Tel Aviv (Oct. 6)
An Israeli Navy missile boat ran aground on the Saudi Arabian coast 10 days ago triggering an alert in Saudi and Israeli armed forces. But the vessel was freed after 62 hours by Israeli salvage crews who were not interfered with by the Saudis.
At the time of the mishap Israel rushed word to the Saudi government through the U.S. Embassy that the presence of the boat in their waters was due to mechanical breakdown and not hostile intent.
Israeli military correspondents were aware of the incident several days ago but it was not made public, reportedly at the request of the Saudis. Riyadh apparently wanted to avoid embarrassment in other Arab states for remaining passive while Israelis performed salvage work on the Saudi coast.
According to military sources here, the French-built missile boat sailed from Haifa last month on a routine voyage to Eilat via the Suez Canal. While in the Gulf of Aqaba 50 miles south of Eilat the electric generating system failed knocking out the craft’s radar and gyro compass. The vessel veered off course by 90 degrees and raced at about 27 knots toward the Saudi coast, grounding on a coral reef within sight of a Saudi military position.
Saudi troops were rushed to the scene but did not open fire. Israel Army headquarters and the Defense Ministry promptly explained the situation to the Saudis through the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv but at the same time let the Saudis know that all measures would be taken to protect the boat and its crew.
Other Israeli naval craft were dispatched to the scene along with work barges and rescue craft. Heavy equipment including missiles and launchers were removed from the vessel to lighten her. Divers blasted the coral reef to free the keel and the boat was finally refloated and towed to Eilat.
According to reports today, a military board of inquriy ordered by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon immediately after the grounding has not yet completed its investigation. The story was first leaked by the U.S. Some officials here said this was intended by the Reagan Administration to demonstrate that the Saudis were “reasonable” and “cooperative” and thereby bolster its case for the sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia.
Reminder: There will be no Bulletin dated Oct. 9 due to Yom Kippur. There will also be no Bulletin dated Oct. 12 due to Columbus Day, a postal holiday.