JERUSALEM (Jun. 28)
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned from reliable sources today that the recent visit to Israel of Victor Louis, a Russian journalist known to carry out missions for Soviet authorities, was for the purpose of probing Israel’s willingness to remove its relations with Moscow from the deep freeze in which they have languished since the June. 1967 Six-Day War. Despite emphatic denials by the Foreign Ministry that any such contacts have occurred, the JTA learned that a request by Louis for an audience with Premier Goida Meir was the subject of deliberations by the Cabinet’s defense committee, Its decision was to let Louis see Mrs. Meir’s political advisor, Simcha Dinitz, a close confidant of the Premier in whom she has unlimited trust. The committee’s reason for rejecting a direct meeting was unclear but sources said it was because the ministers feared a “leak” to the news media which might be “misinterpreted.” the JTA learned. There were no details available of Louis’ talk with Dinitz.
Louis, 47, is Moscow correspondent of the London daily Mail. He arrived at Lydda Airport from Heisinki via Cyprus on June 13 bearing a Soviet service passport, the kind issued only to persons traveling on official business. According to the newspaper Yediot Achronot he was met at the airport by Foreign Ministry officials who whisked him away in a car. The Foreign Ministry denied the whole affair until today when it issued a long statement asserting that Louis applied for and was granted a visa to come to Israel for health reasons. The Ministry statement said he remained in the country for one week in the middle of June during which time he met with several acquaintances who had served at the Israeli Embassy in Moscow before diplomatic relations were broken. The Ministry Statement admitted that Dinitz was one of the people Louis met but insisted that Louis had “no official standing whatsoever nor did he claim to have any.” The Ministry statement added that “consequently the conversations with him did not bear the character of negotiations and the reports alleging that negotiations between the Israel government and the Soviet government have taken place or are taking place are without foundation.”
Observers here were quick to point out that the Ministry was denying something nobody claimed, namely that negotiations were going on between Israel and Russia or that Louis was here in a governmental or any other capacity. According to Yediot Achronot, Louis checked into the Samuel Hotel in Tel Aviv under his own name and made several visits to Jerusalem. The paper said he left Israel on the night of June 18-19 and newsmen at the airport claimed that he was seen off a Foreign Ministry official. A Ministry spokesman claimed today that a check of the report failed to turn up any such official. The claim that Louis came to Israel for health reasons seemed to have a grain of truth inasmuch as he visited Dr. Arieh Harel, director of the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. Dr. Harel served as Israel’s Ambassador to Moscow between 1959-61 and had made Louis’ acquaintance there. Observers here regard as significant Foreign. Minister Abba Eban’s statement after Louis’ visit that Israel desired to reestablish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Eban has made three such statements so far but was careful to declare each time that while Israel was willing, no approaches had been made from the Soviet side. When asked by the JTA June 22 whether “in view of recent reports on Israel Soviet contacts there is more than meets the eye,” Eban replied, “No, but what meets the eye is there.” Louis reportedly left Israel via an El Al tight to Budapest. The JTA Learned from reliable sources today that the Louis Visit was preceded over several months by visits to Israel of European Jewish Communist leaders who came here ostensibly as tourists but in fact carefully probed Israel’s position with regard to renewed diplomatic ties with Moscow.