PARIS (Jan. 19)
The French Government confirmed yesterday that a mission of three officers was being sent to Lebanon “to make an assessment of the defense problems arising out of the Beirut incident.” The incident referred to was Israel’s Dec. 28 reprisal raid on Beirut Airport that resulted in destruction of 13 commercial airliners. A Government spokesman denied that the officers would constitute a “military mission” in the usual sense of the term. It was said that they will try to find out what sort of military equipment and other military assistance Lebanon needed from France in the event its security was threatened. Foreign Ministry sources made it clear the interpretation of what constituted a threat to Lebanon could come only from President de Gaulle.
(The Israeli newspaper Maariv said in a dispatch from Paris today that Palestinian saboteur organizations have made contacts with French authorities to get material aid from France. Maariv said it was rumored in the French capital that former Minister of Information Georges Gorse was asked for such help when he was in Beirut last week on a ceremonial mission for President de Gaulle and allegedly reacted favorably. And diplomatic sources in London said today that Lebanon was threatened with a confrontation between Palestinian guerrilla bands on its soil and its regular Army, similar to one which occurred in Jordan last November. According to Arab sources, some 500 guerrillas are encamped along Lebanon’s border with Israel.)
The announcement of a French mission to Lebanon heightened speculation here that France was prepared to render direct military assistance to that country in the event of another Israeli raid. The announcement of the mission specifically denied that the three officers would serve as “military advisors.” a term that has adverse connotations in Europe because “military advisors” marked the first stage of United States intervention in Vietnam. The newspaper Le Figaro said however that the possibility of “new decisions” could not be excluded as a result of the mission’s report. News stories last week said a combat-ready company of French paratroopers was stationed at Toulouse ready to take off for Lebanon on short notice. There were also reports that French naval units would pay a courtesy call at Beirut in the near future.
(A group of 100 French Jewish leaders arrived in Jerusalem for an eight-day visit in a demonstration of solidarity with Israel. They included a number of fund-raising leaders. The mission was headed by Baron Guy de Rothschild and is officially called the French Keren Hayesod, the Unifie Juif de France.)