TEL AVIV (Dec. 16)
Syria’s forward movement of its Soviet-made SAM-2 surface-to-air missiles is viewed by the Israel Defense Force as a potential threat to reconnaissance flights over Lebanon to monitor terrorist activity. Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy, who disclosed the movement yesterday, said the IDF is considering possible steps to be taken.
But military commentators suggested today that Israel will take no action as long as the Syrian SAM-2s are kept inactive. Nevertheless, diplomatic efforts probably will be made to persuade Damascus to pull back the missiles. (Related Washington story, P. 3.)
Their movement closer to Syria’s border with Lebanon is seen here as a breach of the unofficial unwritten understanding between Israel and Syria that Israel will continue to fly reconnaissance flights over Lebanon undisturbed. The understanding had been worked out through the good offices of the United States.
Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, told Israel Radio today that there was no unwritten agreement with the Syrians. But both sides tacitly acknowledged the existence of a “red line” beyond which neither would extend its forces. Israel regards the SAM-2 movement as a breach of that understanding.
ISRAEL NOT SEEKING CONFRONTATION
Last month the Israel Air Force shot down two Syrian jets which had taken an aggressive posture toward planes flying reconnaissance over Lebanon. In the course of that long-range engagement, Israeli fighter planes briefly overflew Syrian territory. Subsequently, military and diplomatic observers here suggested the attack on the Syrian planes was an error and that view was brought to the attention of Damascus by the U.S.
The incident served to underscore that Israel seeks no confrontation with Syria but considers its almost daily reconnaissance flights over Lebanon a vital safeguard against terrorist attacks from Lebanon and will tolerate no interference with them.
The Syrians so far have been cautious. Recently they placed SAM-6 and SAM-8 surface-to-air missiles on the Beirut-Damascus highway and near Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon. But they were promptly withdrawn.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told a meeting in Jerusalem today that there are no political reasons for a war in the Middle East at the moment, but the Arab states are building up their military strength which might force a war on Israel. The deployment of Syrian surface-to-air missiles in Lebanon in 1982 was one of the factors that precipitated Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
The SAM-2 is a non-mobile system designed for defense against medium and high altitude warplanes. It has been deployed in the Middle East since the 1967 war. The Egyptians used them in the war of attrition in 1970 and they and the Syrians, again in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Each battery has six launchers which propel a 10.7 meter-long missile armed with radar-directed 130 kg explosive warheads. The missiles have a maximum effective range of 40-50 kilometers and an altitude of 18 kilometers. They are vulnerable however to radar jamming.