WASHINGTON (Aug. 23)
Reports of an announcement in Syria today by the Syrian Army Chief of Staff that Syria had decided to launch a “war of liberation” against Israel have attracted the notice of the State Department which is increasingly concerned about the strident tone of Arab threats.
Today’s dispatches from Damascus quoted the Syrian Chief of Staff as saying that his country was ready to go ahead with “a war of liberation to regain Palestine.” He said the recent aerial clash in the Lake Tiberias area was “the forerunner of future battles.” He cited the “liberation wars in Vietnam and Algeria” as examples of “wars of determination” to be followed by the Arab masses against Israel. “America has to kneel to the gallant Vietnamese,” the Syrian Chief of Staff said, and indicated that the time was ripe for “liberation” warfare against Israel while the United States was preoccupied in Vietnam.
State Department officials said they were awaiting official reports on the admittedly serious threats by the Syrian Chief of Staff. It was noted that such a threat from a Syrian government military authority caused more concern than similar utterances by such non-governmental agitators as Ahmed Shukairy, chairman of the so-called Palestine Liberation Organization.
Authorities are troubled because United States influence in Syria is less than it is in any other Arab state. The Syrians are regarded as the most irresponsible of the Arab states and some subordinate military officer could set in motion an escalating conflict that might embroil the whole frontier and region.
POSSIBILITY OF SYRIAN ‘LIMITED WAR’ AGAINST ISRAEL SEEN
There was thought in some quarters here that Syria would like to wage a limited war against Israel through guerrilla and underground means — protected by some forthcoming Soviet policy declaration against Israeli reprisals. The Syrians, in this sense, would seek a privileged sanctuary from which to wage a “liberation” campaign against Israel.
However, State Department officials are cautioning Israel not to cite the American military strikes against North Vietnam because the United States regards the two situations as different. The United States’ position is that the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization exists on the Syrian-Israel border while such U.N. presence is lacking in the Vietnamese situation.
Officials here have repeatedly urged both Israel and Syria to cooperate with the UNTSC and resolve differences through the United Nations while refraining from military action. The United States does not feel that even Syrian strikes into Israel, of a limited nature, justify Israeli counter-blows across the border.
It was also learned today that concern exists lest the Soviet Union back Syria in an escalating situation, thus bringing about a confrontation that the United States wants to avoid in the Middle East at a time when this country is so deeply involved in Vietnam.