TEL AVIV (Jan. 25)
Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan today denied there had been any “incidents” with U.S. Marines near Beirut, as no shots had been fired.
Answering questions at the end of a day-long symposium on “The Middle East After the Lebanon War” organized by the government’s information center and the Shiloah Institute, Eitan said “There was no incident — not even a confrontation as no shots were fired. The whole thing has been blown up out of all proportions.”
He said that what had happened was that Israeli troops, acting on information and following the tracks of assailants who had shot up a bus, wounding Israeli soldiers, had advanced towards an abandoned railway line skirting Beirut, agreed between Israelis, Lebanese and Americans as the border beyond which Israeli soldiers would not advance. Beyond that line, the marines and Lebanese troops are in command.
The marines were taken aback by the advance of the Israelis “and did not seem to realize that we knew where the line was,” the Chief of Staff said. (Related story, P. 3.)
SAYS ISRAEL NEEDS 3-5 WARNING STATIONS
On the issue of early warning stations, Eitan said that Israel required “three to five stations” within the 45-50 kilometer zone north of the Israeli border “to ensure implementation of any agreements reached with the Lebanese. They should be places manned by Israelis, for an agreed period, to guard against the return of terrorists to the area and prevent their infiltration and opening fire on Israel.”
The Chief of Staff said Israel had not planned to enter west Beirut and had been assured by Bashir Gemayel, two weeks before his assassination, that by October 15 the Lebanese army and the Phalangists would have disarmed all Palestinians and assumed control of the capital. “But when he was killed the situation changed, and the Israel government decided quickly to act quickly,” Eitan said.
He stated that Israel had not sought land war with the Syrians and had tried to avoid conflict apart from air battles. It was the Syrians who had taken the initiative to attack Israeli forces on land, Eitan noted.
He said the Syrian soldiers had fought well, but their officers had lacked training and experience with the operation of larger formations.
ISRAELIS ARE BETTER FIGHTERS
Asked whether it was the Israeli soldiers who had been responsible for Israel’s victories, or the largely American equipment they had used, he said: “An Israeli soldier flying a Russian-made MIG against a Syrian pilot flying an American-made F-15 would win. The same goes for the Russian-made tanks. The T-62 tank — and we have several of them — are good tanks, and the T-72 is even better. It is the man who counts, more than the equipment.”
Meanwhile, a new dispute developed today between Israel and Lebanon over the meeting site of the subcommittees dealing with various aspects of the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon. The dispute led to the cancellation of two scheduled meetings of their representatives this week. Lebanon wants the subcommittee to convene in Nahariya while Israel suggested Herzliya.
The working committees dealing with negotiations-withdrawal, comprising Israeli, Lebanese and American representatives, have been meeting alternately at Kiryat Shmona and Kahlde. The subcommittees were set up to deal with bilateral relations between Israel and Lebanon. They were scheduled to meet today and tomorrow in Israel. The disagreement over venue represents a further delay in the negotiations which began last month but have so far achieved little.