Syria's defense minister, Gen. Mustafa Tlas, has arrived on a hurried visit, reportedly to seek closer military ties along with additional modern Soviet military equipment.
A brief statement today in the Soviet armed forces newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) said Tlas met yesterday with the top Soviet military officials to discuss matters of "mutual interest." Western diplomats said the surprise visit apparently was prompted by Syrian concerns about the planned strategic relationship between the United States and Israel.
The Soviets involved in the discussions included Marshal Dmitri Ustinov, the defense minister, as well as the air and naval chiefs and the head of the Army engineers.
Apart from the Krasnaya Zveda account, the visit has not been publicized here.
Syria has been a pivotal Soviet ally in the Arab world and the two countries concluded a 20-year treaty of friendship and cooperation last October that includes provisions for strengthening military ties and for prompt consultations in case the security of one of the parties is threatened.
The list of Soviet participants in the talks suggested a broader review of the Middle East military scene that probably included the continuing crisis in Lebanon and the proposed sales of sophisticated U.S. aircraft to Saudi Arabia. But the main Syrian aim is believed to be to convince its Soviet allies that Damascus needs more sophisticated weapons to counter Israel's military strength.
Western diplomats speculated that Tlas' shopping list involves a request for more Mig25 jets and T72 tanks, among the most advanced systems in the Soviet arsenal. Syria reportedly also wants an improved version of the Mig23, said to be nearly as maneuverable as Israel's U.S.-made F15s.
Neither Syrian diplomats nor their Soviet hosts would comment on the Tlas visit. It could not be learned here when Tlas, who is also deputy commander-in-chief of the Syrian armed forces, had arrived in Moscow.
The number of Soviet experts in Syria is said to be about 2,500.