TEL AVIV (Oct. 25)
Defense Minister Shimon Peres said over the weekend that Israel would help the residents of southern Lebanon defend themselves against terrorists if they requested such aid. He made it clear, however, that Israeli soldiers would not cross the border. He said Israel was following three principles in connection with the conflict in Lebanon: to respect the frontier; to maintain good neighborly relations; and to prevent terrorist organizations from dictating “how we or our neighbors across the border should live.”
Addressing a meeting of the Labor Party “Young Guard,” Peres stressed that as long as terrorists wage war against Israel there will be a relentless war against the terrorists. Israel will never tolerate the return of the PLO and other terrorist organizations to the border regions where they could threaten the safety and well-being of Israel, he said, nor would Israel tolerate a terrorist take-over of Lebanon.
Peres expressed satisfaction over reports that Christian forces–still fighting in southern Lebanon despite the cease-fire arrangements made at the Arab mini-summit conference in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia last week–have captured two Moslem villages in southern Lebanon. He did not confirm or deny reports from abroad that the Christian forces were using Sherman tanks provided by Israel. (See separate story on reaction from Washington.)
The Defense Minister described the war in Lebanon as a conflict between peace-loving citizens and war-mongers who seek the destruction of that country. He said Israel and the people of Lebanon, especially those in the south, had a mutual interest in out rooting the terrorist organizations.
CONSEQUENCES OF RIYADH CONFERENCE
Peres made his remarks against the background of a changing situation in the Middle East following the Riyadh conference and the rapprochement between Egypt and Syria. Israeli circles believe the latest developments could not only affect what happens along the Israeli-Lebanese border but may have wider consequences for Israel in the security field. The improved relations between Cairo and Damascus could pave the way for a united Arab front such as existed on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, the circles said.
They also expressed concern that Moslem leftists and terrorists in Lebanon may have conditioned their acceptance of a cease-fire on permission to return to the border regions where they could resume their incursions against Israel.
A very senior source told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency over the weekend that an even more dangerous possibility exists that the 30,000 man inter-Arab army that the Riyadh meeting assigned the task of peace-keeping in Lebanon may be concentrated in the southern region.
The Arab force, still on paper, would include troops from Saudi Arabia. Yemen, Morocco. Sudan and Syria. The Syrians are expected to provide by far the largest contingent. The presence of such a force on Israel’s northern border would change the balance of power in the region and require Israel to reassess its position to ward Lebanon, the source said. The source added, however, that it is too early to discuss any steps since the inter-Arab force does not yet exist.