TEL AVIV (Aug. 18)
Defense Minister Shimon Peres called in military correspondents last night to officially deny that Israel was carrying out a naval blockade of south Lebanese ports. What Israel had done, he stressed, was to increase its naval patrols to prevent the landing of terrorists and arms on the Israeli coast.
Peres’ explanation was reportedly also given to Washington after the United States had asked what the Israeli navy was doing off the coast of Lebanon. The American query was in response to a note from the Soviet Union that made it clear to Washington that the USSR will not stand for a blockade of Lebanon by anyone. American and Soviet sources, who confirmed that the Soviets had sent the note, said that Moscow did not make any threat against Israel.
The Soviet action is believed to have been a response to a call for aid from the Palestine Liberation Organization which is suffering from a lack of supplies, blaming this on an Israeli naval blockade. It was learned that PLO leader Yasir Arafat may go to Moscow soon to plead for material aid for his organization.
The USSR, while appearing to aid the PLO with its note to Washington, is also pouring arms into Syria whose troops are fighting the PLO in Lebanon. Syria is known to be getting new and sophisticated arms from the USSR, such as the latest Soviet tanks, airplanes and SCUD surface-to-surface missiles.
DEFENSIVE MEASURES NOTED
Israeli sources note that the Soviet Union faces a dilemma over the Lebanese conflict. The USSR does not want a break with Syria in which she has invested so much. At the same time, it is trying to keep its obligations to the PLO since it has given that organization its support.
On the naval patrols, Israeli sources noted that Israel was preventing any terrorist penetration from the sea the same way it tries to prevent them by land. There was no question of preventing access to Lebanon and any ship that had been stopped by Israeli patrol boats was allowed to proceed to its destination.
Israeli sources have indicated that since June 1, the Israeli navy has stopped six vessels sailing to or from Lebanese ports. These boats either sent distress signals, had entered Israeli waters or were checked to make certain that they did not contain terrorists heading for Israel.