Israel confident despite threat from broad-range Soviet missiles in Syria
Jerusalem — The deployment of Soviet-made SAM-5 missiles in Syria, noted with concern by Secretary of State George Shultz last week, is apparently not concerning Israel very much, even though they cover much of Israeli air space.
Israeli officials, however, have indicated they might be of concern to the United States, since their range extends over the Mediterranean almost to Cyprus , an area patrolled by the Sixth Fleet.
Israel's calm response to the deployment of the missiles stems from its spectacular success in dealing with the more modern SAM-6 missile batteries in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley last summer without losing a single plane. The Israeli Air Force used a combination of deception and electronic warfare to penetrate the Soviet-developed air defenses and blast the missiles.
Former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said last month that Israeli military and civilian aircraft would continue normal flight patterns though the air space they fly in is covered by the SAM-5s. ''We have answers in case of need.''
Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan has said the military threat posed by the SAM-5s in Syria was limited but their political significance was major. He said the missiles posed no real threat to fighter aircraft and only a limited threat to slower aircraft.
According to Mr. Sharon, the missiles are significant because they are the first SAM-5s the Soviets have deployed outside the USSR.
''It constitutes a clear sign of deepened Soviet commitment in the area, posing a threat not necessarily aimed at Israel,'' Eitan said.
The missiles' 300-kilometer range covers not only the heartland of Israel, but also much of Jordan and Iraq, as well as part of the eastern Mediterranean where Sixth Fleet warships are deployed off Lebanon.
The SAM-5s are being manned by Soviet soldiers. It is the first time the Syrians have allowed the Soviets to establish an independent military unit on their territory. ''The Soviet finger will be on the trigger of weapons with a range from Tel Aviv to Amman to Baghdad and halfway to Cyprus,'' says Hirsh Goodman, military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post.
The Israelis appear willing to live with the SAM-5s, apparently feeling confident that if and when military needs dictate, the SAM-5s in Syria can be dispatched as efficiently as the SAM-6s in Lebanon.