TEL AVIV (Jan. 7)
Premier Menachem Begin said today that he was not troubled over reports that the United States has been given facilities at on Egyptian air-base and observed it was only natural that the U.S. should seek much facilities in Egypt, Israel and other countries in view of events in Iron and Afghanistan.
Begin spoke at a press conference before his departure for a three-day summit meeting with President Anwar Sadat in Aswan. He was referring to a report an Israel television last night claiming that the U.S. is secretly readying on air base put at its disposal by Egypt without either country informing Israel.
Begin indicated that this matter may or may not come up in his talks with Sadat. He said there was no specific agenda for their meeting although it would focus on bilateral issues, regional and international affairs. (Related story P.3.)
CLAIM ISRAEL WAS NOT SURPRISED
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and his deputy, Mordechoi Zipori, both rejected the claim that Israel was surprised by American use of bases in Egypt and argued that this was actually to Israel’s advantage. Weizman, appearing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, recalled that there were more than 10,000 Russian experts in Egypt in 1970 and observed that it was certainly preferable to have Americans there. The American use of Egyptian bases does not undermine Israel and, from a strategic point of view, is favorable to Israel, he said:
Zipori said “We know everything that goes on” with respect to the bases. He said Israel accepted the statement by Egyptian Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali that Egypt has agreed only to provide services for American air and naval units. The television report claimed that the U.S. had actually taken over on Egyptian base and was making it operational. “Whoever supports America in this region is doing Israel a favor,” Zipori said.
REASONS FOR REJECTING ISRAEL’S OFFER
Other knowledgeable sources here implied that the television report was not entirely accurate. They said the U.S. would make use of Egyptian facilities in the near future, in as much as Sadat has offered them. Israel has mode a similar offer but, according to these circles, the U.S. is not likely to accept it for three main reasons.
For one thing, they said, Israeli bases are further away from the main Middle East trouble sports. Secondly, the Americans fear that their use of Israeli bases might create tensions between the U.S. and the moderate Arab states. Finally, the use of Israeli bases would imply that Israel is a strategic asset to the U.S. and, as a consequence, American leverage on Israel with respect to other matters would be weakened.
Israel is aware of the fact that military co-operation between the U.S. and Egypt is increasing and that American military personnel are presently in Egypt in connection with Egypt’s orders for various types of military equipment in the U.S. Israel is also aware that air bases in upper Egypt are capable of providing services for American warplanes, including supplies, landing and take-off and refueling.