Jerusalem (Oct. 6)
The Middle East was thrown into turmoil and uncertainty today by the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. The 62-year-old Egyptian leader was gunned down by a group of Egyptian soldiers as he was watching a military parade in Nasser City. Mansour Hassan, a senior official of the ruling National Democratic Party, told reporters in Cairo hours later that Sadat died in a hospital and that his funeral would be held in a few days.
There was no immediate official reaction by Israel. (The Cabinet met this evening. In Washington, President Reagan issued a statement this afternoon in a nationwide television and radio address. See pages 2,3 and 4 for related stories.)
Initial reports received in Jerusalem said only that Sadat had been wounded. But in official circles and among the Israeli populace the news caused deep and visible shock. Inevitably, the focus of concern was the effect Sadat’s death will have on the Israeli-Egyptian peace process. Sadat was the first and only Arab leader to sign a formal peace treaty with Israel and establish normal diplomatic and trade relations with it.
Under the Egyptian Constitution, Vice President Hosni Mubarak will become acting President of Egypt until Parliament nominates a successor to Sadat. Mubarak, who reportedly narrowly escaped bullets as he stood next to Sadat on the reviewing stand today, is said to have shared Sadat’s pro-Western views and to support the peace process with Israel. Mubarak, 53, is a former Air Force commander.
SPECULATION OVER ROLE OF USSR, LIBYA
Many Israelis speculated today that the Soviets or Libyans or both were behind the assassination. Just two weeks ago Sadat expelled the Soviet Ambassador to Cairo, most of the Soviet diplomats and some 1,000 Soviet experts and technicians. Libya’s ruler, Col. Muammar Qaddafi, was an avowed opponent of Sadat and had threatened many times to topple the Egyptian leader by armed force, if necessary.
But in Beirut, a previously unknown group calling itself the “Independent Egyptian Liberation Organization” claimed responsibility for the assassination in a series of telephone calls to news agencies.
Interior Minister Yosef Burg, Israel’s chief negotiator in the autonomy talks with Egypt, said “time will tell if any state–a state in Africa or a state in Asia–inspired the attack” on Sadat.
CALLS TO HALT WITHDRAWAL FROM SINAI
Even before Sadat’s death was confirmed, Israeli groups opposed to the peace treaty with Egypt demanded that the government immediately suspend all preparations for Israel’s final withdrawal from Sinai, scheduled for April, 1982. Prof. Yuval Neeman, leader of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya faction, claimed that the attack on Sadat proved that the Middle East was “not ripe for peace” and called on the government to cease the withdrawal process.
Yitzhak Regev, chairman of the settlers council in Yamit in northern Sinai, made a similar demand. Political observers here believe Sadat’s assassination will strengthen the long simmering movement to stop the withdrawal from Sinai, one of the key requirements of the peace treaty.
NEED FOR STRONG ISRAEL STRESSED
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, addressing a group of paratroopers when the news of an attempt on Sadat’s life was first received stressed the need for a strong Israel in face of political upsets such as were occurring in Egypt. Sharon noted that Israel was located in probably the most unstable region in the world. “Only today we have witnessed dramatic events which may bring about developments in Egypt,” he said.
Former Premier Yitzhak Rabin, a leading member of the opposition Labor Party, said he believed the Reagan Administration’s preoccupation with Saudi Arabia and lesser interest in the Camp David agreements possibly contributed to the unrest in Egypt which culminated in the attack on Sadat. Former Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, who also spoke before the confirmation that Sadat died, said the assassination attempt was “part of what is going on in Egypt” and should not be expected to lead to changes in Cairo’s foreign policy.
Sadat died, ironically, on the eighth anniversary of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War which gave Egypt its first military success in battle with Israel and was believed by many to have created the psychological climate that enabled Sadat to initiate peace with the Jewish State.
UP FROM THE RANKS
Sadat, who was born in a tiny village in the Nile delta, the son of a minor civil servant, followed a military career in his youth. He was one of the group of young military officers that included Gamal Abdel Nasser, who overthrew King Farouk in 1952.
He succeeded to the presidency of Egypt following an internal political struggle in the aftermath of Nasser’s death in 1970 and soon set about changing the late President’s pro-Soviet policy. In 1972, Sadat expelled 20,000 Soviet military advisors and other per sonnel that Nasser had brought into Egypt following the Six-Day War.
SOME HISTORIC MOVES
In 1975, Sadat surprised the world by unilaterally reopening the Suez Canal, shut down since 1967. In November, 1977, he made his historic visit to Jerusalem, initiating the peace process with Israel. It led to the Camp David agreements, concluded with Israel and the U.S. in September, 1978. The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed in Washington in March, 1979.
While Sadat succeeded in his peace moves with Israel, he was unable to convince fellow-Arab rulers to join the process. The pro-Western regimes in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf principalities remained hostile to Camp David. The “rejectionist front” — Syria and Iraq — branded Sadat a traitor to the Arab cause. Iran, under the Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, also became a bitter enemy of Sadat. Libya became his most implacable foe.
Sadat remained immensely popular with Egyptians, but there were rumblings of discord among Moslem fundamentalists in that country, pro-Soviet and other dissenting groups. Sadat made little headway in solving Egypt’s severe economic problems but his closer ties with the United States promised investment as well as military aid.
In recent months, Sadat cracked down with an iron hand on his internal political opponents. Several thousand, including some leading Egyptian journalists and intellectuals, were imprisoned as Sadat acted to end growing strife between Moslems and Coptic Christians.