The State Department said yesterday that while the United States is "always concerned about the volatile military situation" between Israel and Syria, it has no indications that recent tensions will lead the two Middle East adversaries into warfare.
The department gave that assessment a day after Secretary of State George P. Shultz said that Syria's construction of new fortifications in Lebanon had created "a highly tense situation" and had prompted the United States to caution Israel and Syria against going to war.
"We don't see any indications which would lead to hostilities," department spokesman Charles E. Redman said yesterday in response to questions about Shultz's remarks. "As the secretary said, we are always concerned about the volatile military situation . . . Each side has made statements that neither is interested i instigating hostilities, and we share their assessment."
Other U.S. officials, speaking on condition that they not be identified, said that Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy, who visited Damascus last month, had coveyed to Syrian President Hafez Assad a message from Israel that it would not take military action so long as his forces in Lehanon stay at a specified distance from the Israeli border.
The officials noted that Assad has not moved any troops into the new fortifications. They added that Assad knows that this forces still are not strong enough to challenge Israel military and is unlikely to make moves that would provoke an Israeli attack.
Redman also denied that the United States in trying to play down charges that Syria was involved in recent terrorist incidents including an aborted attempt to blow up an Israeli El Al airliner in London last month and the April 5 bombing of a West Berlin discotheque that helped precipitate the U.S. air strikes on Libya.
He said these incidents are still being investigated by British and West German authorities, and added: "We are not yet in a position to draw any definitive conclusions."
Diplomatic sources have said that Nezar Hindawi, charged by Britain in the El Al incident, confessed that he worked for Syria and reportedly said that his brother, Ahmed Nawf Mansour Hais, helped bomb the West Berlin disco at Syrian instigation. Berlin police, who arrested Hasi, said he had acknowledged a role in another West Berlin bombing but had denied involvement in the disco attack.
U.S. officials, asked whether Hindawi's revelations might mean that the United States wrongly blamed Libya for the bombing of the disco, said the facts were still too unclear to reach any conclusions about possible Syrian complicity. They reiterated that the United States had what is considers irrefutable evidence about Libya's involvement and said it was not inconceivable that more than one country had a hand in fomenting the attack.
Some officals noted that Syria's past involvement in terrorism has been aimed either at Israel or at achievingt specific policy goals such as forcing the United States out of Lebanon and extending its influence in that country. They said the Berlin bombing, which appeared to be a random attack on U.S. and European interests, was more in line with the Libyan than the Syrian approach to terrorism.
The Boston Globe reported yesterday that the United States has started to explore with West European allies the possibility of diplomatic and economic sanctions against Syria. However, U.S. officials said that if such contacts have been made, they are in a very preliminary stage. The officials reiterated that no decisions will be made about Syria until the United States has a clearer picture of whether Damascus was involved in the incidents.
The officials also said they could not confirm reports from the Middle East that Syria is making a new effort to obtain the release of four Americans held hostage in Lebanon. Redman noted that Syria "has influence in that area" and said that the United States will continue seeking its help for the hostages.