Jerusalem (Mar. 23)
– Premier Menachem Begin discussed the tense situation in south Lebanon today with the visiting Defense Minister of Ireland, Sylvester Barrett, and responded to the latter’s urging that Israel use its influence to restore calm to the region and cooperate with United Nations peacekeeping forces.
Barrett’s visit came at a time of confrontation between the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) commanded by Gen. William Callaghan of Ireland and the Christian forces led by Maj. Saad Haddad who is supported by Israel. Begin told the Irish Defense Minister that Israel desires to cooperate with UNIFIL and does its best to restrain Haddad but could not in effect tell him what to do.
Begin claimed that the source of the trouble in south Lebanon was the aggressive behavior of the Palestine Liberation Organization which enjoyed direct support from the Soviet Union. According to Begin, the legal government of Lebanon in Beirut is incapable of controlling the situation in the south. The clash between Haddad and UNIFIL stemmed from the dispatch of Lebanese army regulars to the south, a move supported by UNIFIL but opposed by Haddad as a threat to his authority in the region.
Begin used the occasion of his talk with Barrett to urge the Irish government to establish a permanent embassy in Israel. Ireland has diplomatic relations with Israel but is represented by a non-resident Ambassador posted in Athens, Greece.