JERUSALEM (Jul. 16)
Premier Yitzhak Rabin responded firmly but with moderation today to last night’s announcement by Egypt that it would not agree to renew the mandate of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) which expires July 24.
Rabin told the Knesset, “If Egypt is interested in not prejudicing the disengagement agreement, it must respect the existence of the authority of UNEF which is an integral part of the disengagement agreement.” He urged “Anyone desiring the continuation of the negotiations in an appropriate atmosphere should refrain from acts which raise tension in the area. Israel is acting in this manner and will continue to act accordingly,” Rabin said.
The Premier made it clear, however, that Israel will not be pressured by the latest Egyptian move into hastening its deliberations over an interim accord with Egypt. He told the Knesset that although a successful conclusion was not yet assured, he felt, on the whole, optimistic that the talks being conducted through the good offices of the United States were indeed moving in the direction of an agreement. He claimed that Israel’s “position in the talks” was stronger now than it was last March when the talks were suspended.
SEEN AS TACTICAL PLOY
Last night’s announcement by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy that his country would not agree to an extension of UNEF, while acknowledging that withdrawal of the force was the sole prerogative of the Security Council, was seen in circles here as a tactical ploy by Cairo to speed up the interim settlement negotiations.
Observers here do not believe that Fahmy’s statement meant the beginning of the end for UNEF. They noted that the Egyptian minister was careful to distinguish between the mandate –which Egypt would not agree to extend at this stage–and the existence of the force itself which he did not appear to challenge.
The feeling here is that UNEF can continue to function for some time without a formal extension of its mandate as long as Egypt does not demand its withdrawal or announce its refusal to cooperate with it. In his letter to UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim announcing Egypt’s decision, Fahmy stated that “while Egypt does not consent to further renew the mandate of the United Nations Emergency Force, she is not against the proper use of the force.” The letter went on to accuse Israel of using UNEF “as a means to maintain the state of ‘no-war-no-peace’ and perpetuation of the occupation of Egyptian territory.”
SEEKING SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE OF UNEF’S ROLE
It appeared to circles here that Egypt is seeking a substantive alteration of UNEF’s role from that of a military watchdog ensuring that each side observes the letter and spirit of the disengagement agreements concluded between Israel and Egypt in January, 1974, to one of a political nature that would oversee further Israeli withdrawals from Sinal.
This appeared to be the aim of Fahmy’s observation to Waldheim that “You were of the view that the disengagement of Egyptian and Israeli forces is only the first step toward the settlement of the Middle East problem and that the continued operation of the United Nations Emergency Force is essential not only for the maintenance of the present quiet in the Egypt-Israel section, but also to assist, if required in further efforts for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the Middle East.”
There was no official Israeli statement today as to what it considers to be the function of UNEF. It is clear, however, that Israel regards “further efforts for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the Middle East” to be entirely a subject of negotiations between the parties while UNEF is on the scene simply to make sure that the forces remain disengaged while such negotiations are in progress.
Fahmy charged in his letter that “Israel has profited from the relative prevailing quiet to further its occupation rather than to assist the efforts aiming at achieving a lasting peace.” He said that “Egypt, however, does not prevent the (Security) Council from acting in conformity, with its prerogatives under the United Nations Charter so that Israel does not misinterpret the physical presence or the philosophy behind the United Nations Emergency Force established to serve the cause of peace in this strategic and highly sensitive, area.”
At a press conference in Cairo last night, Fahmy said Egypt would not order the withdrawal of UNEF until the Security Council has convened to consider the matter even if that takes place after the July, 24 deadline. He said Egypt wanted the UN to take economic sanctions against Israel.
CREATING SENSE OF URGENCY
Observers here said Fahmy’s intention was to create an atmosphere of urgency and to invest the July 24 deadline and the forthcoming General Assembly session and the conferences that will proceed it with a threat of serious consequences unless Israel acts faster to wrap up an interim agreement. Fahmy’s reference to sanctions was viewed in that light here.
At the same time, however, observers pointed out that Egypt has been significantly inactive in the Arab initiative aiming at the expulsion of Israel from the General Assembly next fall. There is even reason to believe that Egypt is countering such moves by the more radical Arab states in the belief that they would gravely prejudice the ongoing interim talks, the observers said.
MILITARY CONSEQUENCES ASSESSED
Despite the general confidence here that UNEF will continue beyond the July 24 deadline, Israeli military circles are taking into consideration the situation that would arise if the UN force were to leave the buffer zone in Sinal that it now holds. In that event, Israeli and Egyptian forces would once more be in direct confrontation.
The Israeli military does not discount the possibility that in such a situation the Egyptians might try to seize a portion of the buffer zone to establish advance footholds. There is also the possibility of shooting incidents between the opposing forces if the UN contingents were to leave.
NO SURRENDER TO ‘DIKTATS’
Rabin’s statement to the Knesset today was in reply to a demand for a debate by Likud MK Yoram Egidor over the government’s alleged “surrender to Egypt’s diktats.” The Premier declared that there was no surrender to either Egyptian or American “diktats,” that the U.S. was not imposing “diktats” on Israel nor was Israel the sort of nation to succumb to “diktats.” He said U.S.-Israel relations were a vital part of the negotiating process. Israel is prepared to face “tough arguments” with the U.S. but its hope is to reach an agreement in coordination and cooperation with Washington, Rabin said.