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Israel Weighs Lebanon Intervention if Security is Threatened by Syria

December 1, 1989
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Israel has served notice that it will intervene in Lebanon if its security is threatened by Syrian efforts to remove Gen. Michel Aoun from his heavily fortified Christian enclave in Beirut.

The Israelis are particularly concerned by the appearance of Syrian air force jets over Beirut, and consider any challenge to Israel’s longstanding control of the air over Lebanon to be a threat to its security.

The commander of Israel’s air force, Maj. Gen. Avihu Bin-Nun, warned that an inadvertent clash could occur.

“There is no doubt that entering Lebanon could bring unwanted confrontations between our planes, which fly regularly over Lebanon, and Syrian planes that enter by surprise,” he said in an address to the Tel Aviv WIZO Club on Wednesday.

Bin-Nun explained that while Syria has refrained from flying over Lebanon until recently, this has changed because of Syrian preparations to attack Aoun’s stronghold, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

Aoun, a militant Maronite Christian who claims he is president of Lebanon and supreme commander of its army, refuses to recognize the authority of the Syrian-backed government of President Elias Hrawi.

“We are trying not to let the Lebanese get us mixed up in an unintentional war, and I hope we will succeed,” Bin-Nun said.

Another warning to Syria was sounded in the Knesset on Wednesday by Likud minister Ronni Milo, who said Israel would reserve its freedom of action and response in Lebanon if its vital interests were endangered there.


Milo, who is minister of environmental protection, spoke in reply to an agenda motion at the request of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had to leave the session.

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said Thursday that Israel was in contact with Western powers to persuade the Soviet Union and other countries friendly to Syria to warn Damascus against any hasty actions in Lebanon.

Although the Foreign Ministry has not confirmed those reports, they surfaced on the eve of the first summit meeting between President Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta on Saturday and Sunday.

Bin-Nun claimed that the Soviet Union, under Gorbachev, is selling more weapons, and more sophisticated weapons, to countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya than were sold before he came to power.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the State Department said that it has “seen reports that the Syrians are reinforcing their units in the Beirut area,” and have “counseled all those concerned against the use of force.”

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said that the United States has “contacted the Lebanese government, key European allies, Arab friends, the Soviet Union and Syria to express our support for President Hrawi and our wish that the process of reconciliation continue through peaceful means.”

When asked if Israel was also contacted, she replied, “I am sure they have.”

(JTA Washington correspondent David Friedman contributed to this report.)

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