PARIS (Jan. 12)
Diplomatic circles here predicted today that Franco-Israeli relations, under a severe strain because of the release of Palestinian terrorist Abu Daoud, will take a further turn for the worse following the announcement that 200 Mirage F-1 fighter-bombers have been sold to Egypt.
French officials announced the sale today after Defense Minister Yvon Bourges briefed the Cabinet on the deal in the presence of President Valery Giscard d’Estaing. They said 30 of the advanced combat aircraft would be delivered to Egypt fully assembled-before the end of the year and the remaining 170 would-be assembled by Egypt at an arms factory now under construction near Cairo.
Although French sources insisted that the 200 Mirages will not alter the power balance in the Middle East, Western military observers here said the F-1s would practically double the strength of Egypt’s front-line air force. The Mirages, which fly at twice the speed of sound and are equipped with air-to-air missiles barely lost out to the American F-16 in the selection of a standard fighter plane by six West European air forces last year.
(In Washington today, State Department spokesman Robert Funseth said he didn’t think there was any connection between the sale of the Mirages to Egypt and the release of Daoud.)
ADDING ‘INSULT’ TO ‘INJURY’
Coming on the heels of Israel’s vigorous protests against the freeing of the terrorist who Jerusalem wanted to have extradited for his role in the 1972 Munich massacre, the announcement of the Mirage sale to Egypt was seen by observers here as “piling insult on injury” with respect to Franco-Israeli relations. Israel’s Ambassador to France, Mordechai Gazit, was called home for an indefinite period for “consultations.” He left Paris today in what he called “an act of protest” against the French court’s decision to free Daoud in face of detention requests from both West Germany and Israel.
Gazit departed before the Mirage sale was announced. He told reporters at Orly Airport, “My recall implies deep disapproval by the Israeli government of the French decision regarding Abu Daoud.” He said that Israel had learned of Daoud’s release “from the radio” indicating that the French government did not even have the courtesy to inform Israel that its detention for extradition request had been rejected.
“This is unfortunately not the first time since 1967 that the Israeli people have been disappointed in its relations with France,” Gazit said. He said he did not know when he will be returning to France but he did not believe that France would recall its envoy to Israel.
(In Tel Aviv, Asher Ben Nathan, assistant to Defense Minister Shimon Peres and a former Ambassador to France, said today that the French decision to free Daoud proved that France can no longer pretend to be neutral in Middle East affairs and cannot play any role in bringing peace to the region. France has proved she fully backs the Arabs and the Fatah, he said.)