On the eve of a U.S. diplomatic mission aimed at resolving the crisis over Syrian missles in Lebanon, Prime Minister Menachem Begin took a hard line today and made clear that Israel feels it has nothing to contribute by way of a compromise.
In an Independence Day interview with Israeli radio, which is scheduled to be broadcast Thursday, he also renewed his rhetorical attacks on West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, implying that Schmidt may have played a role in the Nazi extermination of the Jews.
In response to unsubstantiated reports from Beirut that the United States has suggested a four-point plan that would include Israeli reduction of its Air Force operations over Lebanon in exchange for Syrian withdrawal of its surface-to-air missiles deployed there, Begin said, "I've never heard anything so stupid."
Israel, he said, will not even contemplate a ban on its air operations over central Lebanon. "Such a possibility was never even mentioned," he said in the interview, a transcript of which was made available today. "No one has talked about it, no one thinks about it. Why do we have to cut down our activity? What are we doing in Lebanon? We fly over it. We must, in order to take photographs, for Lebanon is under Syrian Army occupation and harbors a terrorist organization, which plots to murder Jews every day," Begin declared.
The only possible solution, he said, is for the Syrians to "simply go back to the status quo" before the deployment of the SA6 antiaircraft missiles, and Israel will continue overflights of central Lebanon.
According to the reports from Beirut, the United States plans suggests an agreement under which Syria would reduce the number of its missiles in Lebanon and eventually remove them all, while both Israel and Syria would be prohibited from conducting air operations over central Lebanon. The approaches to the Christian city of Zahle would be under Syrian control, while the Lebanese Army would control the surrounding mountains and the city.
On the eve of the departure of U.S. special envoy Philip Habib on a mission to try to resolve the Syrian-Israeli confrontation, Begin appeared to hold out little hope for a negotiated settlement.
"According to the facts at my disposal, it will take a miracle to resolve the problem with Syrian consent, whereby they would remove their [missiles] and withdraw from Mt. Sannine. But, according to our tradition, we do not rely on miracles, and in this case, we really don't."
He added, however, "We don't want war with Syria, and I have the feeling that the Syrians have many reasons for not wanting war with us."
In a long, rambling attack with election campaign undertones, Begin said he had "never been so pleased" as when he learned of a storm of controversy in Bonn over his accusation that Schmidt was "greedy" in his desire to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and obtain oil in return.
Calling Saudi Arabia "a wretched country" whose leaders "still belong to the 16th century," Begin said that Schmidt has insulted Jews everywhere by saying that Saudi Arabia is an important ally of West Germany, while not mentioning the German people's moral obligation to the Jewish state.
"He goes to Saudi Arabia to make deals. . . I'll sell you weapons and you sell me oil. So, who's the greedy one? I don't say he's out for his own personal gain. I don't know him personally. But from a national point of view, this is avarice of the worst kind," Begin said.
Then, after a long account of the deaths of his mother, father, brother and two cousins at the hands of the Nazis in World War II, Begin recalled Schmidt's service in the German Army.
In reply to a question, he said, "I don't know if he was a member of the Nazi party, but he was a good officer, a good fighter in the German Army until he was taken prisoner by the British. He never broke his oath of loyalty to his Fuhrer, Adolph Hitler. And he fought on the eastern front. I don't know what he did with the Jews on the eastern front. . . I only know that he was in that Army that received an order that when the einsatzruppen (special attack forces) came to liquidate the Jews, the Army did not kill the Jews directly, but it surrounds the city completely and maintains order until the einsatzgruppen finish their work."
Begin denied his remarks represented a personal attack on Schmidt.