Pentagon officials have confirmed that the Carter Administration plans to construct a first-class military airfield at Ras Banas on the Red Sea for use by the U.S. Rapid. Deployment Force (RDF) to accommodate a division of troops and a flotilla of long-range American bombers.
Ras Banas is in southeastern Egypt, not for from its border with Sudan and almost directly opposite the Saudi Arabian and Persian Gulf oil fields. The RDF is being formed to deal with volatile situations like those in the Middle East.
Pentagon sources have mode it known that Oman, Somalia, Kenya, Diego Garcia and Israel also figure-prominently in U.S. contingency plans to meet the Soviet threat to the West’s oil lines. Somalia and Oman have already agreed to allow U.S. forces to use sites in their areas. British-controlled Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean also is engaged for that purpose. Egyptian President Anwar Sodat had said the U.S. could use Egyptian facilities but not have a base on Egyptian soil. The arrangement for Ras Banas would be to provide a staging area for American forces. U.S. planes and troops would not be permanently stationed at Ras Banas but would fly there in periods of tension. A U.S. division comprises 18,000 men.
AIRFIELD TO COST AN ESTIMATED $400 MILLION
The airfield construction budget will be presented to Congress in January. While the facilities to modernize the now outmoded field at Ras Banas will reportedly cost about $400 million, the Pentagon says this figure is incorrect, indicating it will be less.
Why the U.S. is prepared to spend this huge sum on Ras Banas when Israeli air bases in Sinai, Etzion being among the world’s best, are being passed up is a question that remains formally unanswered. Congress, however, is certain to require answers when the Pentagon presents the proposal to it for approval next winter. Another as yet unanswered query is whether the U.S. will be able to use the base to fly support to Israel in the event Israel comes under attack.
POLITICAL PROBLEMS INDICATED
Policy planners recognize the virtues of both Israel’s military prowess and the Sinai bases which Israel is to turn over to Egypt under the Egyptian-Israeli treaty. Political circumstances, however, stand in the way.
Administration sources say Washington foresees trouble with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab states if it includes Israel as a strategic asset to the United States. But no plans have been mode known of Israeli-U.S. military cooperation in the event of trouble in the oil fields or even in Israel’s defense.
“Arab governments would scream sky-high at American-Israeli military operations,” a Congressional Mideast specialist noted. He observed that Sadat agreed to Ras Banas but refused Sinai sites to the U.S. because he wants Ras Banas built up as on Egyptian base. Egypt will have total access for its air force at Ras Banas and share its control with the U.S.
In the Sinai, Egypt might be in a position of sharing some authority with Israel under the Israeli-Egyptian treaty More importantly, Egypt agreed to Ras Banes because of its distance from Israel. “In time of possible trouble with Israel, Egypt would have a modem base distant from Israel’s fighter aircraft,” it was noted.
The specialist mocked the figure of $400 million. “That’s much too low, be said. “For two bases in the Negev, near the center of large urban centers with transport and manpower available, Israel is spending $2.2 billion. How can the U.S. build a base in such a remote spot like Ras Banas for $400 million?”
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.