Nicosia, Cyprus — Soviet-Syrian naval maneuvers off the Syrian coast this week are a cause for growing concern over Soviet military strength in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, Monitor correspondent John Yemma reports. Western analysts say the landing exercises are the first of their size to be held between the two countries since Syria and the USSR signed a cooperation agreement last fall.
The timing of the maneuvers is believed to be a signal to Israel that moves against Syria would have to consider Syria's Soviet alliance.
Western sources say Soviet naval strength in the Mediterranean is up to 57 ships, which anchor in international waters off Libya, Cyprus, and Crete. Israeli analysts say, however, that the Syrian Navy is the poorest in the Arab world, possessing only 2 frigates, 18 missile cruisers, 3 minesweepers, and 8 torpedo boats -- all of pre-1973 vintage -- and a squadron of antisubmarine helicopters.
The United States has 40 ships in the area, having diverted much of its Mediterranean strength to the Indian Ocean when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in late 1979.