Jerusalem (May. 19)
Premier Menachem Begin said tonight that Israel would not go to war against Syria unless Israel is attacked. He made that remark in an address to a war veterans rally shortly after a meeting with U.S. special envoy Philip Habib who returned to Israel today after further talks in Damascus and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, over the weekend in his continuing effort to resolve the Israeli-Syrian missile crisis.
Emerging from his meeting with Habib, Begin gave reporters the impression that the crucial moment is at hand. He said he would “convene the appropriate authorities” — meaning apparently the Cabinet or the Ministerial Defense Committee — tomorrow morning to take “the appropriate decisions.” It was inferred from this that Habib has presented a package proposal which he was asking Israel to accept.
Aides to Begin said Habib’s future plans would depend on the outcome of a second meeting he and the Prime Minister will hold tomorrow afternoon, following the Cabinet session.
SEARCH FOR PEACE CONTINUES
Habib, true to his tight-lipped style, would only say: “The diplomatic effort continues. The search for peace continues.” Begin said he “expresses the hope” that a peaceful solution would be found.
Israel Television in its main evening newscast went out on a limb predicting a peaceful solution. Israeli Radio later reported the “elements” of the proposal purportedly being canvassed by Habib. They were:
Syrians to pull out their missiles from East Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese government; Christian militias to withdraw their men from Zahle (and Lebanese army units to take over); Israel to undertake to cease operational flights over Lebanon (operational — as distinct from high-altitude spy-flights for intelligence-gathering, which would be allowed to continue.)
Apparently this curb on Israel air flights would be confined to north and east Lebanon and would not curtail Israel’s operations against the PLO in the south. (This in fact was the substance of the tacit understanding that has been in force in Lebanon ever since the Syrians first moved in five years ago.)