Sharon: Further Pullback in Sinai Will Limit Israel’s Options to Deal with Massing Egyptian Forces

Gen. Ariel Sharon the retired Yom Kippur War hero who heads Likud, said today that any further pullback of Israeli forces in Sinai would limit Israel’s military options so that its only response to the massing of Egyptian forces east of the Suez Canal would have to be a pre-emptive attack.

Addressing a luncheon of the Israel Academics Committee on the Middle East, Sharon maintained that Israel could not give up any territory on the West Bank without endangering its existence and that it could afford only very limited further pull-backs on the Golan Heights, and then only in return for a full-fledged peace agreement with Syria.

According to Sharon, Egypt now has the capability of moving 1500-2000 tanks across the Suez Canal in one night. If Cairo did this under the strategic conditions that prevail today, Israel would have the option of mobilizing its forces and waiting for the next Egyptian move, he said.

BASIS FOR POSSIBLE PULLBACK

However, if Israel withdraws its forces any deeper into Sinai, that option would be denied and Israel would have to strike first at any sign of Egyptian massing east of the canal, Sharon added. He explained that the present alignment of forces is along a 100-mile front. If Israel withdraws beyond the Mitle and Gidi passes, given the configuration of the Sinai peninsula, the front would broaden to 200 miles, thinning out Israel’s forces and creating serious logistics problems.

The Likud leader emphasized that he was not opposed in principle to further Israeli pullbacks in Sinai within the framework of a peace treaty with Egypt He said his own view of a final settlement with Egypt envisioned the return of most of Sinai to Egyptian administration provided that the peninsula was demilitarized and that Israel retained control of Sharm el-Sheikh and the Abu Rodeis oil fields. With regard to the oil fields, he suggested that Israel would pay royalties to Egypt.

Sharon was pessimistic over the chances of a peace settlement with Syria. On the West Bank, he said, the issue was not who Israel negotiated with-whether the PLO or any other faction but the subject of negotiations. In his view, control of the West Bank is not open to negotiations with anyone but the political future of its inhabitants could be. a subject of discussion.

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