JERUSALEM (Jan. 27)
Israel has been urging the United States for the past few days to intervene firmly with Damascus for the removal of Syrian troops from Nabatiyeh in southern Lebanon 10 miles from the Israeli border. Israel is taking a very serious view of what it regards as an alteration of the status quo in Lebanon and is apparently disturbed that Washington does not regard the matter with similar urgency.
The State Department indicated yesterday that it took a calm view of troop movements by what it termed the “Arab deterrent force” which consists mainly of Syrian formations supposedly under the orders of President Elias Sarkis of Lebanon. But Israel considers the Syrian presence at Nabatiyeh as part of plans to establish a permanent Syrian base in southern Lebanon in violation of the tacit agreement between Israel, Syria and the U.S. that has prevailed ever since Syria intervened in the Lebanese civil war last year. Israel rejects Damascus’ contention that the troop movements are intended only to block terrorist infiltration of southern Lebanon.
Israel has reportedly urged the U.S. not to permit Syria to establish a precedent and intensive contacts between Jerusalem and Washington continued today. Israel wants to resolve the crisis quietly and the impression here is that the U.S. agrees in principle that the Syrian move should not be underrated. But the fear here is that any continuation of the Syrian presence in Nabatiyeh will legitimize its presence.
NON-POLITICAL MEANS NOT RULED OUT
In its contacts with Washington, Jerusalem has urged the use of all possible political means to solve the crisis. According to some observers, however, Israel would not rule out means “that are not political” if the political means fail to alter the situation. The impression here is that if the U.S. made its displeasure clear to the Syrians, the latter would lose no time in pulling their forces out of Nabatiyeh. The matter is also regarded as the first test of the new Carter Administration’s behavior in a Middle East development that Israel views as “serious.”
Yitzhak Navon, chairman of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and security committee claimed today that the Syrian presence in southern Lebanon posed “a real threat to Israel’s security.” He said that if Israel conceded these moves, its credibility would be damaged since the Syrians have now crossed the so-called red line. Navon told a meeting here that if the Syrians are allowed to remain in southern Lebanon, Lebanon would become another confrontation state and an active participant in a new Arab war on Israel.