Jerusalem (May. 10)
The Cabinet was told today that there has been no new deployment of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles in Lebanon over the weekend and that reports to that effect may have been put out by the Syrians as a form of psychological pressure in the continuing crisis.
According to the State-owned Kol Israel Radio, that was the informed assessment given to the ministers at the weekly Cabinet session. Premier Menachem Begin had a terse “no comment” on leaving the meeting when he was asked if any progress has been made by U.S. special envoy Philip Habib in his efforts to defuse the situation.
Habib was in Damascus today and is due in Israel tomorrow. He is expected to meet with Begin in the Knesset building immediately after the Prime Minister opens Parliament’s summer session with a
policy statement on the situation in Lebanon. Begin’s reticence and the leaked report of what the Cabinet was told was seen here as a deliberate effort to keep a low profile while Habib pursues his mission. But Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other officials have displayed little optimism over Habib’s chances of success and Israel has indicated that it reserves the right to take whatever action it sees fit, including military means to remove the Syrian SAM-6 missiles from the Beka valley in eastern Lebanon.
Before today’s Cabinet session, Begin’s office issued a statement denying a report published in a Washington Middle East newsletter late last week that the U.S. has given Israel a “green light” to attack the SAM-6 installations. The statement said that Israel, as a sovereign nation, does not require a “green light” from anyone to make decisions and implement them. Israel thereby kept alive the threat of force to destroy the missiles.
Shamir said on a radio interview yesterday that it was difficult to envision a peaceful outcome to the crisis and blamed Syrian intransigence. Asked if hostilities did break out, would they be limited or escalate into a general war, he would say only that Israel was taking all possibilities into account. He observed that the time available for negotiations was limited but declined to set a deadline for the success of Habib’s mission.
Shamir stressed Israel’s obligation to help the Christian forces in Lebanon but refused to say whether that help was confined to the Christian enclave along Israel’s border with Lebanon or extended into the central and northern regions of that country where the fighting between the Christians and Syrians has occurred.
U.S. CAN’T CONFIRM TROOP MOVEMENT
(The State Department said in Washington last Friday that it had nothing to substantiate reports of Syrian troop movements “either from within Lebanon or from Syria to Lebanon.” According to some reports, Syria has moved some 4000 additional troops into Lebanon. Secretary of State Alexander Haig told reporters last Thursday that the Soviet Union has “assured us that they are doing the best they can” to influence the Syrians to exercise restraint but so far “there is no evidence that the efforts of anyone have achieved a real breakthrough.”
(A Soviet representative, First Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Korniyenko, is in Damascus. State Department spokesman Dean Fischer said Friday that he did not know if Habib would be meeting with him. Habib conferred with President Elias Sarkis of Lebanon in Beirut Friday before going to Damascus.)
According to reports from Damascus, Syrian radio broadcast a truculant message shortly after Habib’s arrival. The official commentator warned that Syria “does not fear any threat and will not retreat or bargain since it knows the sources of its strength.” This was seen as a signal to the American envoy that Syria will not withdraw its missiles under the threat of a military confrontation with Israel.