forces on the east bank remains a crucial issue for negotiation. Israel sees a substantial thinning out as a vital quid pro quo in return for its own withdrawal. There has to date been no Egyptian agreement to this. The period of implementation of the actual disengagement is another issue for discussion. While theoretically it could be done within a few days, Israel envisages it as an orderly process taking some weeks and ending with a redeployment in well-prepared positions at the passes (just west of the passes in fact).
Another issue is the reopening of the canal and revival of commercial and civilian life in the bankside towns. If these two moves were carried out by Egypt–over a period of time of course–Israel would see in them an earnest sign of Egypt’s good will in relinquishing the war option and heading for a peaceful settlement. For this reason Israel envisages a period of months or even a year or more during which the disengagement agreement would be in force, and the canal towns and waterway resuscitated. This period, too, will be a subject of negotiation. Officials here realize that a thinning out agreement could easily be broken if Cairo so desired, just as in 1970 the standstill was flagrantly violated by Nasser.
But they say that from a defense viewpoint it is a reasonable risk. With a wide demilitarized belt patrolled by UNEF there is no fear of sudden attack, and Egyptian violations would be met by Israeli mobilization and adoption of a firm defensive posture at the passes. The violations would, however, heighten Israel’s fears and suspicions of Egypt’s intentions and make Israel much less pliable when the overall settlement came to be discussed, the officials pointed out. Thus, according to the scenario, the disengagement agreement would be a sort of probation period of testing the parties’ sincerity and intent–just as the very similar partial settlement idea of 1971 was supposed to be. If it works, progress could then be made towards the overall peace treaty. If it fails, both sides would be wiser but not too much worse off on the ground. For Israel, after all, disengagement and redeployment inside Sinai would alleviate the problems which extended front lines and extended supply lines are inevitably causing the army and the economy.