JERUSALEM (Jan. 25)
Israel’s mounting concern over the growing Syrian influence in Lebanon was reflected here in warnings by the President, the Premier and the Defense Minister that Israel would be forced to intervene militarily if Syria invaded or took over Lebanon.
The warning by President Ephraim Katzir, in a speech to a United Jewish Appeal mission headed by Walter Segaloff of Newport News, Va., was unexpected because the President of Israel rarely makes political statements in public. Katzir’s words, therefore, seemed to underline the gravity of the situation in Lebanon where a cease-fire between the warring Moslem and Christian factions went into effect yesterday under the aegis of the Syrian-sponsored Palestine Liberation Army.
Katzir said: “Our policy is not to interfere in Lebanese internal policy. But if Syria interferes, we will have no choice but to send in our troops. If Syria takes over Lebanon it will pose a serious threat to Israel.” The President added that Israel would not cross the Lebanese border but would continue “to fight those terrorists who try to cross over.” In the past, however, Israeli troops have frequently crossed into Lebanon to attack terrorist strongholds there and Israel Air Force planes have bombed terrorist bases in that country.
STRONG WARNINGS SOUNDED
Premier Yitzhak Rabin, addressing the closing session of the United Israel Appeal-Keren Hayesod mission here last night, also warned Syria not to intervene in Lebanon. He declined to specify what Syrian move would be regarded by Israel as an act of war. However, he declared, “Our neighbors know exactly” what developments would force Israel to act and they should therefore “think and think again before precipitating such developments.”
Rabin noted that Lebanon was the only Arab country in the Middle East where Islam is not the official religion. He said the developments there have demonstrated that the Moslem majority is not prepared to tolerate any autonomy for the non-Moslem minority.
Defense Minister Shimon Peres, who addressed a 52-member UJA mission from Cleveland, said “We feel our warnings regarding Lebanon have been sufficient until now. I know that some elements in Lebanon are appreciative. If the Syrians are around in Lebanon it will mean a new war, but they have an appreciation of their strength compared to ours and for that reason they are being careful.”