A flap over the preparedness of Israeli Army units and maintenance of equipment has surfaced as one of the central issues of Israel's election campaign, now entering its final two weeks.

At issue is a report by Israel's state controller, Yitzhak Nebenzahl, containing what many Israelis view as an especially disturbing commentary on the state of equipment at three units he had inspected.

Israel's main opposition group, Likud, called a special parliamentary session, at which its leader, Menahem Begin, spoke of "the trauma of the 1973 war," when Israeli forces suffered heavy losses at the outset.

Nebenzahl, who is appointed by the Knesset (parliament) and reports to it, said an inspection of emergency stores in two units showed that many motor vehicles were not properly maintained, munitions depots were deficient and pieces of required equipment were missing.

He charged that a third unit specializing in bridges and equipment for crossing waterways had failed to keep its machinery in a constant state of preparedness.

Nebenzahl also recommended that the army general staff investigate whether the same situation existed in other units.

During the debate, Begin making his first public appearance in six weeks after recuperating from a heart attack, underlined the concern of many Israelis in demanding assurances that there would be no recurrence of the over confidence at the time of the 1973 war.

Defense minister Shimon peres, acting Prime Minister and new leader of the ruling Labor Party, said the state controller's report did not come as a surprise to the army.

Saying that the faults the controller found had been corrected, Peres said 800 internal army investigations last year had found 60 per cent of inspected units in good condition, 30 per cent satisfactory or fair, and 10 per cent unsatisfactory.

He added, however, that these units were getting used to new equipment and some shortcomings were inevitable.

[Peres said the overall strength and fighting capability of Israel's army, navy and air force are at an all-time high. Reuter reporter. Without giving figures, he said that since 1973 manpower had risen 40 per cent, mobile artillery 100 per cent, aircraft and tanks 50 per cent, and armored personnel carriers 1,000 per cent.]

Observers said Peres' disclosures of such figures, which Israel normally is reluctant to reveal, may have taken some pressure off the Labor Party on the issue.

One Labor Party campaign manager said later, however: "I believe that the state controller's report can hurt us more than some of the recent scandals, including the issue of the bank accounts of Abba Eban. However, I feel that Peres handled the issue as well as could be expected."