JERUSALEM (Jul. 8)
Several top leaders of the Palestinian armed organizations have announced in separate statements during the past fortnight that terror raids and shelling across the Lebanese border will be suspended. They were quoted as saying that this suspension will last until Sept. when the all-Arab summit conference convenes in Rabat, Morocco.
These announcements have some concrete support by the absence of any new raids, since the Nahariya murders. Israel, for its part, has refrained from stepping-up its anti-terrorist campaign. Thus, a summer which promised to be extremely hot has gotten somewhat cooler. The Israelis, of course, refuse to take either the declarations or the short lull in military operations as conclusive evidence that the recent process of terrorist escalation has been checked. However, the declaration of suspension in itself reflects to some extent a success for Israel’s counter-measures.
The main feature of Israel’s defense policy in this respect is to bring pressure on the Palestinian organizations by the Lebanese government. This method, coupled with the closing of the border by means of a sophisticated military network, now seems to be bearing its first fruit: the declaration of suspension was the direct outcome of Lebanese pressure on Yasser Arafat and his colleagues. Even more important: this pressure was tacitly backed by Egypt, and probably by Syria.
On the eve of the suspension the deterioration along the Lebanese-Israeli border threatened to develop into a major military confrontation, involving the other Arab armies. Both Egypt and Syria bluntly warned that their troops “would not sit idle” faced with additional Israeli air raids on Lebanon. Israel itself vowed to repeat its strikes against the terrorists if their incursions continued, but also stressed that it would not attack Lebanon if the border was kept quiet.
ISRAELI WARNING HAD AFFECT
Another raid by the terrorists, following the horrible examples of Maalot and Kiryat Shemona, might have led to serious consequences. The danger, still very real, was averted by the suspension, at least temporarily, of terrorist acts. The suspension also enabled Lebanon to reject Egypt’s and Syria’s public offers to send planes and missiles to her aid. In fact, the all-Arab Defense Council which convened in Cairo July 5, reached no decision on military steps. Such steps simply became unnecessary in view of the promised suspension.
The Arab states, led by Egypt, apparently agreed that the time is not ripe for a large-scale confrontation. They refused to let Arafat set the timing for them. In plainer terms, the tough Israeli warnings deferred and deterred them from encouraging Arafat to continue.
Nobody can predict now how long the suspension will last. Past experience teaches that the Palestinian terrorists have respected previous promises to suspend operations for relatively long periods. On other occasions they were quick to ignore such commitments. Does Arafat intend to honor his word this time? Or was it just a lip-service to the Lebanese? If Arafat does take the suspension in earnest, does he have the power to restrain other terrorist leaders?
These are questions without safe answers. While striving to keep in line with Egypt and Syria the Palestinian terrorist leaders may be tempted to force their patrons’ hands as they have done time and again in the past by the vicious circle of attacks and retaliatory actions.
The Israeli authorities apparently have decided to take no chances on the defensive measures. At the same time, they are giving suspension a chance by adopting a parallel unannounced suspension on their part too. Mutual suspension has become for the present a fact of life on the northern front. One can only hope that it is not an ominous quiet, preceding another storm.