JERUSALEM (Mar. 17)
Israeli officials are taking seriously a reported warning by the Soviet Ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Soldatov, last night that “if war breaks out between Syria and Israel, the USSR will interfere.”
The statement was attributed to Soldatov by the Voice of Lebanon, the Christian Phalangist radio in Beirut. No other media carried it. Israeli sources said this was the first time a senior Soviet official made a clear statement of the role the Soviet Union would play in any future Middle East war.
The sources accused the Soviets of trying to create an atmosphere of panic in the region but repeated earlier Israeli declarations that Israel had no intention of attacking Syria and thereby playing into Moscow’s hands.
An Israeli spokesman said, nevertheless, that Israel expected the U.S. to meet the Soviet challenge which was a clear signal to both Israel and the U.S. of official Russian involvement in Syria and Lebanon. According to the spokesman, the Americans should be as concerned as Israel.