JERUSALEM (May. 11)
Israel has gone out of its way to assure Syria it has no intention of attacking that country. Premier Shimon Peres solemnly affirmed this to his colleagues at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting and in extracts made public Friday of a radio interview to be broadcast next week on the occasion of Israel’s Independence Day.
It was also learned that Peres sent a message to Damascus through high level American diplomatic sources over the weekend confirming privately to President Hafez Assad what he has been saying in public here.
Peres blames Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat for spreading false rumors in recent weeks that an Israeli attack on Syria was imminent. He also made clear that Israel does not expect to be attacked by Syria, though it remains constantly alert on its northern borders.
SYRIA’S INVOLVEMENT IN TERRORISM
At the same time, Israel has continued to draw world attention to evidence of Syria’s involvement in international terrorism. Syria is believed to have been behind the thwarted attempt last month to place a bomb aboard an El Al airliner at London’s Heathrow Airport. Britain expelled three Syrian diplomats from the country Saturday after Syria refused to waive their immunity to questioning by Scotland Yard about the bomb attempt.
The U.S. as well as Israel has claimed a Syrian link to the bombing of a West Berlin discotheque last month where an American soldier was killed. That led to the U.S. punitive air strike on Libya April 14.
President Reagan, who branded Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi the No. 1 supporter of international terrorism, has since turned his rhetoric on Syria, warning that it too could be the target of American retaliatory strikes if solid evidence emerged that it was behind terrorist acts.
In a speech in Tel Aviv Friday, Peres described Assad as “more subtle” than Qaddafi and more adroit in concealing his ties to terrorist groups. Now that he has been exposed, Assad must decide how to act, Peres said. He must decide if he wants to be lumped together with Qaddafi as a leader of international terrorism. Nevertheless, he said “I would recommend calming down the many disturbing reports. There should be a de-escalation of rhetoric on both sides.”
In his interview taped for broadcast on Independence Day, Peres dwelt at length on the situation with Syria, in response to recent developments and reports of tension along the Golan Heights where the Israel Defense Force has for years faced the Syrian army. “Judging coolly, I cannot see immediate indications of a Syrian attack on us and, as I have said, the Israeli position is clear–we do not have any intentions of attacking Syria,” Peres stated.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese is visiting Israel. He met with Minister of Justice Yitzhak Modai Sunday and is to call on Peres. His talks here are said to be focussed on international terrorism, an issue that he raised in several European capitals before coming to Israel.
SYRIA’S INTERNAL PROBLEMS ASSESSED
Israel believes that Syria is capable of mischief. Its confidence that Damascus will not launch an attack stems from Syria’s internal economic and political crises. That country’s economy is in shambles and its ability to buy food and raw material abroad has been affected by its fast disappearing foreign currency reserves.
Assad himself, who belongs to the minority Alawite Moslem sect, is in personal peril from fanatics of the fundamentalist Moslem Brotherhood. There have been bombings inside Syria and other terrorist acts.
While those conditions bolster confidence here that Syria is in no position to make war on Israel at this time, especially since it has no allies, there is always a danger, according to some observers, that Assad might be tempted to launch a limited military foray to divert public attention from his country’s mounting internal problems.
Israeli sources, accordingly, have warned that Syria cannot expect a limited adventure to remain isolated, and once embarked on such a course, it could escalate into a full-scale war that neither country wants and that Syria cannot possibly win.