Israel Watches Soviet Build-up of Mediterranean Fleet; USSR Now Has 75 Ships, More Expected

Israeli circles are keeping a careful watch on the build-up of Soviet naval strength in the Eastern Mediterranean. While the Russians normally deploy about 40-50 units in the region, recent re-enforcements have increased the number to 75 vessels, approaching the size of the fleet on the eve of the Yom Kippur War when Moscow apparently had advance intelligence of the impending Egyptian-Syrian attack on Israel.

Israeli sources expect additional Soviet naval units to join the Mediterranean fleet from the Black Sea, bringing the total to about 90 combat ships and auxiliaries. More significant, perhaps, is the arrival of the Russian missile cruiser Uchakov in Eastern Mediterranean waters with the Soviet Chief of Staff, Gen. Victor Kulakov aboard. His presence means that local Soviet commanders can make spot decisions without referring back to Moscow for orders, Israeli circles say.

The beefing up of Soviet naval strength is seen as a warning against any unwarranted intervention in the Lebanese conflict, Reserve Adm. Abraham Botzer, former commander of the Israeli Navy, said today. Botzer said the possibility of Soviet intervention was small. Although the Russian navy could land token units in Lebanon, it does not have the equipment for a full-scale military operation there, he said. Moreover, he said, the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean is more than a match for the Soviet navy in the region, even with the addition of the newly-built aircraft carrier Kiev which has greatly increased the Russians’ fire power. Botzer said the Sixth Fleet, deployed around the aircraft carrier Saratoga, constitutes a counter-force that will limit Soviet actions to muscle-flexing.

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