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Israel Expects Relations with U.S. to Worsen over Lebanon

Israeli government sources were markedly downbeat today as U.S. special envoy Philip Habib returned here from weekend trips to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The sources, speaking after a lengthy Cabinet debate, seemed to expect a worsening of relations with the U.S. in light of Habib’s failure to make progress over Lebanon.

The sources expected the U.S. to publicly blame Israel for the stalemate on the withdrawal of Israeli forces and negotiation package in Lebanon. They said they detected signs of this trend in recent media leaks emanating from Washington.

This downbeat view was expressed as Habib and his deputy, Morris Draper, were scheduled to meet tonight with Premier Menachem Begin and other Israeli officials for a summation of Habib’s efforts so far to get the Israel-Lebanon talks off dead center.

There is a feeling in Israeli government circles that Israeli and American interests in Lebanon are fundamentally divergent and that the U.S., for reasons connected with its policies vis-a-vis the wider Arab world, does not wish to see Israel achieve a political success in Lebanon.

American officials argue that this is not at all the case, but rather that Lebanon itself cannot agree to the political and other demands that Israel is making of it because of Arab world pressures and because of the delicate situation within the country itself.

At the end of Habib’s week-long efforts here, in intensive talks with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other Israeli officials to speed up the negotiation and withdrawal process, Israeli sources said U.S. envoy has made no real progress.

KEY DISPUTED POINTS

They listed the following key disputed points on which there had been no narrowing of the gaps between Israel and the U.S.

Israel’s demand for IDF-manned warning stations at three sites in Lebanon — Sidon, Nabatiya and Jebel Barukh; Israel’s demand that the United Nations interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) leave south Lebanon and that Maj. Saad Haddad’s militia have a built-in role in policing the area; and Israelis desire for maximum normalization with Lebanon.

Reports from Beirut over the weekend said Habib had obtained Lebanese support for a proposal that American personnel man the projected warning stations in the south, Israel, however, rejects this solution, according to sources here.

DIFFERENT VIEWS ABOUT UNIFIL

On UNIFIL’s future role, the Israeli sources said, Habib was deliberately vague, leaving details to be worked out in negotiations. But the American envoy was firm in the view that UNIFIL’s continued presence was necessary in the south to bolster the Lebanese army’s efforts to keep the peace and keep the area terrorist-free.

In this, Habib said, he was reflecting the Lebanese own conviction that, with their army still in an early stage of reconstruction, they need UNIFIL’s help.

Israeli sources maintain, however that UNIFIL, would hinder rather than help in keeping the security zone of southern Lebanon free of terrorists. The Israelis cite past experiences involving UNIFIL, which has been in place since 1978 which, they say, often showed the UN force was lax towards the Palestine Liberation Organization and ineffective in preventing incursions.

UN officials, in private conversations, hotly dispute these allegations. They claim there were scores, perhaps hundreds of incidents in which UNIFIL had acted to prevent PLO incursions that might have reached the Israeli border. And they cite current occasional terrorist acts within the IDF-controlled areas of Lebanon to prove that no security system can be totally effective in a thickly populated area.

Regarding normalization, Habib’s position during the talks last week was, according to the Israeli sources, that broad principles be agreed upon now, such as the principle of open borders, but detailed arrangements should be made only after the withdrawal of IDF and other foreign forces from Lebanon. Israel wants the details determined before the withdrawal.

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