TEL AVIV (Jan. 4)
The disclosure today that four more Katyusha rocket launchers have been discovered in south Lebanon, aimed at Israeli military installations, has aggravated Israel’s angry dispute with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and added to the political embarrassment of Premier Menachem Begin’s government
The army disclosed yesterday that five launchers were discovered last Friday, aimed at Kiryat Shmona, the Israeli border town serving as a site for negotiations between Israel, Lebanon and the United States. The launchers were destroyed but Israel promptly accused UNIFIL of laxity in permitting terrorists to enter the area under its control. The launchers were found near Magdal Saloum, a village in the zone patrolled by the Ghanaian contingent of UNIFIL.
The four additional launchers were found in the same region, aimed at an Israel army base on Lebanon’s coastal plain. Although no rockets were fired and none was even found, the presence of the launchers indicated that Palestine Liberation Organization elements were still hiding in the area, were able to cache weapons there and had sufficient freedom of movement to set up the launchers. The possibility exists that they could have been fired.
This embarrassed Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, both of whom promised months ago that “not a single Katyusha will fall on Kiryat Shmona or northern Galilee.”
ISRAEL MIGHT OPPOSE UNIFIL MANDATE EXTENSION
Israeli sources stressed that the rocket launchers were not newly introduced into the region but probably had been hidden there some time ago by small groups of PLO terrorists who managed to slip through Israeli army dragnets.
Nevertheless, Israel has come down hard on UNIFIL. Its mandate is up for renewal shortly and Israel is expected to oppose any extension on grounds that the international force is useless and unnecessary. Israeli forces and the Israel-backed militia of Maj. Saad Haddad are adequate to maintain order in the region, Israel contends.
UNIFIL spokesman Timor Goksell has in effect used Israel’s argument to deflect blame from UNIFIL for the presence of rocket launchers in its zone. Goksell said that prior to Israel’s advance into Lebanon last summer he might have been prepared to accept responsibility for allowing PLO activity in the area UNIFIL controls.
“But there has since been a reduction in UNIFIL capability to operate … Israeli troops move through this area, they have their own bases here and maintain their own patrols and roadblocks. They check people in the villages and therefore to say that I am 100 percent responsible for what has been happening in my area is not correct Goksell said.
He added, “The facts on the ground negate this because there is an occupation force in my area … There is a free movement of Israeli or Israeli-related forces through my area.” This was a reference to the Haddad militia.
FIGHTING ESCALATES IN TRIPOLI
Meanwhile, fighting escalated in the north Lebanese port of Tripoli where 30 people were reported killed, the highest death toll for a single day in the 11-week battle for control of the city between rival leftists, rightists and Palestinian forces. Tripoli is nominally under control of Syria, But a Syrian peace-making delegation invited by the Lebanese government in Beirut was unable to reach the city today, ostensibly because of bad weather.
In another development, Israel claimed today that the Syrians are building two surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile bases inside Syria to accommodate Soviet-made long-range SAM-5 missiles, a weapon the Soviets have not supplied to any country outside the Warsaw Pact. The SAM-5 has a range of nearly 200 miles and has been operational in the Soviet air force since 1967.