JERUSALEM (Apr. 17)
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Likud leader Ariel Sharon clashed bitterly in the Knesset today over responsibility for the Kiryat Shemona massacre as hundreds of angry Kiryat Shemona residents demonstrated for four hours outside the Knesset building demanding better protection for their town. The demonstrators dispersed only after Knesset Speaker Yisrael-Yeshayahu personally promised to visit Kiryat Shemona this week to study its problems.
Dayan spoke for the care-taker government when he replied to an agenda motion by Sharon who criticized the alleged “lack of action by the government” to protect the border town against terrorist assaults. He questioned Dayan’s statement of last Saturday that Lebanon was responsible for curbing terrorists who base themselves in its territory.
“Is Lebanon in charge of Israel’s security?” Sharon asked. He said Lebanon had to be punished but that did not absolve the Israeli army which, according to Sharon, was unprepared to meet the terrorist challenge even though it had advance information that terrorist activity would increase during the Passover holiday. Sharon said despite this intelligence, precautionary measures were “conventional” and there was a lack of coordination between the army, the border police and the regular police.
Sharon declared that it was “simply unbelievable” that the terrorists managed to hold out in the heart of an Israeli town for four hours be fore they were killed. According to Sharon, who commanded the division that broke through Egyptian lines to the west bank of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War, there are plenty of capable officers in the army who could have handled the situation. “But dozens of career officers are sitting at home, receiving salaries and doing nothing because of shortcomings in the security system,” he said.
Dayan disclosed that a one-man investigating committee set up by the Chief of Staff, concluded that the Kiryat Shemona tragedy could not have been avoided because the terrorist infiltration could not have been prevented. He said Lebanon was responsible for any crossings of the border by regular or irregular elements under the armistice agreements of 1949. Dayan expressed surprise that Likud was “playing down” Lebanon’s responsibility for terrorist activities. “This is the last thing I expected to hear from Likud,” Dayan said. He demanded to know what alternative security policies were offered by Likud. Because of the sensitive nature of the subject, the debate was transferred to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee which meets in camera.