TEL AVIV (Jan. 20)
Gen. Ariel (Arik) Sharon, the Likud leader, charged today that Israel has given up its most important defense line in Sinai–the ridge of a hill some 10 kilometers from the Suez Canal where Israeli forces successfully contained the Egyptian attack at the outset of the Yom Kippur War at the cost of hundreds of casualties. “This line is now in Egyptian hands,” Sharon told some 200 Israeli and foreign reporters at a press conference at which he denounced–not the principle of disengagement–but the terms of the disengagement accord that Israel agreed to.
Only a few hours earlier, Sharon had announced his retirement from active military service “to fight on another front” meaning the political one. Sharon, one of the founders of the Likud non-Labor alignment was elected to the Knesset in the Dec. 31 elections. The Likud leader, who led Israeli forces to their major triumph of the Yom Kippur War–the break-through to the west bank of the Suez Canal–said today that the Egyptians received everything they had hoped for by the disengagement agreement.
The agreement eliminated the Israeli threat against Egypt by providing for Israeli evacuation of the canal’s west bank, Sharon said, adding he didn’t consider that position a permanent one but it was an important card and Israel could have made better use of it. The Egyptians also benefit from the fact that the canal is no longer Israel’s first line of defense, the general said. He warned that the return of Egyptian control of the Suez Canal would only enable the expansion of Egyptian and Soviet fleets in the Red Sea.
Sharon offered his own ideas on disengagement. He saw it as a long process linked to a step-by-step normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt including the exchange of civilian traffic and finally mutual diplomatic recognition. The Likud leader carried his anti-agreement message to some 2000 Tel Aviveans including many soldiers who attended an outdoor rally despite cold winds and heavy gusts of rain.
Addressing a sea of umbrellas and posters reading “No Peace Under Missile Threats” “No One-Sided Withdrawal” and “The Alignment Leads to War,” Sharon alleged that the agreement was not disengagement but the withdrawal of a victorious army by a defeated government. Other speakers at the Likud rally included Menachem Beigin of Herut; Elimelech Rimalt of the Liberal faction, and Shmuel Tamir of the Free Center. Tamir charged, “Without even American pressure, the government made concessions to the Egyptians and the Russians.”