JERUSALEM (Nov. 23)
The Cabinet met in special closed session today, sitting as a ministerial defense committee, to consider the movements of large Syrian forces in Lebanon and the potential threat they may pose to Israel’s security. The Cabinet meeting followed an announcement last night that Israel has sent reinforcements of artillery, infantry and armored units to the Lebanese border to be ready for any contingency.
Security sources said the move was precautionary and anticipatory and was not prompted by any specific act by the Syrians. The sources said that to the best of their knowledge, Syrian units have not crossed the Litani River into southern Lebanon but are in occupation of certain strategic roads leading to the Lebanese border.
It was learned today that Israel sent two warnings to Syria over the weekend concerning the movement of Syrian troops in Lebanon. The warnings were conveyed to Damascus through American channels, one Friday and the second Sunday night following a meeting of Premier Yitzhak Rabin with U.S. Ambassador Malcolm Toon. The latest warnings were believed prompted by the Katyusha rocket attack on Nahariya Sunday night and the bazooka attack on an Israeli border-patrol Friday.
The messages were said to have made it clear that Israel will hold Syria responsible for curbing terrorist activities in southern Lebanon. Sources here said that the Syrian presence in Lebanon is strong enough to impose restraints on the relatively small terrorist concentrations in the southern portion of that country without Syria itself sending troops into the zone adjacent to Israel’s border.
SYRIAN STRENGTH IN LEBANON
Syrian strength in Lebanon is said to exceed 30,000 troops and auxiliaries and 300-400 tanks. They comprise eight commando battalions, the 65th infantry brigade south of Baalbeck, the 21st infantry brigade at the Zaharani oil refineries near the port city of Sidon and the 132nd infantry brigade at the port of Tripoli.
The Syrians control two key north-south roads. One runs from Beirut to Rosh Hanikra, the Israel-Lebanon border checkpost on the Mediterranean coast and the other from Baalbeck to Marj-Ayoun, a village close to the Israeli border. The Syrian forces deployed near Sidon are about 40 kilometers from the Israeli border and those holding the Marj-Ayoun road are placed at about 60 kilometers from the Israeli border town of Metullah.
Today’s Cabinet session was briefed by Defense Minister Shimon Peres, army Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Guf and Gen. Shlomo Gezit chief of army intelligence. No details were released. It is believed, however, that one of the subjects discussed was the so-called “red line” which has been defined as not a geographical location but a security situation. If the movement of Syrian forces altered that situation, Israel could be expected to react.
It is believed, for example, that if Syria sent token forces into Tyre or Nabatiyeh, both south of the Litani River, Israel would not regard that movement as a provocation. But Israel would not allow Syrian troops to approach any closer to its borders. Israel would expect Syria to control the terrorists in that region who are believed trying to precipitate an Israeli-Syrian confrontation.