171366. 1. Following evening reading item on today's Israel-Syria clash sent to President tonight:
"A major border clash centering in and around the Southern and Central Demilitarized Zones took place today. The trouble apparently began when an Israeli tractor plowing in the DZ near Haon was fired upon by Syrians. The resulting battle lasted most of the day and involved mortar, artillery and tank fire and several aerial dogfights. Israel claims to have downed seven Syrian MIG-21 aircraft without loss to its own air arm, and claims to have damaged several Syrian ground positions that had fired on Israeli cultivators and settlements. Syria also claims a victory, alleging that five Israeli aircraft were shot down and at least 70 Israelis killed in fighting that came about when Israel `insisted on aggression.' Syria admits losing four MIGs and suffering 5 deaths.
"There are no reports yet from UN truce observers. We have no basis for assessing Israel's claim that the plowing that touched off the day's events was being done in a field that had been under regular cultivation by Israel for years. With both sides claiming victory, there is a fairly good chance that fighting will not be resumed tomorrow."
2. Department taking following line with press on "if asked" basis:
"We regret the hostilities and loss of life involved. We are continuing to study the situation and will be interested particularly in reports that come out through the United Nations."
Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 32-1 ISR-SYR. Confidential. Drafted by Wolle; cleared by Houghton, Wheelock, and UNP Director Elizabeth Ann Brown; and approved by Davies. Sent to Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, USUN, and London and repeated to Secretary Rusk at Punta del Este as Tosec 16.