JERUSALEM (Jun. 24)
The Cabinet met for more than three hours today to hear Premier Menachem Begin’s report on his visit to the U.S. and to consider the current situation in Lebanon. The ministers deliberated under a cloak of secrecy and no details of their discussion were released.
Cabinet sources said earlier today that the decision taken a week ago not to have Israeli forces occupy west Beirut where Palestine Liberation Organization and Syrian forces remain entrenched, is still valid. The decision was taken while Begin was in Washington against strong opposition from Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.
The sources defined west Beirut as including the Palestinian refugee camps bordering the Lebanese capital. There had been reports that Sharon was pressing for an attack on the Burj el-Barajneh refugee camp. The sources explained that Israel has not repeated its decision to exercise restraint because to do so would have weakened the psychological and military pressure on the PLO.
PERES WARNS AGAINST ENTERING W. BEIRUT
Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres warned on a television interview last night that any attempt by the Israel army to enter west Beirut would be a “dreadful risk.” He said “Everyone should think more than one step ahead.” In that connection, he warned that an attack on the PLO-held, largely Moslem quarter of Beirut would exact a heavy toll of casualties, both Israeli soldiers and Lebanese civilians.
Peres warned that Israel should not be the party that sets up a strong Lebanese central government lest it give the impression that it intends “to stay forever” in Lebanon. For Israel to occupy any Arab capital, he said, would antagonize and unite the entire Arab world which is now seriously divided.
U.S. special envoy Philip Habib has been in Beirut for the past week attempting to negotiate a compromise that would disarm the PLO and pave the way for a Lebanese government to assume authority. Habib was expected in Jerusalem this morning with new proposals from the sevan-man Committee of National Salvation set up by Lebanese President Elilas Sarkis. But officials here said today they had not heard from Habib and had no idea when he would arrive. They noted that communications with Beirut are difficult.
Meanwhile, a well placed Cabinet source told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that there was “just no basis” for mounting charges in government and Knesset circles that Sharon has been conducting the war in Lebanon as he chose, misleading his Cabinet colleagues and MKs alike or providing them with only meager information.
Those charges have been widely reported in the press in recent days. But according to the Cabinet sources, the majority of ministers are fully satisfied with Sharon’s briefings and are confident of their ability to control the military situation in Lebanon. An aide to Begin denied vehemently that the Premier felt Sharon was “leading him on,” a suggestion voiced recently by some politicians and media commentators. “Begin is not naive,” the aide said. Moreover, according to the aide, Begin and Sharon “share the same basic goals.” He said both saw the destruction of the PLO in Lebanon as a possible lever to advance Begin’s autonomy scheme on the West Bank and Gaza.