Israeli armor, artillery, infantry and anti-aircraft missiles were redeployed today well beyond firing range of the Suez Canal, leaving a much reduced force on the front lines in Sinai in accordance with the unilateral “thinning out” gesture announced by Premier Yitzhak Rabin Monday.
The move was completed at 8 a.m. local time today, exactly as per schedule. Artillery batteries were moved last night and yesterday well beyond the 30 kilometer line while anti-aircraft missiles were re-positioned 40 kilometers from the canal and in some cases as far as 48 kilometers. Defense Minister Shimon Peres and Chief of Staff Gen, Mordechai Gur, accompanied by the commander of the southern front, Gen. Yekuthiel Adam, spent most of yesterday visiting Israeli troops to explain the meaning of the pullback and its possible political consequences. They said that from a military standpoint the thinning out was not too risky and although a reciprocal move might have been expected from the Egyptians, Israel nevertheless hoped that its cargoes would now be permitted transit through the reopened Suez Canal.
The government is obviously gratified by the nearly unanimous favorable reaction to its gesture from world capitals, especially in the West. The only sharply negative response came yesterday from Tass, the official Soviet news agency which reflects the Kremlin’s views. Tass claimed that the Israeli decision to thin out its forces in Sinai was a propaganda move that did nothing to change Israel’s basic refusal to work for a Middle East peace settlement, “In an attempt to mislead the international public, Israel is making a fuss around the so-called step-by-step diplomacy pursuing purely propagandistic aims,” Tass said. “The Israeli government has not changed one bit its foreign policy line which is directed at consolidating its hold over the occupied Arab territories and evading a discussion of the problems of an overall Middle East peace settlement.”
SOVIET PIQUE SEEN
The Tass article was viewed by observers here and abroad as a manifestation of Soviet pique over the re-entry of the United States into a mediating role in the Arab-Israeli conflict that was marked by the meeting between President Ford and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Salzburg this week. Since the suspension of Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger’s bilateral efforts to promote a second-stage Israeli-Egyptian agreement last March, Moscow appeared to have re-taken the initiative in a series of consultations with Arab officials.
Peres said yesterday that Israel will return the bodies of ten Egyptian soldiers found in Sinai this week to Egypt without delay. He said that while there were 17 Israeli soldiers still missing and unaccounted for in Egyptian territory, “the feelings of Egyptian mothers was sufficient reason for Israel to return the bodies.” The remains of the ten men killed in the Yom Kippur War, were discovered coincidentally with Israel’s decision to thin out its forces in Sinai.
Meanwhile, from a vantage point at an Israeli position known as “Budapest,” overlooking Port Fuad and Port Said, preparations for the festivities tomorrow reopening the Suez Canal could be observed. The two port towns have been illuminated with fancy lights as ships arrived in Port Said awaiting their entry into the canal tomorrow.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.