JERUSALEM (May. 16)
Premier Menachem Begin, who has declared the cease-fire across the Lebanese border to be null and void, told his Cabinet today that it was not Israel but the Palestinian terrorists who ended it.
He said the Palestine Liberation Organization viewed the cease-fire as an invitation to attack Jews from any quarter except from southern Lebanon. Israel, he said, would not agree by any means to this “arbitrary and distorting” interpretation.
Begin praised Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan for his remarks in radio and press interviews over the weekend suggesting that if Israel responds to PLO attacks, it should be with the massive use of force. According to Begin, it was Eitan’s duty to explain the real situation to the Israeli people.
Eitan and Begin, himself, came under fire from the opposition Labor party over what the latter claimed to be “war talk,” Labor members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee clashed with Begin last Thursday when the Premier declared that the cease-fire was null and void and warned that the PLO would not be allowed to shed Jewish blood with impunity. Labor spokesmen also accused Eitan of contributing to war fever by dis- cussing military plans in public. The Laborites were aroused by Eitan’s disclosure that Israel has been massing troops along the Lebanese border and his insistence that the Israeli response to terrorist activities must be on a massive scale and not limited to relatively small retaliatory actions as in the recent past.
They also wanted to know why Begin is raising the issue of the PLO interpretation of the cease-fire at this time when, as former Premier Yitzhak Rabin observed at the Knesset committee meeting, the differences of interpretation were known all along. Begin retorted that the new element is that the PLO is acting according to its interpretation.
He said that, Israel’s view is that the cessation of hostilities across the Lebanese border, worked out last July with the help of U.S. special envoy Philip Habib, applies to all borders and to Israeli diplomatic installations and personnel abroad. Begin claimed that the U.S. agrees with Israel’s interpretation.
Other Labor MKs and Avraham Melamed of the National Religious Party, a coalition partner, counselled against any large-scale response by Israel’s armed forces lest the country become embroiled in war. Yossi Sarid of the Labor Party charged that “certain circles” in the government actually want war, which Begin hotly denied.
DIFFERING VIEWS EXPRESSED
Eitan told the media that “the terrorists con be weakened seriously only by a military action, not political action.” He said Israel has spent “billions of dollars” building up an “unusual system” to counter terrorist activity and should be allowed to use it.
He hinted that he had in mind an Israeli response that would include a direct attack on Beirut or ground action to completely destroy Palestinian artillery in Lebanon. According to Eitan, the knowledge that such force could be brought to bear might deter terrorist activity.
In a television interview Friday night, Rabin, himself a former Chief of Staff, said Israeli army action inside Lebanon, regardless of its size, would not destroy the PLO and would not give the Israel-backed Christian forces control of Lebanon.
Eitan disclosed, in another radio interview, that the PLO launched rockets into Israel from Jordanian territory on five occasions but none hit their target. He denied a PLO claim that its retaliatory rocket attacks on towns in northern Israel, following Israeli air raids over Lebanon last week, were deliberately intended not to cause casualties or damage and thereby demonstrated restraint. Eitan said Israel escaped casualties because the PLO rockets were poorly aimed.