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Background Report Differing Views on Lebanon

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Differences of opinion have emerged between political and security circles over the situation in Lebanon following fresh violence between Christian militia and Syrian troops in the rugged mountains of north Lebanon after a two-day lull in the fighting.

According to reports, Syrian gunners shelled three villages east of the coastal city of Batroun, some 25 miles north of Beirut. The Syrians reportedly used multiple rocket launchers and long-range artillery to pound the villages of Diryah, Abdillih and the outskirts of Kfifan. The heavy fighting last Thursday and Friday, before Lebanese President Elias Sarkis held talks Saturday with the commander of the Syrian troops in Lebanon and a Christian political leader, which led to the temporary lull, and the renewed fighting forced thousands of people to flee from the area.

The differences of opinion between the Israeli political and security circles focused on whether the Syrian action was relegated to local skirmishes or the beginning of a Syrian military onslaught against the Christian militia with the aim of destroying Christian defenses. Another difference was whether Lebanon should be Israel’s top priority concern at this time or the upcoming Camp David talks. Political circles tended to view the fighting as local skirmishes and opted for the summit talks as the top priority item. However, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee subcommittee on Lebanese affairs, which met yesterday to assess the situation in Lebanon, felt the situation there was grave enough, after studying reports by security officials to call on Premier Menachem Begin to meet today with committee members. Begin agreed and met with committee chairman Moshe Arens and subcommittee chairman Yigal Allon.

While details of the meeting were not disclosed, Begin apparently expressed grave concern over the developments in Lebanon and the implications of the Syrian military operations there. Arens said after the meeting that the Syrians have timed their attack on the eve of the Camp David talks to tie Israel’s hands politically to prevent it from taking any military action.

Arens, however, warned Syrian President Hafez Assad and the Syrian people that it would be an illusion to assume that Syria would be able to destroy the Christian defenses in Lebanon while Israeli and Egyptian leaders are meeting at Camp David. While Arens did not disclose what action Israel might take, Pessach Grupper, the Likud Knesset faction whip, said after the faction met today with Begin that some action would be taken in view of the Syrian threat to Israel’s security and the threat of annihilation faced by the Christians.

OVERALL STRATEGY TO ELIMINATE CHRISTIANS

Security officials contend that the Syrian action is part of an overall strategy to eliminate Christian defenses in their entirety from Lebanon. The aim of the attack in the north is to ensure the Syrian military flanks will not be hampered by the Christian militia when they try to eliminate the Christian holds on the port of Junyeh, the lifeline of the Christians and their outlet and inlet to the sea, and in Beirut, security officials say.

According to their view, the Syrian move after Junyeh and Beirut will be against the Christians in south Lebanon. Should the Syrians be successful, Israel would face a Syrian front on its 100 mile northern border instead of a friendly Christian population and a Lebanese government. This, the security officials say, is in the long-run more important to Israel’s security than the Camp David talks.

Lebanese Christian leaders said today that their enclaves in the south are in severe danger of being demolished by the Syrian army. They reported the occupation of Christian villages, house-to-house searches, arrests of Christians, the capturing of arms and the demolition of arms caches. The leaders said the Christians will fight to the last man to defend their women and children. They also called for international intervention to force the Syrians out of Lebanon and for placing UN forces between Christians and Moslems in Beirut until the situation is calm again.

TALKS WITH UN, PEACE-KEEPING OFFICIALS

Meanwhile, Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan met yesterday afternoon with Gen. Ensio Siilasvuo, chief of the United Nations peace-keeping forces in the Mideast, to discuss the Lebanese situation. The official announcement after the meeting said that Eitan assured Siilasvuo that Israel will use all its influence to enable the UN, Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to fulfill its tasks in south Lebanon in accordance with the UN resolution last March which set up the force. The announcement added that Israel will hold further talks with Gen. Emmanuel Erskine, UNIFIL commander, to find a settlement in the spirit of the UN resolution which stated that UNIFIL’s task to help the Lebanese government reestablish its military authority in south Lebanon.

Until now Israel has stated that it can use its influence but cannot force the Christian militia in the Christian enclaves in south Lebanon to accept its views. This time the announcement did not mention this element.

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