JERUSALEM (Jan. 6)
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said that Israel was not unduly disturbed by the missile sites it claims Syria is building to accommodate the Soviet Union’s long range surface-to-air SAM-5 missiles.
Asked on a television interview last night about the possible consequences should the Syrians be supplied with the weapons, Sharon said Israel could cope with them. He hoped the solution would be political not military but observed that Israel has lived with long range missiles in the hands of the Syrians and Iraqis.
Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan suggested today that any Soviet missiles deployed in Syria would be manned by Soviet technicians whose presence would deter the Syrians from “hasty action.” He also suggested that the missiles would serve Soviet strategic purposes, noting that their range would make them a threat to the U.S. Sixth Fleet which often operates in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The SAM-5s, a highly sophisticated missile with a range of nearly 200 miles, has never been deployed outside the borders of the Soviet Union and its Communist-bloc allies. The SAM-5 is a defensive weapon for use against high altitude aircraft and missiles. It is equipped with a radar deflector which can be combined with a radar target-seeking system.
POSSIBLE SOVIET MOTIVES
Sharon would not speculate as to why Moscow might supply them to Syria. He said it could be a Soviet response to the American presence in Lebanon. He also suggested the new missile sites were also meant as a gesture to restore Russian prestige lost by the comparative ease with which Israel, using U.S.-built aircraft, destroyed Soviet-built Syrian missiles during the war in Lebanon. Sharon said he hoped that the USSR has no interest in a further deterioration of relations with Israel nor of relations between Israel and Syria.
Some Israeli military experts suggested today the new missile bases under preparation in Syria may be part of the Soviet Union’s strategic defense system rather than part of an Arab defense postured the context of the Middle East conflict.