TEL AVIV (Oct. 27)
Israeli circles are viewing with growing concern signs that Syria has once more switched its position in the Lebanese civil war and is allowing Moslem leftists and terrorists to infiltrate its lines into Christian-held portions of southern Lebanon close to the Israel border. Syrian units were reported here to have engaged in a violent clash with Christian Phalangists who they had supported until recently. Three Christians were wounded
Even more ominous, according to the sources, was the capture of the Christian township of Bint-el-Djabel, only three miles from Israel’s border, by leftists aided by terrorists who were permitted to pass through the Syrian lines. The terrorists are said to be holding the town of 10,000 with a significant force. Several skirmishes have occurred between the leftist-terrorists and Christians in southern Lebanon.
Although the Christians are well armed and organized in the south where they have formed the South Lebanese Army, the terrorists are apparently able to seize and hold key villages in the region which could serve as bases for renewed incursions against Israel.
MEANING OF SHIFT ASSESSED
The Syrians, who originally backed the PLO in Lebanon but later changed sides to help the Christians, reportedly shifted back to the terrorist side as a result of the Arab mini-summit conference at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Damascus apparently has come under pressure from the other Arab states to focus on Israel as the real enemy and put an end to the growing cooperation between Israel and the Christians in southern Lebanon.
This shift means that the tacit understanding between Israel and Syria that both countries would exercise restraint in the Lebanese conflict may have ended. The incident between the Syrians and Phalangists is considered to be of special significance.
TERRORISTS BETTER TRAINED, ARMED
Israeli circles point out that the terrorists are now better armed and better trained as a result of 18 months of fighting in Lebanon. Premier Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres have repeatedly warned that Israel would not tolerate the return of terrorist forces into southern Lebanon and the resumption of terrorist attacks on Israeli border villages.
Talk of the so-called “red line” on the Litani River, the boundary beyond which Israel would not let the terrorists pass, has been revived in recent days after having been forgotten for months. Some terrorist units are already well south of that line. But the “red line” was never specifically defined as to its location or by any physical features. For the time being, Israel is taking no action but is keeping a close watch on events in southern Lebanon.