WASHINGTON (Mar. 17)
The Reagan Administration said today that the United States has started “high level” talks with Israel to prevent a continuation of clashes between Israeli forces and U.S. marines in the Beirut area.
But the Israel Embassy here said the incidents would not occur if there was a “direct liaison” between the Israel Defense Force and the U.S. marines as there was between the IDF and the other contingents of the multinational force (MNF) in Beirut, consisting of French, British and Italian units.
The Administration and the Embassy were referring to charges by Gen. Robert Barrow, Commandant of the Marine Corps, that Israeli troops are deliberately threatening the lives of American military personnel in Lebanon for “political purposes.”
U.S. GENERAL URGES ‘STRONG ACTION’
The charges were contained in a classified letter from Barrow to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in which Barrow urged that “firm and strong action” must be taken by the U.S. to end the confrontations. The letter was released to the press today after it was obtained yesterday by the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. There was no immediate comment from Jerusalem.
The Pentagon said today that it had no comment on Barrow’s charges because “the letter speaks for itself.” State Department spokesman John Hughes said he did not know the details of the recent clashes but that the issue has been raised with Israel and that both Israel and the U.S. are “concerned” and want to take steps to resolve the problem.
STATEMENTS BY ISRAEL EMBASSY
The Israel Embassy issued a statement stressing that “Israel views itself as an ally of the U.S.” and “wishes to have the fullest cooperation” with the marine contingent in the Beirut area. The statement said: “Israel has repeatedly expressed the desire for a liaison with the U.S. marines.
“We have such a liaison with the French, British and Italian MNF and we have had no incidents whatsoever … Regrettably, the U.S. decided not to permit a similar direct liaison between the IDF and the marines and this has resulted in numerous misunderstandings and incidents concerning the demarcation of responsibilities.”
The Embassy statement noted that “furthermore and most disturbingly, the U.S. issued instructions to the marines ‘not to fraternize’ with the IDF.” The statement concluded by declaring that “Israel shares with the U.S. a strong desire for peaceful conditions in Lebanon and therefore it fervently hopes that the U.S. lifts its restrictions on direct liaison in order to avoid further misunderstandings between the IDF and the U.S. marines.”
Barrow, in his letter to Weinberger, cited repeated incidents in recent months in which he said American officers were threatened by Israeli forces. He said on January 31, an Israeli tank opened fire with a 50 calibre machine gun directly in front of an American patrol, forcing it to turn around.
In another incident, according to the letter and classified documents accompanying it, a marine Major was threatened on three separate occasions by Israeli soldiers and Israelis in civilian clothes who pointed guns at him.
Barrow said two incidents over the last weekend had prompted his letter. But there was apparently no connection between those incidents and the attacks this week by unknown assailants which wounded five marines and II Italian soldiers in the Beirut area.
The incidents reported by Barrow were undisclosed at the time they occurred. But a highly publicized confrontation occurred last February 2 when a marine Captain brandished his pistol to turn away three Israeli tanks which allegedly attempted to break through marine lines on the outskirts of Beirut. The Israelis contended at the time that the tanks were patrolling in an Israel-held area and that the marine officer had overreacted.
Barrow stated in his letter, “It is evident to me that the incidents between the marines and the IDF are timed, orchestrated and executed for obtuse Israeli political purposes.” He did not elaborate.