Tel Aviv (May. 3)
– Syrian SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles remained in place in the Beka valley in eastern Lebanon today. Although there was a lull in the fighting in Lebanon over the weekend, the atmosphere remained tense as diplomatic efforts apparently were underway to avoid a possible Israeli-Syrian clash.
Premier Menachem Begin, who last Thursday said he had no accurate information that the Syrians had deployed the SAM-6 missiles in Lebanon, despite Israel army intelligence reports to that effect, told reporters during a break in today’s weekly Cabinet meeting that the missiles were still there and called their installation a “very grave development.”
Some observers suggested that Begin’s remarks Thursday were intended to give the Syrians a chance to remove the missiles without losing face. On a radio interview today, Begin denied that Israel has had any contacts with the Syrians but confirmed that the U.S. was trying to defuse the situation by diplomatic means. Asked if the Americans had made any progress, Begin replied, “no, not yet, not at all.”
(In Washington Friday, Secretary of State Alexander Haig indicated, without saying so outright, that the U.S. was pressing the Soviet Union to use its influence in Damascus to remove the SAM-6 missiles from Lebanon. Haig, appearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in connection with the State Department’s budget requests for 1982, said the U.S. has been dealing with all parties involved in Lebanon. He told reporters later that American diplomatic efforts went “beyond” attempts to have the Syrians remove the missiles or to keep the Israeli Air Force from attacking them, to “even more significant aspects” of the situation.)
DENY COMPROMISE DEAL WITH SYRIANS
The SAM-6s were moved into the Beka valley after Israeli fighter planes shot down two Syrian helicopters last week as a warning to Syria not to use them to attack Christians in the Lebanese mountains and in Zahle village. Begin held an urgent Cabinet meeting Friday but no details were disclosed. Israeli officials denied a BBC report that Israel was negotiating a compromise deal with the Syrians that would allow them to retain control of the Beka valley if they ended their seige of the Christians in Zahle.
Moshe Arens, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, said on a radio interview yesterday that Israel did not want war with Syria but Syria’s intentions are unclear. “We must remember that Syria is a dictatorship, led by (President Hafez) Assad who has shown in the past a tendency to aggressive action and brutality at home or abroad, as in Lebanon against the Christians, in a manner not seen since World War II,” Arens said.
He said that “Anything and everything the (Israel) government does will be the result of deliberate decisions in light of the government’s declared policy of not allowing the Syrians to destroy the Christians in Lebanon.” Arens added the assurance that Israel would not be drawn into war with Syria because the matter had been discussed fully in the Cabinet and with his committee.
DAYAN WELCOMES U.S. ATTEMPTS
Former Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan said on another radio interview yesterday that he welcomed American attempts to persuade Syria to withdraw the missiles from Lebanon but he didn’t think they would succeed. Dayan criticized the government’s policy of drawing a “red line” in Lebanon beyond which the Syrians would not be permitted to move. He said such a policy implied tacit approval of Syria’s presence in Lebanon. “I recommend that we do not accept or give legitimacy to Syrian presence in Lebanon,” Dayan said.
He gave three reasons: that Israel has implicit agreements with its Arab neighbors that they all remain within their own borders; that any foreign military presence in Lebanon poses a threat to Israel; and that Syria is a patron of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a client of the Soviet Union. Dayan suggested that Israel try to get Syria out of Lebanon by diplomatic means but if they failed, by military means short of all-out war.
SADAT BLASTS SYRIAN ‘HOOLIGANISM’
In Cairo yesterday, President Anwar Sadat criticized Israel’s actions in Lebanon but spoke far more harshly against the Syrians who he accused of “hooliganism” in Lebanon. Referring to Assad as a “bully,” Sadat declared, “Today he is not placing Lebanon alone but Lebanon and the Arab world and the whole Middle East in a cyclone and nobody knows how this will end up.”
Observing that “Israel got involved four or five days ago,” Sadat asked: “Who opened the gates? The deeds of the Syrians and the negative attitude of the Arab world and the leaders of Lebanon. We all as Arabs are responsible for that. This opened the gates for the Israelis.”