In "Why Israel and Syria Have Come to the Table Now" [Outlook, Dec. 19], Shibley Telhami makes the astonishing statement that Hafez Assad was merely trying to better the political situation by invading Israel in 1973.

He writes: "In 1973, for example, [Assad] joined Sadat in a surprise war against Israeli forces in the Golan Heights and the Sinai. It was a war that Assad had little chance of winning, but the political payoff was potentially greater than the military risks."

Certainly both Israel and the United States would be surprised at this rewriting of history, as Syrian forces invaded Israel proper, and Egypt broke through Israel's line of defenses in the Sinai to threaten Israel directly. Golda Meir, then prime minister of Israel, almost abandoned hope of saving the nation from military destruction, seeking terms of peace that would not involve the disappearance of the Jewish state. Only a massive arms intervention by the United States and a brilliant counterattack saved Israel from defeat.

Perhaps in his search for peace the author has rewritten history to fit a political agenda. A reading of the military accounts of the war should have convinced him of the near disaster in 1973 that threatened the survival of the nation.

NELSON MARANS

Silver Spring