Israel to Assess Military Effect of Withdrawal from the Passes

The Cabinet is going to ask for a purely military assessment from Israel’s top military men as to what withdrawal from the strategic Mitle and Gidi Passes in Sinal would mean in terms of Israel’s defense position. Detailed information on this phase of the issue is expected to be an important factor in the government’s eventual decision whether or not to accept Egypt’s demands for a complete withdrawal from the passes–which apparently is being urged on Israel by the United States.

Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur has been asked to present his views to the Cabinet. No one disputes the fact that there is no topographical feature in Sinai that can substitute for the passes as a strategic asset for the army that holds them. But if the political pressure on Israel to withdraw proves insurmountable, the Cabinet wants to know what Israel should demand from Egypt to compensate for the strategic loss.

One possibility mentioned is that Egypt end its deployment of troops on both the eastern and western banks of the Suez Canal and return their men to their barracks. Egypt would also be required not to construct fortifications or prepare positions in the area evacuated by Israeli forces.

Another question to which the Cabinet will seek answers is the matter of surveillance. Military experts doubt that a third nation would be acceptable in a watchdog role. They ask, what army in the world would agree to place its faith in foreign hands to sound the alarm in case an attack is imminent?

CONSIDERATIONS TO BE PROBED

Gur and his aides must also be prepared to inform the government of the costs of building a new defense line east of the passes and what types of arms would have to be deployed on such a line which would not be anchored on topographical features such as the passes provide. It seems clear that a new line would be a longer one than at present and, should Israel be obliged, under American pressure, to give up the passes, it would have to call up many more soldiers, including reservists who have already served the maximum time required by law and even longer.

Former Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Israel Tal, who commands Israel’s army reserves and is an expert on armored warfare, said in Haifa yesterday that even the present lines held by Israel do not constitute a sufficient buffer, with respect to time and space in the event of a new war. Tal observed that the Arab states are more than saturated in relation to divisions per square mile. They are in a position to launch a frontal attack or Israel all along the borders with the forces they have on hand and possess the potential to call up more divisions. For a small state like Israel, the only reply to such a situation is to attack and bring the battle to the enemy’s territory, Tal said.

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