TEL AVIV (Jul. 9)
Israeli naval forces sank an estimated 30 fishing boats in three Lebanese harbors last night in an action that was described officially as intended to forestall terrorist assaults on Israel from the sea. The ports hit were Tyre, Sidon and Ras E Shak. About ten boats, described as fishing craft, were destroyed at each port. There were no Israeli casualties.
Israeli sources said the sea-borne terrorists who murdered four people and wounded five in Nahariya June 25 had embarked at one of the three Lebanese ports attacked last night. The action was decided upon after several reports had been received by Israeli intelligence of terrorist preparations for such further attacks, according to a highly placed official. (See separate story.)
Early today, several Soviet-made Katyusha rockets were fired at the Israeli village of Kerem Ben Zimira from Lebanese territory. An army spokesman said there were no casualties. The hamlet in northern Israel is in the area from which Israeli artillery has on several occasions shelled terrorist concentrations in Lebanon.
U.S. REACTS IN LOW KEY
(The U.S. reacted in a low key to Israel’s raid on the fishing fleets. Questioned by Washington reporters at today’s news briefing. State Department spokesman John King stressed that the U.S. “desires to calm the situation” between Israel and the Palestinians. “We are watching the situation closely,” he said. King added, “As we have said repeatedly in the past weeks, we deplore the action and reaction in the cycle of violence” that “embitters” the people of the Middle East and “may undermine negotiations for a settlement.”)
ACTION LIMITED IN SCOPE
A communique issued here last night said the naval action was limited in scope to avoid hurting innocent people. It was described as a warning to the Lebanese government that it would be held responsible for terrorist raids on Israel originating at its ports, no less than for terrorist incursions overland. It also constituted a warning to Lebanese civilians–in this case fishermen–not to provide facilities or shelter for terrorists.
Leaflets scattered at each of the ports said, “Do not let them (terrorists) act from your home. We are all for an independent Lebanon. not a Lebanon given to the dictates of terrorists who cannot act from any other Arab land.” The leaflets noted that Israeli ports have provided a haven for Lebanese fishing craft caught in storms or disabled and warned that this would be discontinued if the fishermen aided terrorists. They also warned that terrorist activities by sea might force Israel to discontinue free fishing rights in local waters.
Last night’s naval action was the first by Israeli sea forces against Lebanon since May 15, the day of the Maalot massacre, when a terrorist naval base at Rashdiyeh in southern Lebanon was attacked. It occurred at a time when Israel was believed to have suspended reprisal raids against Lebanese-based terrorists as long as the latter honored their pledge not to provoke such attacks.
MIXED REACTION TO RAID
Reaction to last night’s raid was mixed. Some Israeli circles felt it was justified as a warning to the terrorists that they cannot wage one-way warfare against Israel. But the raid was criticized in other quarters, One viewpoint reflected in a Maariv editorial today was that fishing boats are a civilian target and there is no war between Israel and innocent fishermen.
“Even if there were cases that some of the fishermen did help terrorists, one should not assume that all Lebanese fishermen collaborate with terrorist organizations. “Maariv said. The paper, however, did agree that fishing boats were used by terrorists in the past and there is a realistic possibility that fishing boats may be used again in the future for terrorist activities.
Yediot Aharonot, on the other hand, expressed the view that Israel’s action was not only a reaction to the Nahariya murders but even more so the beginning of an action destined to prevent future murders in Israel. It’s a sign to the murderers that there will be no one-way war against Israel, the editorial stated. (By Yitzhak Shargil)