TEL AVIV (Sep. 18)
Israeli military circles have expressed serious concern over Egypt’s construction of a tunnel under the Suez Canal that will link Egypt with Sinai for the first time in over 100 years. According to reports from Cairo, work has just begun on the digging phase of the project which calls for three tunnels under the 109-mile long waterway at a cost of about $170 million. The first tunnel is expected to be completed next year.
According to the military circles, the tunnel will give Egypt a military advantage that would nullify the value of the 1975 Sinai interim agreements. They cited reports that the tunnel beneath the 196-foot-wide, 42-foot-deep canal will be broad enough for two lanes of traffic, permitting the passage of tanks, missile carriers and armored vehicles. It would be extremely difficult for Israel to detect such movements and it could be confronted overnight with the transfer of two battalions of tanks from Egypt proper to Sinai, one observer said.
But Israeli political circles seem less concerned. They say there is no cause for Israel to complain because the Sinai agreement contains a clause requiring Egypt to rehabilitate the canal zone towns and develop the civilian infrastructure in that area. They conceded, however, that if the tunnel became a military threat the picture would change.
Israel has been uneasy for some time over Egypt’s alleged violation of the Sinai accord by stationing 18,000 troops in its limited forces zone, 10,000 more than permitted under the agreement. Israel’s latest complaint, conveyed by the United Nations commander, Gen. Ensio Siilasvuo, was ignored by Cairo.
REPORT EGYPT HARASSING SHIPS IN CANAL
Coupled with those developments are reports that the Egyptians have begun harassing ships passing through the Suez Canal enroute to Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat. Under the Sinai agreements, Egypt must permit vessels carrying Israeli cargos to use the canal although Israel-flag ships are still barred from the waterway. Recently, however, there were four cases in which non-Israeli vessels were halted for extended periods at port Said at the Mediterranean entrance to the canal while local authorities searched them thoroughly. An Israel flog found in one ship’s store was confiscated.