JERUSALEM (Mar. 22)
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee today that he favors an early withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon “so that we shall not miss the opportunity to reach a political settlement with Egypt.” But he gave no indication of when or how Israel will pull out, expressed doubts about the United Nations force created to police south Lebanon, and could not give assurances that the latest incursion into Lebanon would be the last.
Weizman reiterated that Israel’s objective in entering Lebanon was to root out terrorists. “We did not set out for this war to occupy, and that is why we shall leave it,” he said. He admitted that this “strange war” turned out somewhat differently than had been planned.
He explained that Israeli forces occupied a larger area than originally intended because army units were attacked in various regions. He also insisted that “our aim throughout this entire operation has been to minimize loss of life and limb among innocent Lebanese citizens.” He said those considerations kept Israel from occupying the terrorist-held port of Tyre.
But the Defense Minister was challenged by several MKs who cited reports of severe casualties among Lebanese civilians and tens of thousands of refugees. Amnon Rubinstein, of the Democratic Movement for Change, Meir Talmi of Mapam, Yossi Sarid of the Labor Party and others blamed Israel’s decision to widen its original six-mile deep security belt for the refugee problem which, they said, unnecessarily complicated Israel’s international status. Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres attacked the government for making statements and then looking for ways out.
HOPES FURTHER FORCE WILL NOT BE NECESSARY
Weizman expressed hope that Israel would not have to resort to force in Lebanon again but said that depended on whether or not the terrorists were permitted to return. He noted that it took several wars before Sinai became a quiet front. He said Israeli forces are deployed some three miles south of the Litani River and have left one bridge open, in terrorist hands, to ease the movement of refugees.
The Defense Minister affirmed that Israel had no intention of crossing the Litani but acknowledged that Israeli units did cross the river twice to ambush terrorists. He said the Syrians got Israel’s message not to interfere in the war on terrorists and they “are playing the game.”
Weizman complained about the “hasty U.S.” action in the Security Council “which was followed by a hasty resolution to create the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon” (UNIFIL). He said the Cabinet would review the situation after the talks in Washington between President Cater and Premier Menachem Begin. The Cabinet is scheduled to convene in special session tomorrow. (See related analysis on P. 4.)