Israel Playing Down Military Incidents, Apparently to Avoid Escalating Israel-syria Tensions

Israeli officials are deliberately playing down the importance of a series of military incidents on the ground and in the air in Lebanon during the last 24 hours, apparently to avoid escalating the tension that exists between Israel and Syria.

Israel Defense Force sources disclosed three incidents in addition to the abortive air-to-air missile attack by Syrian planes on Israeli aircraft on patrol over Lebanon this morning. (See Story, P.I.)

The IDF sources reported that an Israeli tank hit a land mine near Beirut today with no injuries to its crew. Last night there was an exchange of small arms fire across the Israeli-Syrian lines in central Lebanon. Yesterday, two SA-7 “Strella” hand-held anti-aircraft missiles were fired from beyind Syrian lines at an IDF helicopter. The helicopter was not hit.

The sources suggested that the last two incidents could be attributed to Palestine Liberation Organization units rather than the Syrian army. Although this was not certain, the Israelis apparently prefer not to accuse the Syrians which could increase tension.

Some officials said that today’s missile attack on Israeli planes might have been triggered by “nervousness” on the Syrian side rather than deliberate provocation. The planes were not hit and did not return the fire. The Army Radio said tonight that there would be no Israeli “response” to this incident and that the aerial patrols over Lebanon would continue.

Meanwhile, Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, warned today that a “war of attrition” could develop between Israel and Syria and find the IDF in inconvenient positions in its present deployment.

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