• U.S.

World: Buildup On The Suez

3 minute read
TIME

EVEN though the U.S. last week conceded that the Egyptians have indeed violated the cease-fire by bringing more missiles into the 32-mile-wide standstill zone, Washington did not disclose even more significant information. The U.S.’s detailed reconnaissance pictures showed that the 36 SA-2 missiles sneaked into the cease-fire zone constitute only the first line of the most massive antiaircraft system ever created.

While Israeli Phantom fighter-bombers remain confined to the other side of the Suez Canal, the Soviets and Egyptians have installed a vast complex of radar-directed antiaircraft missiles and artillery behind the cease-fire zone. The actual count is not known, but American officers concede that the number of missiles is “in the hundreds, but less than 1,000.” There is also evidence that some of the missile batteries are already being fortified with concrete revetments, rendering them less vulnerable to bombing attacks. Furthermore, in order to confuse Israeli intelligence analysts, Soviets and Egyptians have bulldozed scores of dummy sites that can quickly be converted into active missile installations.

The Soviet-made missiles, some of which are manned by Russian crews, are deployed in scattered batteries in a 50-mile-thick belt that arches from Alexandria on the Mediterranean southward some 180 miles to the Gulf of Suez. Missile batteries have also been set up around major Egyptian airfields. In addition to the relatively old-fashioned SA2, which was familiar to U.S. pilots over North Viet Nam and can effectively strike only planes flying above 3,500 feet, the Soviet Union has installed the new SA-3, which is designed to hit low-flying aircraft.

Pentagon experts are frankly impressed by the arsenal of Soviet missiles. “The U.S. couldn’t match it,” admitted one officer. “We don’t have the equipment.” The Israelis are worried that they might lose their most important strategic advantage: airpower. They also fear that, under the cover of Soviet missilery, the Egyptian artillery can render the Bar-Lev fortifications on the east side of the canal untenable. Then Israel would be forced to pull back her army from the east bank into Sinai and risk a running war against Egyptian infiltrators in the wastes of the desert.

Israeli electronic specialists are currently in the U.S. to study American electronic equipment developed to foil enemy antiaircraft attacks during the North Viet Nam bombing. The weapons include three “smart” bombs that can be launched from a safe distance. One is the Shrike, which electronically homes in on the radar units used by SAMs. Another is the Walleye, which is steered to the target by means of a television camera in its nose. The Israelis are also interested in a third system called Pave Way, which employs two planes. One plane, which flies well out of range of enemy fire, trains a laser beam on a ground objective like a spotlight. The second plane dashes in and tosses a bomb, which follows the laser to the target. These U.S. countermeasures, however, were developed in a less sophisticated time. No one knows how they will work against the more modern array of antiaircraft missiles that the Israelis now face across the Suez Canal.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com