TEL AVIV (Apr. 16)
Gen. Mordechai Gur stepped down today as Chief of Staff of Israel’s armed forces and turned over the post to his successor, Gen. Rafael Eitan. The formal transfer was carried out in two brief ceremonies in Jerusalem, one at General Headquarters and the other at Premier Menachem Begin’s office, attended by Defense Minister Ezer Weizman.
Begin hailed both commanders, nothing that Gur’s four-year tern as Chief of Staff began with the task of rebuilding the army after the Yom Kippur War. He expressed the hope that Eitan’s term will witness no more wars. But he warned, “Our enemies should know that the hand that is raise to destroy Israel will be destroyed.”
Gur, in his last public appearance as Chief of Staff, discussed the Lebanese operation and Israel’s initial withdrawals from south Lebanon completed over the weekend. He told the audience at ZOA House it was wrong to claim that terrorism can be defeated by military means alone and said he had no illusion that Israel would reach a written agreement with Syria as a result of its operation in Lebanon. But, he said, there should be an understanding with the Syrians and Lebanese that there will be no more hostile activity in south Lebanon.
DENIES REPORTED DEATH TOLL
Gur said there was no foundation to reports that terrorists recrossed the Litani River after Israeli forces withdrew. He said Israel had achieved its objective of destroying the terrorist infrastructure south of the Litani.
He also claimed there was no truth to reports that 1000 Lebanese civilians were killed during the fighting in south Lebanon. He said Israel’s estimate, based on the debriefing of combat units, set the number of civilian casualities between 150-200. Gur disclosed that a terrorist leader, Abu Jihad, escaped from Abassiyeh village only 10 minutes before Israeli forces captured it.
Speaking of the general situation, Gur said Egypt still retained the war option. He said some of his predictions on the eve of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem last November have been borne out. He said he had predicted that Sadat’s visit would put Israel on the defensive in the contest for world opinion and that has happened.
EITAN PROMOTED TO LT. GEN
The transfer of command today was accompanied by a colorful military ceremonial honoring the outgoing Chief of Staff. Gur and his successor inspected on honor guard and exchanged hand shakes and well wishes. Eitan was promoted to the rank of Lt. Gen. He is, at the age of 49, Israel’s 11th Chief of Staff, a Sabra born at Tel Adashim in the Jezreel Valley.
Eitain served in Palmach, the striking force of Hagana in the pre-State period, beginning at the age of 17, He made the army his career and gained fame as a field commander. He was wounded in action three times, the last when leading a tank column toward the Suez Canal during the Six-Day War. Eitan is married and the father of four children.
SECOND STAGE WITHDRAWAL COMPLETED
Meanwhile, over the weekend, Israeli forces completed their withdrawal from a 25 square mile salient of the 500 square miles of south Lebanon they occupied. The pullback was on the eastern and east central sectors of the front. Israeli forces continue to hold the western sector and surround the terrorist-held port of Tyre. The Israelis have been replaced by Norwegian, French and Swedish units of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the east and by Nepalese and Iranian troops in central sector.
In an interview over the weekend with Yediot Achronot, Gur said Israeli forces will complete their total pullback from south Lebanon within a month provided that the UN forces will be deployed according to plan. Eitan reported that the Israeli operation in south Lebanon uncovered hugh quantities of arms and ammunition accumulated by the terrorists along with underground command posts and bunkers. This indicated, he said, that the terrorists were making preparations to turn south Lebanon into a base for terrorist operations against Israel. Eitan said this infrastructure was destroyed by the Israelis. “I hope the UNIFIL will not allow the terrorists to rebuild this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gen. Emmanuel Erskine of Ghana, commander of UNIFIL, told reporters Friday that his forces had no orders to prevent the return of Palestinians to south Lebanon if they were unarmed. But armed men will not be allowed to enter, he said.