U.S. Concerned About Shipment of Soviet Ss-21 Missiles to Syria
Menu JTA Search

U.S. Concerned About Shipment of Soviet Ss-21 Missiles to Syria

Download PDF for this date

The Reagan Administration is concerned about the shipment of Soviet SS-21 mobile ground-to-ground missiles to Syria. The missiles, being deployed outside Warsaw Pact countries for the first time, have a range of about 70 miles and can reach targets in northern Israel as far as Haifa, as well as all of Lebanon and U.S. warships off Lebanese shores in the Mediterranean.

President Reagan, in his weekly radio talk last Saturday, publicly acknowledged that the missiles were in Syria as part of “a massive amount of Soviet equipment” that had been sent to that country. “We have to wonder aloud about Syria’s protestations about their peaceful intentions,” Reagan added.

Reagan’s remarks were the first time the Administration has publicly acknowledged that the SS-21 missiles were in Syria, although there have been private reports about them for the past week.

Only last Friday, State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg refused to confirm that the missiles were in Syria. But he appeared to be warning the Soviet Union not to introduce any new weaponry into the Middle East.

“Were new important weapons systems introduced by the Soviets into the region, it could only serve to increase the level of tension which already exists,” Romberg said.


Reagan, in his radio talk, made clear that the U.S. continues to support the Lebanese-Israel agreement of last May 17. There have been persistent reports from Lebanon that the U.S. would go along with a Lebanese abandonment of that agreement as the price for Syrian cooperation in helping the government of President Amin Gemayel achieve national reconciliation. But Reagan, in his radio remarks, declared: “We stand by this as a good agreement.”

Reagan also seemed to imply approval of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June, 1982, in the course of trying to explain to the public U.S. involvement there. He noted that Lebanon had been “torn by strife for several years” with various militias fighting each other.

“Terrorists in Lebanon violated Israel’s northern borders killing innocent civilians,” Reagan said. “Syrian forces occupied the eastern part of Lebanon. The Israeli military finally invaded the south to force the PLO attackers away from the border.” The Middle East, Reagan said, is “our business.”


He said the U.S. had to see to it that the Middle East is not “incorporated into the Soviet bloc” and that Western Europe and Japan continue to receive the oil they need. He added: “Didn’t we assume a moral obligation to the continued existence of Israel as a nation back in 1948. I never heard anyone in this country even suggest that we should not shoulder that obligation.”

Reagan said his September 1, 1982 peace initiative for the Middle East was aimed at helping bring “the Arab states and Israel together in negotiations to settle the long standing difficulties that have kept that entire area in turmoil for many years.” He said the U.S. wanted to see other peace agreements in the region such as the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement of 1979.

But Reagan said his peace initiative, including a “fair settlement of the Palestinian problem,” could not be achieved until the foreign forces have left Lebanon and that country was on the way to national reconciliation. He blamed Syria for blocking that effort. “Syria, which had earlier agreed to withdraw if Israel did, changed its mind” after the May 17 Israel-Lebanon agreement was signed, Reagan said.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund