Jerusalem (Apr. 5)
— Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who arrived here tonight from Cairo for a 24-hour visit told reporter at Ben Gurion Airport that the purposer of his trip was to “discuss with our friends how we can meet the threat posed by the Soviet Union and its surrogates in this region.”
He also reaffirmed U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and said that during his talks with Premier Menachem Begin and other Israeli officials he will discuss the creation of a multi-national peacekeeping force in Sinai and the resumption of the stalled autonomy talks between Egypt and Isral. But these issues may be overshadowed by the American Administration’s larger strategic concerns in the region, its anxiety over the tense situation in Poland and the new eruption of fighting in Lebanon where Syrian forces have been battling Christians since last week.
The Israelis are alarmed by the Administration’s apparent decision, disclosed last Friday, to sell Saudi Arabia five highly sophisticated surveillance aircraft–AWACS–in addition to advanced equipment to improve the combat capability of the 62 F-15 fighter-bombers that the Saudis have purchased from the U.S.
(Reports from Washington over the weekend said Israel is asking the Reagan Administration for an additional 15 F-15s and access to the American spy satellite to offset the advantages acruing to the Saudis. Because of its severe economic burdens, Israel is said to be requesting the planes in the form of a grant rather than in military purchase credits.)
SITUATION IN LEBANON
The Cabinet devoted much of its weekly meeting this morning to the situation in Lebanon. Sitting as a ministerial defense committee, the proceedings of which are secret, the Cabinet heard reports and assessments on the fighting in Lebanon from Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan and chief of military intelligence Gen. Yehoshua Saguy. Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Ziport told reporters after the meeting that Israel was in contact with the U.S. and other Western powers to exert influence on Syria to stop shelling Christian targets.
The fighting is mainly in the Beirut area and northern Lebanon but shooting between the Christian militia and Palestinian leftists or Lebanese army regulars in south Lebanon spilled over into Isroel last night. (See separate story.)
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir was quoted by Israel Radio before today’s Cabinet session as saying that Israel “would not sit idly by” if the Christian community in south Lebanan is threatened. But he was less definite about an Israeli commitment to help the larger Christian communities in the north which are under bombardment from the Syrians and leftist elements, including the Palestine Liberation Organization.
A tougher stance was taken by Moshe Arens, the hawkish chaiman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, who insisted, in a separate interview, that Israel’s commitment covered all Christians in Lebanon, not just those living along Israel’s border. According to foreign media reports, Israel has been aiding Christians in the north.
ISSUES OF AUTONOMY TALKS, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE
Israel Radio reported this morning, in what was apparently an inspired leak from official sources, that the government will press Haig to reactivate the autonomy talks. According to the report, Israel will stress Cairo’s responsibility for the suspension of the negotiations during the post year. But there is little expectation here that any meaningful progress could be made toward an autonomy agreement before the Knesset elections June 30.
Some progress has been made apparently with respect to the multi-national force to police Sinai after Israel completes its withdrawal in April, 1982. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Sterner, who visited Cairo and Jerusalem last week, is credited here with resolving many of the differences between Israel and Egypt on the issue.
Both sides now, reportedly, agree on a force of several thousand men which would include a major contingent from the U.S. Washington must now pursue its efforts to convince other friendly nation. contribute troops. An American technical due in the area this week to survey Israeli military installations in eastern Sinai with a view to their use by the multinational force.