TEL AVIV (Aug. 28)
A Russian minesweeper entered Israel-controlled waters off Sinai again this morning but withdrew after a time without a repetition of yesterday’s provocative action, it was reported here. The incursion occurred at 9:30 a.m. local time. The Russian vessel approached to a point two and a half miles from the Sinai coast north of Sharm el-Sheikh, an area known as the Straits of Milan. An Israeli navy patrol boat signaled the Russian craft to leave the coastal waters and it departed eventually without incident.
Israeli officials, meanwhile, are mulling over the possible motivation behind the Soviet provocations, especially yesterday’s bizarre incident in which two Russian mine-sweepers “attacked” Israeli patrol boats with high pressure water hoses. That incident, which occurred yesterday afternoon in the Milan Straits was disclosed last night by Defense Minister Shimon Peres. None of the Israeli crew members was hurt and the boats were not damaged. According to Peres’ account, the mine-sweepers are part of a large Soviet naval task force operating in the northern Red Sea and Gulf of Suez areas.
MAY BE SOWING NEW MINE FIELDS
During yesterday afternoon they approached Israel-controlled waters northwest of Sharm el-Sheikh and were signaled to leave by Israeli “Daboor” type patrol boats. The Russians left, only to return a short while later. They continued to play a cat-and-mouse game until about 6 p.m. local time when they approached close in shore and ignored Israeli signals to leave.
One of the sweepers turned its high pressure hoses, used in mine-clearing operations, on the Israeli patrol boats giving them and their crews a thorough dousing. The Israeli boats did not retaliate but did not withdraw and continued signalling the Russians by international code to leave the area. The Russian craft finally withdrew.
Peres expressed concern over the size of the Russian flotilla to which the mine-sweepers are attached. He said it included a helicopter carrier and appeared much too large for its ostensible task of clearing mines from the Gulf of Suez. One Israeli source intimated that the Russians may, in fact, be sowing new mine fields in the area. Last week, Peres complained to the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) commander Gen. Ensio Siilasvuo over Russian naval violations of Israel-controlled waters off Sinai.