WASHINGTON (Feb. 10)
A leading Israeli writer on military affairs has charged that while the United States did not directly back Israel’s invasion of Lebanon last June, Washington gave it an implicit “green light.”
“The Israel government had good reason to believe that even when its representatives heard a nay from Washington prior to the invasion of Lebanon, the words sounded every bit like a yea,” Zeev Schiff, defense and military editor of Haaretz, asserts in the upcoming spring issue of the quarterly, Foreign Policy.
Schiff also charges that “this implicit American approval … weakened the hands of those elements in Israel — both in the parliamentary opposition and in the general public — who opposed extending the war further into Lebanon and thus helped ensure that the offensive would not be limited to the defensive perimeter of Galilee townships and villages.”
Basing his article on discussions with Israeli sources, Schiff declared: “The Israeli-American complicity was not — as some Arabs have charged — a conspiracy to send the Israel army into Lebanon in order to expel the PLO and the Syrians. It was instead, an implicit Israeli-American partnership. The Americans — having received advance information about Israel’s intentions — chose to look the other way, making ambiguous comments about Lebanon that the Israel government could interpret any way it liked.”
Schiff noted that the U.S. was aware of the long-time Israeli build-up along its northern border and “was not blind to the relations developing between Israel and Bashir Gemayel’s Phalangists, nor was it unaware of Phalangist efforts to encourage an Israeli attack against the Palestinians and Syrians in Lebanon.”
He reports that when Premier Menachem Begin reluctantly accepted a cease-fire along Israel’s northern border in July, 1981, it was made clear that any shelling of Israeli settlements and towns would lead to an invasion of south Lebanon. Schiff notes that this was a position that would be held by any Israeli Defense Minister. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon believed that if Gemayel was elected President in the upcoming Lebanese elections, he would cooperate with Israel to expel the PLO.
But Sharon also believed a Gemayel government would be safeguarded if the Syrian army was forced from Lebanon. Sharon believed, according to Schiff, that since the U.S. had “acquiesced” to Syria moving into Lebanon in 1976, prior to the election which brought Elias Sarkis to the Presidency, it seemed “logical” that it would agree to allow Israel to move into Lebanon six years later to protect the expected election of Gemayel.
Schiff stresses that from February, 1982, Begin set out to explain to Washington why Israel would have no choice but to invade Lebanon if there was any shelling of its villages.
The article notes that Sharon met with then Secretary of State Alexander Haig in mid-May at which meeting Sharon said Israel would most likely have to move into Lebanon. Haig made no threats but emphasized that any move by Israel could only come after an “unquestionable breach” of the cease-fire by the PLO.
Schiff argues that “whether wittingly or unwittingly, Washington gave Jerusalem the green light to invade Lebanon and Israel interpreted the lack of a strong American position as support for all of its objectives.” He said the lesson to be learned from this is that “the lack of clear, direct communications and coordination damages the relationship between the U.S. and Israel and undermines the search for peace and stability in the Middle East.”