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Israel Won’t Take Part in Blockade, Though Eilat Area Could See Action

The Persian Gulf crisis may be moving toward Israeli waters, but Defense Minister Moshe Arens assured the country Tuesday that Israel is not participating in the U.S.-led blockade against Iraq.

Arens specifically denied an NBC-TV news report that Israel asked the United States for additional aircraft and attack helicopters to help in the blockade of Iraq and Kuwait, which the Iraqis occupied on Aug. 2.

“I hear that the embassy in Washington has already denied the report, and I can only add my own denial to it,” the defense minister told Israel Radio.

He said Israel also has not asked the United States to speed up the delivery of weapons on order.

Arens said Israel is not directly involved in the Gulf crisis, is taking no part in activities there and has no reason to intervene.

But the crisis could confront Israel in its home waters.

Iraq trades with Jordan across their common border and conducts maritime commerce by way of Jordan’s only seaport, Aqaba, which lies within shouting distance of the Israeli resort town of Eilat.

With the U.S.-led blockade coalescing in the Persian Gulf, Aqaba has become the sole port in the region still accessible to Iraqi shipping. And in recent days, the port reportedly has served as a transit point for the shipment of food and possibly military supplies to Baghdad.

Arens said he has no knowledge of any substantial increase of goods being transported overland between Aqaba and the Iraqi-Jordanian border.

“I presume the United States and the other countries joining with it in enforcing sanctions against Iraq are fully aware of the possibility of the use of that route and will take the necessary steps,” Arens said on Israel Radio.

If the U.S.-led blockade extends to Aqaba, Israel could get entangled simply by virtue of its proximity.

Yachtsmen in Eilat, a few miles away from Aqaba, said Tuesday they could discern no unusual activities in the Jordanian port. They counted about 10 vessels docked or anchored offshore waiting for berths. The distance was too great to identify the flags or port of registry of the ships.

Residents of Eilat said that during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, between 70 and 90 ships could be counted daily at Aqaba.

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