Syrian Foreign Minister Abdul Halim Khaddam criticized other Arab states today for ending their financial support of his country's forces in Lebanon, in Syria'sd first public acknowledgment of the reported cutoff last January.
In an interview today in the Saudi newspaper Ash Aharq Al Awsat, Khadda blamed recent violence against Syrian forces in Lebanon on the withdrawal of the funding and said that violence had led to the present confrontation between Syria and Israel.
The Syrian troops went to Lebanon in 1976 under an Arab League mandate to enforce a truce in the Lebanon civil war. Arab states, primarily Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, had provided the approximately $15 million a month needed to fund the 30,000-man force. Although Syria had never commented, the two countries reportedly stopped providing the money five months ago.
Syria's confrontation with Israel has enhanced the Damascus government's image in the eyes of the rest of the Arab world, according to diplomats here, apparently emboldening it enough to allow it to criticize such key Arab states as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Khaddam did not name the states involved but he said that the cutoff of funds "has contributed to increasing tensions in Lebanon because it encouraged certain Lebanese factions by giving them the impression that the Arab States were against" the Syrian force there.
"These groups have seized the opportunity and carried out provocative acts against" Syrian troops, he said.
Saudi Arabia has not explained its reasons for cutting off the funds. Kuwait has said it halted the payments because Syria had not filed reports on how the money was spent, but diplomats here believe the real reason was an attempt by Arab states to punish Damascus for its heavy-handed policies in Lebanon.
It is unclear whether the payments will be resumed, although Western diplomats here say it will be extremely hard for any Arab state, with the exception of Egypt, to criticize Syria now that it has directly challenged Israel on the issue of antiaircraft missiles and control of skies and territory in Lebanon.
According to diplomats here, the crisis has stengthened Syria's position in the Arab world, ended its isolation from the mainstream of Arab thinking and returned Damascus to center stage among Arabs.
The Arab world "cannot now overlook the fact that Israeli fighters and bombers may be about to attack Syrian positions," a Western diplomat said here today. "It means that Syria is now beyond criticism except from Anwar Sadat. [The Syrians] are beyond criticism from Jordan and Iraq, neither of whom approves of Syria's policies in Lebanon."
Khaddam also repeated Syria's position that it will not remove its ground-to-air missiles from Lebanon, as Israel has demanded under threat of attack, and said the missiles are needed to defend Syrian forces in Lebanon from Israeli air attacks.
Khaddam told the Saudi paper that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin "will discover that those missiles are not mere decoys exposed to his strike. He shall face resistance and face fierce fighting" if Israel tries to attack them.
[Israeli radio reported today that Syria shot down one of its own Mig fighters, probably with a missile, over eastern Lebanon yesterday, Reuter reported from Tel Aviv.]The radio's Arab affairs correspondent quoted "Western sources in Lebanon" as saying that the aircraft fell over the Bekaa Valley and that the Syrian pilot parachuted to safety. There was on confirmation from Syria.