JERUSALEM (Jan. 24)
American mediator Philip Habib flew back to Washington from Israel today to report to President Reagan on his failure to make progress towards a negotiated withdrawal from Lebanon. In Israel senior officials spoke of “stalemate” and the media spoke of a “crisis” in the talks.
At the weekly Cabinet session yesterday Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said he expected the U.S. publicly to blame Israel for the lack of progress in the talks, and the general atmosphere in government circles here seems to be one of resigned expectation of an open confrontation with the U.S.
Habib is expected back here early next week “and then the pressures will begin,” one Israeli source remarked privately. A working session last night between Habib and Premier Menachem Begin, together with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Sharon, produced no substantive shift in the dead- lock, according to Israeli sources. The main issue of dispute continues to be Israel’s demand for three IDF-manned early warning stations in Lebanon after the IDF withdraws from that country. Other disputed issues include the role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the role of Maj. Saad Haddad’s militia, and the pace of normalization between Israel and Lebanon.
MINISTERS PERTURBED OVER BEGIN-SHARON VIEW
A great deal of attention at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting was focussed on the early warning stations, and a group of ministers expressed open doubts as to the wisdom of forcing a confrontation with the U.S. over this matter. This group of ministers, which included Deputy Premier David Levy (Likud-Herut), became particularly perturbed when it emerged from Sharon’s briefing that what he and Begin have in mind is not merely electronic surveillance posts, but rather military bases, albeit on a small scale, each manned by a company-size detachment of troops.
Cabinet sources said later that it seemed from Sharon’s report — though there was no absolute clarity on this — that the three bases would be used not merely to track incursions but also to prevent them physically. The garrisons would engage in patrols and in pursuits if need be.
Minister-Without-Portfolio Mordechai Ben-Porat requested that a (secret) ministerial defense committee meeting be called to discuss this issue in fuller detail. Other ministers who expressed doubts over the proposed IDF stations included Yosef Burg of the National Religious Party, Aharon Uzan of Tami and Yitzhak Modai of the Liberal Party wing of Likud.
But Begin, Shamir and Sharon presented a solid phalanx in support of the Israeli demand for having the IDF staff these bases, and a majority of the ministers apparently supports them.
At the meeting with Habib later in the day, the U.S. envoy reiterated that Lebanon rejected the idea of the IDF manning the warning stations regarding it as a infringement of its sovereignty. Habib reportedly proposed U.S., UNIFIL, or multinational force-manning — all of which options Israel rejected.
BASIS CLASH OF INTERESTS
In private conversations, Israeli sources are wondering aloud whether the U.S. and Israel are in fact caught up in a basic clash of interests in the Lebanon crisis. These sources feel that the U.S. does not see it as an American interest — given Washington’s broad ties throughout the Arab world — to encourage a political accord between Israel and Lebanon.
Such an accord, these sources reason, would complicate matters for the Americans in Arab opinion, and might also provoke problems within Lebanon itself where some Moslem and Druze are sure to oppose it.
Even more importantly, according to this theory, the U.S. is anxious to demonstrate to the Arabs–and most especially to Jordan’s King Hussein — that it can exert influence over Israel, and not the other way around. The U.S., after all, regards the impending accession of Hussein to the Mideast peace process, within the framework of the Reagan proposals, as the most vital element In current Mideast diplomacy.
There are allegations being voiced here, and not only from Sharon’s circles, that the U.S. is actively discouraging Lebanon from entering into far-reaching political accords with Israel. These allegations are strenuously denied by U.S. Embassy sources here.
Observers point out that the Israeli suspicions of American ill-will are, in many respects, a mirror image of the suspicion felt in some quarters in Washington towards Israel. The U.S. suspicion is that the Begin government is deliberately dragging its feet over the Lebanese negotiation-and-withdrawal in order to ward off or avert indefinitely a U.S. effort to apply the Reagan peace proposals for a Palestinian settlement (which Israel has utterly rejected)
At the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today, Begin admitted that there were “problems” with the Americans over what he termed “conditions for withdrawal.” But he pointed to progress at the Kiryat Shmona-Khalde talks on formulating an agreed agenda and particularly on agreement over ending the state of war. The Premier said this issue was agreed in principle — but Lebanon held that such agreement could come into effect only once the IDF had completely withdrawn from Lebanese soil.
Begin maintained that Habib supported Israel’s desire for normalization of its relations with Lebanon. The Premier also disclosed that the U.S. envoy was fairly confident he could obtain Syrian withdrawal simultaneously with that of the IDF. But Habib was less certain about the PLO. (Israel’s position is that the PLO fighters must leave Lebanon before IDF and Syrian withdrawal.)
Labor Party leader Shimon Peres challenged the Premier over the warning stations, implying that in his view they were not necessary.
Another leading Laborite, former Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur, baldly warned Begin not to be “dragged by Sharon into another war with Syria” as he had been “dragged” into the conflict with Lebanon by Sharon during the summer. Begin flatly denied this assertion.