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The Missile Crisis

The Israeli attack caught Assad by surprise. Syria had adhered to the so-called "Red Line" agreements by deliberately refraining from deploying antiaircraft missiles in the Biqa Valley and by not impeding Israeli photoreconnaissance overflights. Assad responded to the Israeli attack by stationing SA-6 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in the vicinity of Zahlah. Other SAMs and surface-to-surface missiles were deployed on the Syrian side of the border.

Begin vowed publicly that the IDF would launch an attack on the missiles. In response, President Ronald Reagan dispatched to the Middle East Special Ambassador Philip Habib, who averted the imminent Israeli strike. Meanwhile, the Phalangists abandoned Zahlah, and Syria reasserted its control over the Biqa Valley. The net effect of the crisis was that Syrian air defense missiles were deployed in Lebanon. Israel was forced to tolerate this situation in the short run, but it still regarded the missile deployment as an unacceptable shift in the balance of forces that could not be endured indefinitely. Therefore, Israel had reasons of its own for a future attack on the Syrians in Lebanon.

Data as of December 1987