JERUSALEM (May. 30)
Israeli forces remained at a high state of alert in Lebanon today although the danger of a military confrontation subsided after Syria ended its three day large scale military exercises in the Bekaa valley over the weekend.
Israeli military officials said Damascus has “gotten the message” that Israel is ready for any contingency. They indicated that Israel will be watching to see whether the Syrian troop re-enforcements that were withdrawn from Lebanon after the military maneuvers, will be returned.
The consensus here is that Syria does not want allout war with Israel at this time, nor does its arms supplier and mentor, the Soviet Union seek a test of strength. But the Soviets are said to be interested in maintaining a high state of tension in the region to justify their continued presence and growing involvement in Syria and to make it clear that any Middle East peace process cannot proceed without their participation.
U.S., ISRAEL IN AGREEMENT
The Israeli view is shared by the United States. The Reagan Administration called for restraint from the Soviet Union and other nations “contributing to the tensions” in Lebanon so that “the risk of conflict can be reduced.” That statement was made Saturday by deputy White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes at Williamsburg, Va., where President Reagan was attending the Western economic summit conference.
Secretary of State George Shultz, replying to questions after addressing the Foreign Policy Association in New York last Thursday, suggested that the Soviets could help bring stability to the Middle East if it “gets its arms out of the area. “
The Israelis seem most concerned at this stage by Syria’s apparent intention to wage a limited war of attrition aimed at sabotaging the agreement between Israel and Lebanon signed May 17. For the most part, the Syrian’s are using Palestine Liberation Organization forces under their protection as surrogates. Hit-and-run attacks, ambushes and road mines are taking a steady toll of Israeli troops in Lebanon.
ISRAELI CASUALTIES MOUNT
During this month alone, eight Israeli soldiers were killed and 71 were wounded in 33 separate incidents. The latest casualties occurred yesterday when two Israeli soldiers were killed and three were wounded when their vehicles were ambushed near Behamdoun village, just south of the Beirut-Damascus highway.
Another Israeli soldier was killed Friday and two were wounded in an ambush on their patrol near Mansura on the Litani River line facing Syrian positions. An Israel soldier was killed last Thursday and 14 were wounded when their bus was ambushed near the Druze village of Hasbaya close to the Israeli border just north of Metullah.
Israeli military sources say most of these attacks are mounted from behind Syrian lines. The Syrians, some say, were trying to incite Israeli forces into “hot pursuit” in which case Damascus could lodge an official complaint against Israel for breaching the cease-fire agreement in Lebanon.
According to a military spokesman, yesterday’s casualties occurred when two Israel army vehicles were passed by a civilian car on a narrow road. The occupants of the car blocked the road ahead and set up an ambush of bazooka and automatic fire as soon as the Israeli vehicles came into view. Israeli military vehicles were damaged in three other incidents yesterday but no casualties were sustained.