Even before Israel said Tuesday it downed a Syrian MIG jet near Beirut, Moscow was signaling concern over action Israeli forces would take against Soviet-allied Syria. Officials here told visiting Westerners that any breach of the Syrian frontier would activate the formal 1979 friendship pact with Damascus , Monitor correspondent Ned Temko reports.
But diplomats based here say they've been getting much blurrier signals as to what the Kremlin response would be to Israeli action against Syrian forces inside Lebanon. One Western source said the inside-Lebanon issue appears to be a ''gray area'' for Moscow. Legally, the Soviets have maintained, the Syrian troops in Lebanon do not come under the provisions of the Soviet-Syrian pact.
Direct Soviet involvement in Israeli-Syrian conflict since the Israelis' June 6 invasion of Lebanon has so far been limited to an airborne resupply of material lost by the Syrians, Western diplomats say.
On the diplomatic front, the immediate Soviet priority seems to be to seek some form of Kremlin involvement in an Arab-Israeli negotiating process dominated by the United States. Tuesday, the official Soviet news agency broadcast an apparent boost for this bid from the traditionally pro-Western King Hussein of Jordan. In an interview with the Soviet newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta King Hussein said: ''I believe that it is in the interests of the US to reckon with the need of participation in the peace process for the Soviet Union and other countries wishing to make their contribution to the process of establishing peace in the region, as Leonid Brezhnev proposes, at an international conference. . . .''
Although the substance of King Hussein's reported comments was not new, diplomats here saw their timing, and their Soviet forum, as significant.