JERUSALEM (Sep. 8)
The Knesset approved the government’s conduct of the war in Lebanon by a vote at 50-40 today. The endorsement was followed by a tense debate over President Reagan’s Mideast peace proposals, flatly rejected by Premier Menachem Begin’s Cabinet last week but supported by the opposition Labor Alignment as a basis for negotiations over Palestinian autonomy.
The debate between Likud and Labor over the war centered on its expansion and the level of force applied rather than on the original war aims. Labor agreed with the necessity to rid south Lebanon of Palestinian terrorists menacing Israel’s borders. But it questioned the need to send Israeli troops to the environs of Beirut, 60 miles north of the border and the intense land, air and sea bombardment of west Beirut.
Begin implied that the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Syrians bore sole responsibility for the expansion of the war. He said the PLO had two chances to end the bloodshed, the first on June 11, five days after the fighting started, when Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire after clearing the terrorists from a 40-mile zone in south Lebanon; and again on June 26 when Israel offered the PLO and the Syrians safe conduct out of Beirut via the Damascus highway.
According to Begin, the war brought peace and a new life to the inhabitants of Galilee. He challenged Labor to go to the towns and villages of Galilee and try to tell the people there that the campaign was unjustified. “Its own local supporters would be the first to disagree,” Begin said.
The war, Begin claimed, achieved three purposes — peace for Galilee, “a considerable amount of peace for all of Israel’s citizens,” and restoration of the deterrent force of the Israeli army.
SHARON: WAR WAS ‘STUNNING ACHIEVEMENT’
Much of the Knesset debate on the war was conducted by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, the architect of Israel’s military strategy and tactics, and Haim Barlev, a Labor Party leader who was Chief of Staff during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Sharon extolled the war as a “stunning achievement which created an earthquake in the area.” Nobody had believed, he said, that terrorism could be uprooted from Beirut.
Sharon attacked the Reagan plan. “We are on the threshold of a new, mighty struggle,” he said. “One tries to impose on us a plan which conflicts with our own interests and with the Camp David accords. The events in Lebanon should light a thousand warning candles against suggested demilitarized zones according to the American plan, he said. One of the by-products of the war is the increased ability of Israel to cope with new plans without the pressure of terrorism, the Defense Minister added.
Barlev conceded that the vast majority of Israelis agreed that there was no way to avoid military action to free the northern settlements from terrorist fire. Even world public opinion showed understanding and as long as the war was conducted in those limits, there was no criticism, he said.
“The debate is on the justification of using force to achieve secondary goals, not the main goal of peace for Galilee,” Barlev declared. It is also “on the moral affects of such a war. It was the first time since the establishment of the State that we pursued goals which were not a vital necessity for the existence of the State.”
Barlev agreed that a stable government in Lebanon and the ouster of the PLO and the Syrians from that country were desirable goals. But Israel’s existence does not depend on them, he observed. “Lebanon has never been a security problem for Israel. From this point of view, it really doesn’t matter if we sign a peace treaty with Lebanon or settle for formal arrangements, such as the good fence,” he said. The latter was a reference to the open borders Israel has maintained with Lebanon since the civil war began in that country.
FUTURE SECURITY REQUIREMENTS
Sharon alluded in his speech to Israel’s future security requirements in Lebanon. He repeated that there would have to be a security zone of 40-50 kilometers in south Lebanon devoid of artillery and other offensive weaponry. “Neither UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) nor the multi-national force (in Beirut) will be able to assure us of such security,” he said.
Sharon said a few days earlier that Israel may have to control south Lebanon indefinitely by occupation or other means unless Lebanon signs a peace treaty with Israel.
The Knesset, officially in recess, was convened in special session to debate the war and especially the Reagan plan which has added a new dimension to the situation.