JERUSALEM (Jul. 15)
The statement by Premier Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in Alexandria last week upholding the territorial integrity of Lebanon should be seen first and foremost as directed at Syria. “It means that Egypt and Israel want the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon,” Eliahu Ben-Elissar, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said over the weekend.
Ben-Elissar was the ranking Israeli official to accompany Begin to the Alexandria summit, the results of which he assessed in on interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in his office here.
Ben-Elissar confirmed for the first time officially that Begin and Sadat had spent much of their time discussing broad strategic issues pertaining to the Mideast area. “They found a large measure of agreement,” he reported. But, he stressed, this did “not necessarily mean” that joint or common military intentions were implied.
Ben-Elissar would not specify which regions of strategic interest the two leaders had covered in their review. But he did not demur when the interviewer surmised that Kuwait and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and the Straits of Hormuz were among the issues dealt with.
DEMONSTRATION OF FRIENDSHIP
The primary meaning of such a strategic conversation between the two leaders (“they spoke as the leaders of their countries, not as university professors,” Ben Elissar noted) was that the peace between Egypt and Israel was evolving into “a new political reality in the area.” It was also a demonstration, said Ben-Elissar, of the growing friendship and candor between Begin and Sadat.
The statement on Lebanon, though referring to “territorial” integrity, implied political integrity and sovereignty, too, Ben-Elissar said. “The Syrians will have to take it into account in their calculations,” he added.
But he said it would be “too far-reaching” to read into the statement the implication that Egypt would stand aside if Israel and Syria became embroiled militarily over Syria’s actions in Lebanon as they did in a brief aerial dogfight recently. Privately, several Israeli analysts believe that Egypt would indeed stand aside in such a scenario.
Ben-Elissar said the Lebanon statement had two additional significances first, it was directed at Washington. The U.S., he said, seemed sometimes to be “getting used” to the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon though its policy still professed, of course, to strive for the integrity of Lebanon.
He said the statement also was intended to rebut suspicions in the Arab world, and even in Egypt that Israel’s long-term policy aim is to bring about the partition of Lebanon into separate Christian and Moslem states.
OTHER ASPECTS OF THE SUMMIT
Reporting on other aspects of the summit, Ben-Elissar made these points. Oil: As of Nov. 27, the day after the projected Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai oilfields, Israeli tankers will continue to load oil at the fields (on the west Sinai coast), paying the world-market price to Egypt. Normalization: Ben-Elissar has consistently assessed that Egypt intends basically to stick to the timetable as annexed to the peace treaty with only minor departures from it. That impression was reinforced during the summit talks.
It seems, however, that tourism will remain a trickle in the months ahead, until full normalization comes into effect in January. Among official Israeli visitors due to go to Cairo soon are a manufacturers delegation led by the president of the Manufacturers Association, Avraham Shavit; a Histadrut delegation led by Secretary General Yeruham Meshel; and a visit by Labor Party leader Shimon Peres.
Ben-Elissar himself, who is viewed in some quarters here as a possible choice as Israel’s first Ambassador to Cairo, has been invited to visit Cairo with his wife.
In summation, Ben-Elissar said the Sadat-Begin meeting was the first “really genuine summit” between the two leaders inasmuch as it was not related to any specific context within the peace process and they could thus hold relaxed conversations across a broad spectrum of political strategic issues.