JERUSALEM (Aug. 31)
Permier Menachem Begin warned Arab leaders not to threaten Israel with war because the Jewish State is capable of defending itself against aggression. “Israel is not interested in war and will never initiate one,” he told newsmen upon his return from Rumania. “But if attacked, we shall defend ourselves and sometimes as a result of an attack there is a necessity to counterattack. We cannot be threatened with aggression.”
Government sources said today this statement was a clear warning to the Arab states against the threats of war that have been made recently by Arab leaders. The sources said the Premier’s remarks are meant to warn the Arabs that if they attack Israel the result might be “quite different” than what they might expect, including the loss of even more territory.
Begin’s warning yesterday at Ben Gurion Airport was in response to questions about a statement by Syrian President Hafez Assad in an interview with the New York Times, published Monday, that he was pessimistic because he believed the only alternative to peace was war. “There’s no third choice,” Assad was quoted as saying. “It’s either peace or war. I don’t mean today or tomorrow. But eventually Israel will not be able to continue challenging us.”
Begin also rejected Assad’s suggestion that the Arab League might substitute for the Palestine Liberation Organization in Middle East negotiations. “The Arab League is not a country and, as stipulated by the provisions of the Geneva conference, only countries can be a signatory to a peace agreement,” the Israeli Premier declared. “The League’s presence at Geneva, therefore, is completely unacceptable.”
(In Washington, State Department spokesman Hodding Carter said Assad’s idea of substituting the Arab League for the PLO was not new and that a “number of proposals” have been suggested regarding the participants at Geneva.)