TEL AVIV (Jul. 9)
Israeli military leaders and important political figures within the governing Labor Alignment and, surprisingly, the Likud opposition, appear to be succumbing to relentless American pressure on Israel to accept Egypt’s terms for an interim agreement–meaning withdrawal from the strategic Mitle and Gidi Passes in Sinai.
The military leaders, who have been charged with the task of preparing for presentation to the Cabinet a detailed assessment of Israel’s options from the purely defense point of view, are apparently concentrating on the military implications of a pull-back from the passes.
They are reportedly trying to determine how to make the best of a situation that would leave Israel’s defense line without the vital topographical anchors provided by the Sinal passes and how to ensure proper surveillance and an advance warning system against an Egyptian attack on new Israel lines spread over the flat desert that extends from the passes to Israel’s pre-June, 1967 border.
MILITARY IMPLICATIONS OF CONFRONTATION
Reliable sources said that the Israel military team cannot help but take into consideration the military implication of a confrontation with the United States and the gap in Israeli-U.S. relations which, from the military point of view could mean a drastic curtailment of the U.S. weapons flow to Israel.
The sources noted that American pressure on Israel is no longer limited to expressions of impatience and barely veiled threats of non-support at a reconvened Geneva conference. It has already taken material form in the delay in supplies of various items of military hardware that Israel has requested and could also soon affect items that are being supplied automatically under previous agreements, the sources said. This must be taken into account by the senior officers preparing their military assessment for the Cabinet.
In political circles, meanwhile, more voices are being raised in favor of accepting American demands if only because Israel vitally needs U.S. friendship and support at a time when it is struggling not only to maintain the strongest possible defense posture but to put to rights a sagging economy and deal with serious internal problems.
Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban and Itzhak Navon, chairman of the Knesset’s powerful defense and foreign affairs committee have already made it clear that they favor compliance with American wishes. Former Information Minister Aharon Yariv, a military man who was once chief of Israel’s army intelligence, added his support to that view several days ago.
WEIZMAN CAUSES SURPRISE
A big surprise came when former Air Force commander Gen, Ezer Weizman, a leader of the Likud opposition and a well-known “hawk” stated flatly several days ago that he supported the idea of an interim agreement with Egypt on the terms the U.S. is urging Israel to accept. Addressing; the agricultural faculty at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Weizman said that what Israel needed most now was a breathing spell to resolve its internal difficulties.
He said that what he feared most was that American pressure would be exerted over the Judaea-Samaria regions (West Bank) and over East Jerusalem, issues that would inevitably arise when the Geneva conference is reconvened. That pressure, Weizman said, would be far harder than the present squeeze on Israel for a settlement in Sinai, and if it finds Israel unprepared internally, as it is now, “we shall not be able to stand up to it.”
Weizman stressed that Israel needs time to improve the quality of life at home, straighten out its economy and strengthen the shaky labor-management relations. He said there were also improvements to be made in the army. When these primary tasks are accomplished, Weizman said, a new national leadership should take the helm that would be able to face up to American pressure.