JERUSALEM (Aug. 27)
With international and domestic criticism of Israeli raids into south Lebanon increasing, Premier Menachem Begin is scheduled to meet this week with top Cabinet members to reassess the government’s policy. The meeting, it was learned today, was scheduled after Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, at yesterday’s Cabinet session, urged his colleagues to consider the total effect of the policy not just the military aspects.
There have been a number of articles by leading journalists here questioning the wisdom of the Israeli policy. Several stressed the negative public relations image that has resulted from numerous television reports abroad of south Lebanese civilians fleeing after Israeli raids and from the reports of casualties and the massive destruction caused by the raids.
Some columnists have questioned whether the cost to Israel in terms of manpower and military material was commensurate with the results achieved by the policy. There has also been critical analyses of Israel’s relationship with Maj. Saad Haddad, leader of the Christian militia in south Lebanon, who has an adverse image abroad. In addition, some analysts have warned against what they termed the possible Vietnamization of the situation in south Lebanon in which Israel could be drawn deeper and deeper into a conflict which it could not control politically.
Dayan echoed many of these arguments at the Cabinet meeting yesterday, according to sources. He reportedly spoke of the damage to Israel’s image by the conflict in Lebanon in which Israel was being depicted as the aggressor, The Foreign Minister said television pictures of the damage caused by the Israeli army tended to push into oblivion, in the minds of the average viewer in the West, the carnage and havoc committed by the Palestine Liberation Organization at whom the Israeli attacks are aimed.
POLICY EFFECTIVE IN DETERRING PLO ATTACKS
Neither Dayan, nor any of the journalistic critics deny that the present policy has been effective in deterring PLO attacks. There has been a marked drop in the number of PLO attempts to infiltrate across the border from Lebanon, or to strike against the Israeli coast, since Israel stepped up Its military action in April after the attack in Nahariya in which a father and his two children were brutally murdered. But the Foreign Minister wondered whether the same result could not be achieved with a different policy, although he reportedly did not spell out what this could be at the Cabinet meeting.
Begin observed at the meeting that Israel’s action in south Lebanon was militarily well executed and effective. Several Cabinet members pointed out the apparent fraternal relations between the PLO and some units of the United Nations interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, who had reported to the Cabinet on the intense artillery action over the weekend in south Lebanon, reportedly sat silent during Dayan’s arguments and the ensuing discussion.
But Weizman was reported today as still being convinced that the present policy is the right one and one that would be followed by any other Defense Minister. Defense Ministry sources pointed out that the artillery barrage by Israeli and Christian militia forces over the weekend prevented at least four terrorist attacks on Israel and that five others were prevented from happening last week. Weizman said there are 15,000 terrorists in Lebanon.
PERES CRITICIZES ISRAEL’S POLICY
Meanwhile, the Israeli policy was also criticized last night by Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Alignment. Before you release the safety pin, one should make an overall calculation and take into account world public opinion,” he said in a speech at Herzliya. Peres said the terrorists should be hit “but with almost selectivity so that we shall not hit ourselves.” He said the situation in Lebanon was the major cause of Israel’s isolation in the world.
“If members of the Cabinet stand up to say that these bombardments are not necessary for the war against terrorists and they only cause damage to Israel,” Peres declared, “why are we so surprised to see the entire world’s media show the destruction we cause and thus shift public opinion against us?”
(In Washington today, President Carter’s special Middle East envoy Robert Strauss met with State Department officials in an apparent bid to work out a new U.S. initiative to try to stop the fighting in south Lebanon. A Department spokesman declined to comment on what was discussed. Strauss said yesterday in a television interview that he plans to become fully involved in the Lebanese situation and that the U.S. has to make a strong effort to end the “terrorism, the violence, the shelling.” The State Department has repeatedly urged all parties in the area to stop the violence.)