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Most Israelis Approve Sinai Thinning: Likud Opposed but Divided on Kind of Protest

June 4, 1975
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Reaction was overwhelmingly favorable in Israel today toward Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s announcement yesterday that Israel would unilaterally thin out its forces in Sinai coincidental with the reopening of the Suez Canal this Thursday. Even the Likud opposition, which not surprisingly registered disapproval, was divided over how vehement its objections should be.

A strong statement flatly rejecting Rabin’s move, advocated by Likud’s militant Herut wing, was toned down by more moderate elements in the party to one of opposition on grounds that a unilateral move by Israel was not justified as long as Egypt bars Israeli cargoes from the reopened waterway. Even that was too strong for some Likud MKs. Avraham Katz of the Liberal Party and Akiva Noff, of the Free Center, voted against it, Shmuel Tamir, leader of Likud’s Free Center faction spoke in favor of the gesture–before the party as a whole officially disapproved it.

The big surprise of the day was the strong denunciation of Rabin’s action by Arye Eliav who quit the Labor Party last March because his outspokenly “doveish” views clashed with government policy. Eliav contended that Rabin’s gesture was nothing more than a hastily taken ad hoc decision that was a poor substitute for a carefully planned, detailed Israeli program for a peace settlement that he and other “doves” inside and out of the Labor Party have been advocating. On the other hand, Meir Payil of the leftist Moked faction, praised the government’s decision in principle. He said, however, that since it did not entail any military risks for Israel, he would have preferred a broader political gesture.


The question of whether or not Israel was taking a military risk was also a matter of conjecture today. When he announced his move yesterday, Rabin conceded that it involved “a measure of risk,” But Israel’s leading military commentator, Gen, Haim Herzog, the Ambassador desig-

He ruled out the possibility that the reduction of forces would make Israel more vulnerable to a surprise attack by the Egyptians. “In any case, the Egyptians would take into consideration the forces behind the thinned out areas because these are the deterrent,” Herzog said, He assessed Rabin’s move as a gesture of “good will, nothing more and nothing less,” and said it should demonstrate to the Arabs and to the world that Israel is prepared to do everything she can to reduce tension and create an atmosphere conducive to peace talks.

Tamir said he was sure the Israeli defense forces took into account all military factors before the government decided on the move. Yehuda Ben Meir, of the National Religious Party’s militant “young guard” said he saw no reason to object assuming that Israel’s military deployment would not be impaired. The NRP, which is a member of Rabin’s coalition government, approved the gesture. Former Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig, said it was the act of a “strong government.”


Whatever criticism there was of Rabin’s move outside of Likud focussed on its timing rather than its substance, Many political observers felt that once the decision was made it should have been announced before the meeting of President Ford and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Salzburg instead of at the end of that meeting, in any event, they said, the gesture by Israel appeared to be a hasty reaction to the Ford-Sadat talks.

There were reports of friction between Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres over the timing of the announcement. Peres was said to have urged that it be made on Sunday, coincidental with arrivals of Ford and Sadat in Salzburg. But Rabin allegedly opposed him in the Cabinet and forced his wishes on the other ministers. It was decided to hold up the announcement until later in the week, probably on the eve of the reopening of the Suez Canal, But in a last minute reversal, Rabin decided to make the announcement Monday morning and informed Peres and Foreign Minister Yigal Allon of his intentions only a few hours before issuing it.

Another dispute was reported in the government over who first thought of the gesture, Some sources credit Peres with coming up with the idea two months ago and claim that Rabin and Allon responded negatively at first on grounds that it might be interpreted as a sign of Israeli weakness, But they reversed their positions, the sources said, after a series of positive developments that included the renewed American peace initiative and Syria’s agreement to a six-month extension of the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observers Force (UNDOF), Still other sources insisted last night that the idea did not originate with Peres but with the army high command.

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