September 5, 2017

1970. Fragile Ceasefire in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

United States Steps Up Middle East Presence
"President Nasser's visit to the Suez front with Egypt's top military commanders during the War of Attrition," November 16, 1968 (source)
Passages in parentheses were struck from the original broadcast transcript.
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 18, 1970

Edward P. Morgan is on vacation. This is Bill Downs in Washington.

If there were any misconceptions that the United States could keep its distance and exert a kind of remote control influence over events in the Middle East, such ideas were bluntly dispelled today by the State Department. The announcement that US reconnaissance planes are making high-level flights over the Suez ceasefire zone for the first time involves American fighting men and their weapons in the Israeli-Arab dispute, no matter how indirectly.

The US reconnaissance planes are presumably F-4 Phantoms from the carriers Independence and Saratoga in the US Navy's Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. And even though these high-flying planes are loaded with cameras instead of guns, they represent the military presence of the United States in the Middle East just as much as do the Russian Air Force pilots who are in Egypt ostensibly to train President Nasser's faltering air arm.

It can also be presumed that the US Sixth Fleet, with its fifty or so warships, is now somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean and that the Russians, the Israelis, and the Arab governments know it.

This situation is far different—and potentially more dangerous—than in 1958 when President Eisenhower ordered the US Marines into Lebanon. That was to prevent a takeover of the Beirut government by a pro-Nasser military junta that had Soviet backing. There were no Russian military troops in Lebanon.

But today there will be Russians as well as Israeli and Egyptian military technicians tracking American reconnaissance planes. And electronically, at least, there is a direct confrontation of the world's two major powers over the Suez.

(In announcing the move, State Department spokesman Robert McCloskey explained that since the US took the lead in proposing the so-called "stand-still ceasefire," the country has a role to play in seeing that the terms of the truce agreement are carried out.)

The Israelis claim that only hours after the truce went into effect at midnight August 7th, the Egyptians and Russians began moving compounds of their SA-2 and SA-3 antiaircraft missiles into the thirty-mile neutral zone in violation of the truce pact.

(Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin told me only this afternoon that work on additional sites was continuing even up to last Saturday and Sunday.)

Washington refused to take Israel's photographic and electronic proof of these truce violations as seriously as the Jerusalem government, and US officials think it's more important to get the Arab-Israeli negotiations underway as soon as possible.

However if, as the Israelis fear, the Egyptians and the Russians are only interested in using the present stand-down along the Suez to prepare for another Mideast war, it is hard now to see how the United States could keep out of it.