Jerusalem (Jul. 12)
U.S. special envoy Philip Habib arrived here from Beirut today on the third round of his mission, begun last May, to defuse the continuing crisis between Israel and Syria over the latter’s deployment of SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles in Lebanon. The American diplomat was scheduled to meet later today with Premier Menachem Begin and other leaders.
American sources here were quoted as saying that Habib would ask the Israelis to refrain from aggressive statements or actions against Syria in order to make his mission easier. His arrival coincided with Israel’s second air raid in 48 hours on Palestinian terrorist bases in Lebanon which were seen here as an expression of displeasure over the slow progress Habib has made to date.
The initial air raid, Friday, the first in more than a month, destroyed a number of guns and rocket-carrying vehicles near the Zahrani River, according to a military spokesman. The Syrians did not intervene and all Israeli aircraft returned safely to their bases, the spokesman said. The targets were some distance from the area where the Syrian missiles are deployed. Today’s raid was in the area of Damour, about 12 miles south of the Lebanese capital.
NO CONFIRMATION OF PLAN ON MISSILES
There was no confirmation here today of reports that the U.S. had, in effect, worked out a comprehensive plan to solve the missile crisis. Habib is understood to be trying hard to win agreement on a package proposal that would ensure Israeli and Christian withdrawals in areas of Lebanon in exchange for removal of the missiles. Habib held talks with Lebanese President Elias Sarkis in Beirut and with the Druze leftist leader Walid Jumblatt before coming to Israel.
Israel is said to be sticking to its demand that Habib speed up his efforts to get the Syrian missiles out of Lebanon. Syria reiterated its determination over the weekend to keep the missiles in place, come what may. Despite Israel’s evident impatience over the lack of success by Habib to date, sources here were quoted as saying that no ultimatums would be given the American envoy during his current visit to Jerusalem.
U.S. HARDLINER DUE IN ISRAEL
Meanwhile, another senior U.S. official, State Department Counsellor Robert McFarlane, was expected here today on a mission for Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Haig reportedly sent him here to discuss a new formula that would allow the Reagan Administration to resume deliveries of four F-16 fighter planes, suspended last month after Israel used American-supplied aircraft in its June 7 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
McFarlane, described as the State Department’s leading exponent of a tough stand toward Israel over the Iraqi raid, will reportedly seek to define under what conditions, it any, Israel could use American-supplied weapons in attacks beyond its borders. The four F-16s are being held up pending an Administration review of whether Israel violated its agreement with the U.S. by using American planes to destroy Iraq’s reactor.
FLAP OVER EVRON
Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ephraim Evron, who returned here over the weekend for consultations with Begin and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, told reporters that he saw no connection between the deliveries of the F-16s and the Administration’s proposal to sell five AWACS reconnaissance aircraft and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia. He said a majority of the U.S. Senate opposed the AWACS deal.
Evron refused to comment on press reports that the new government might replace him in Washington because he is not politically identified with Likud. Shamir was quoted by Israel Radio today as saying there was no move underway to replace Evron and the envoy himself said nobody had suggested that possibility to him.
Foreign Ministry circles were quoted as saying that such speculation would undermine Evron’s position in Washington when he was required to prepare for Begin’s official visit there in September. But the speculation apparently reflects pressure within Likud for a “political appointment” to what is Israel’s most important diplomatic post abroad.
Mentioned as possible replacements for Evron are Eliahu Ben-Elissar, former Ambassador to Egypt who resigned to run for the Knesset on the Likud ticket, and Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori, who could embarrass Begin politically by challenging the appointment of Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon as Defense Minister in the next Cabinet. Zipori has made it clear that he considers himself first in line for that post.
Meanwhile, the fact that Begin consulted with Sharon before ordering the latest air strikes against Palestinian targets in Lebanon was seen as a further indication that he is determined to name the ultra-hawkish Sharon to the defense post regardless of opposition in some Likud circles.
The Friday attack drew prompt retaliation. Palestinian terrorists in Lebanon lobbed more than a dozen Katyusha rockets into the border town of Kiryat Shemona two hours after the raid, slightly injuring 14 residents. United Nations sources said Israel artillery and Christian forces in south Lebanon replied strongly to the rocket attack.