WASHINGTON (Apr. 16)
The State Department said today that it had “no information” on reports that the Soviet government has decided to deliver the latest Russian MIG fighter aircraft to Syria for use against Israel in the current hostilities on the Golan Heights. The Department also would not comment on Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy’s threats against Israel in the UN Security Council last night over operations on the Syrian and Lebanese borders.
But Department sources indicated uneasiness over these developments. One source described them to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as “Arab provocation” and observed that Syria is seeking to obtain every advantage it can get prior to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s visits to Damascus and Jerusalem at the end of this month.
The ominous portent of a new Soviet military build-up of Syria was contained today in a report by the Beirut newspaper Al-Anwar. The paper said Syria will receive the most modern fighter aircraft and “Scud” ground-to-ground missiles from the Soviet Union under a new arms deal signed by Syrian President Hafez Assad in Moscow.
According to Al-Anwar, which quoted diplomatic sources, Syria has already received the highly sophisticated MIG-23 fighter aircraft and is to get the even more advanced MIG-25. In addition, the Soviet Union agreed to train Syrian Air Force pilots in the USSR to fly the MIG-25s, the first time the Russians have agreed to train the pilots of any but Warsaw Pact countries.
SYRIAN-SOVIET STATEMENT CAUSES CONCERN
Of equal concern was a report from Moscow tonight that Syria and the Soviet Union, reaffirming the importance of “consolidating Syria’s defensive power,” have stated that any agreement on disengagement with Israel should be an inseparable part of an overall Middle East settlement. That position was contained in a joint statement released in Moscow and Damascus as Assad flew home after a five-day visit to the Soviet capital. The statement also stressed Syria’s “firm and legitimate right to use all effective means to liberate its occupied territory.”
Kissinger’s departure date for the Middle East to attempt to arrange disengagement of Syrian and Israeli forces is now believed to be either April 28 or 29 rather than April 25 or 26. The possibility that Moscow would be included in his latest travels abroad was heavily discounted.