JERUSALEM (Jan. 15)
A senior American source said today that there was no reason to fear that Syria is heading toward war with Israel. The source, quoted by Kol Israel Radio, was apparently responding to expressions of concern by Premier Menachem Begin over the growing Soviet presence in Syria and the continued flow of Soviet weaponry to that country.
According to Kol Israel, the American source acknowledged that Syria has received large arms supplies from the USSR but said there were no indications that the size of the flow has increased in the last few days. The source was also quoted as saying that if Israel is attacked, there is no reason to doubt U.S. readiness to help her. The source added, however, that if Israel were to initiate diplomatic moves on the Palestinian issue, it should help cool down any unrest in the neighboring countries.
The potential threat from Syria was referred to by Begin-twice in the last two days. He spoke of it yesterday to a group of visiting British Parliamentarians. He repeated Israel’s concern to reporters today after briefing President Yitzhak Novon on his summit meeting with President Anwar Sadat at Aswan last week.
Begin said Syria has drawn closer to Moscow which continues to supply it with arms and therefore Israel must remain alert. According to Begin, the Soviets seek to create tension along the Israeli-Syrian border in order to divert international attention from their incursion into Afghanistan.
ESTIMATED 1500 SOVIET MILITARY PERSONNEL IN SYRIA
Israeli sources estimated the number of Soviet military personnel in Syria at 1500. The sources said they had no confirmation of foreign press reports that an additional 500 Russians arrived in Damascus last week. Russian officers and other ranks were said to be helping the Syrians absorb the new weapons which reportedly include MIG-25 fighters and T-72 tanks.
Israel’s concern is shared by Maj. Soad Haddad, commander of the Christian militia in south Lebanon which Israel supports. Haddad said today that if Syria attacked Israel it would be from Lebanon rather than on the Golan Heights. He said that while the Golan topography was better suited to tank warfare, the Syrians fear that on attack there, if unsuccessful, would open the way to Damascus.