Tel Aviv (May. 25)
Officials indicated here today that Israel will probably permit another week for the American-sponsored mediation effort to resolve the Israel-Syrian impasse over Syrian surface-to-air missiles in Lebanon before considering whether other options, including the military option, should be examined.
Philip Habib, President Reagan’s special emissary, who has been shuttling for two weeks among Middle East capitals in search of a settlement formula, arrived in Jerusalem for a rest yesterday awaiting a response from the Saudi Arabian government to his proposals to defuse the missile crisis.
Earlier today, Syrian missiles shot down an Israeli pilotless reconnaissance plane over Lebanon’s Beka valley. This was the third Israeli drone to be knocked down by the Soviet-made missiles. It was reported that the missile that knocked down the third pilotless plane came from a launcher just inside Syria’s border with Lebanon.
Premier Menachem Begin asserted over the weekend that Israel wanted not only the Syrian launchers within Lebanon removed but also a pullback of missiles within Syria near its border with Lebanon.
DISCLOSES SOVIET ROLE
Begin added a new element to the problem when he said yesterday that Soviet military advisers were accompanying Syrian Army units into Lebanon. This was the first time Israel charged there have been Soviet advisers inside Lebanon.
Begin’s charge was apparently a minor comment in a speech made to a convention of building contractors in Tel Aviv. He said the Soviets had 3,600 tanks which, with Soviet advisers, are driven by Syrian units into Lebanon. A 25,000-man force was sent by Syria to Lebanon in 1975 to stop an escalating civil war involving mainly Christians versus Moslems.
Observers here said Begin did not specify there were Soviet advisers in Lebanon currently but an official declared that wherever major units of the Syrian army go, there are Soviet advisers with them and that such advisers were probably in Lebanon now.
VOW TO AID LEBANESE CHRISTIANS
Haaretz reported yesterday that Begin made a vow to Lebanese Christian leader Bashir Jumayel that the Israel Air Force would go to Jumayel’s defense if his troops were attacked by the Syrian Air Force. Haaretz reported it was not clear when the purported Begin commitment had been made.
One source indicated that the promise was made following the downing by Israeli planes of two Syrian helicopters which had been attacking Christian strongpoints in the Beka valley. The downing of the helicopters led to Syria’s bringing in SAM missiles, followed by a disclosure by Begin that only bad weather led him to withhold an order to the Air Force to destroy the missiles. Then came messages from President Reagan proposing mediation and the dispatch to the area of Habib.
The Prime Minister’s office issued a denial of the Haaretz story but later confirmed that Begin had made such a promise to Jumayel, but not in writing. The Prime Minister’s office accused the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of responsibility for the leak. Begin threatened he would consider whether to continue to provide classified briefings to the powerful Knesset committee.
DISCLOSE PRESENCE OF LIBYAN SOLDIERS
Meanwhile, Israeli army sources disclosed that several hundred Libyan soldiers armed with anti-aircraft guns, Katyusha rockets and multi-barrel launchers, as well as cannon, have been deployed in Lebanon over the past few weeks. They have been transported into Lebanon from Damascus and have been deployed around Palestine Liberation Organization bases. Modern SAM-9 missiles have been in Lebanon since mid-April, according to the sources.