Eshkol Warns Israel is Ready for Defense in Face of Syrian Threats

As Israel’s Cabinet today lauded Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Foreign Minister Abba Eban for the manner in which they handled the most recent Syrian crisis, Mr. Eshkol warned the Government and the country that there is no certainty at all that the Syrians will now keep the peace. “There is no way of knowing, ” he cautioned, “whether they will keep peace now or will continue the aggressions against Israel as their leaders keep saying they will, ” Then the Premier added: “In the latter case, Israel is ready to defend her territory and the lives of her citizens.”

The crisis on the Syrian border, specifically in the Lake Tiberias area, has lasted from August 15, the day the Syrians fired mortar shells against an Israeli Coast Guard vessel marooned on a reef in the lake, until Friday.

Israel sent its air force aloft on August 15 when the Syrians continued firing to prevent rescue of the Israeli wounded. Israel’s jets knocked out the two Syrian gun posts behind a hill near the eastern shore of the lake. In an ensuing dogfight, Israel shot down two Syrian planes — one behind the Syrian lines, another into the lake, with its pilot. On Friday, Israel finally refloated its stranded Coast Guard cutter, in the face of Syrian threats to use its massed men and armor near the Tiberias shore.

Today Israeli officials continued to display at Tiberias the crushed wing and part of the undercarriage of the Syrian MIG-17 which was shot down into Lake Tiberias, together with its pilot on August 15. Israel decided to display the wreckage as a retort to a Syrian claim that Syrian frogmen had recovered the MIG and the body of the pilot from the lake, despite United Nations and Israel surveillance.

The plane had been brought down close to the northeastern shore of Lake Tiberias where the Syrian border lies 30 feet from the water’s edge. An Israeli spokesman said that small pieces of the wreckage and possibly the pilot’s body might have floated to shore, where they could have been retrieved by the Syrians. Asked if there was any truth in the Syrian claim, an Israeli officer replied that, besides the wing and undercarriage salvaged by Israel, there was no plane left, just “bits and pieces.”

Israel had avoided any announcement concerning the fate of the Soviet-built MIG while it was negotiating with U.N. officials on procedures for the removal of the Coast Guard cutter. It is the manner in which Israel conducted those negotiations, mixing tact toward the United Nations with firm refusal to bow to what members of the Cabinet called Syrian “blackmail, ” that earned for both the Premier and the Foreign Ministry today the plaudits of the entire Cabinet.

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