JERUSALEM (May. 9)
The government is trying hard to convince the Israeli public that the agreement with Lebanon is the best that could be achieved under the present circumstances and justifies the sacrifices made since Israel invaded Lebanon 11 months ago.
The accord, approved in principle by a Cabinet majority last Friday, has come under sharp attack from both the left and right wings of the political spectrum. Premier Menachem Begin was reported to be considering an address to the nation to explain its benefits. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir argued before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee today that the agreement was to Israel’s advantage.
Deputy Foreign Minister Yehuda Ben-Meir declared in a Voice of Israel Radio interview that “Those who say the dead have fallen in vain do not know what they are talking about,” He said the agreement was a “good” one but warned that if Lebanon failed to take the prescribed actions to prevent attacks on Israel from its soil, Israel would be free to act as it sees fit in its own defense.
The law does not require Knesset approval before the accord can be signed. In the past, Begin sought and received the widest possible parliamentary backing for major foreign policy undertakings by the government, such as the Camp David agreements. But this time Knesset support is far from assured. The Labor Alignment’s Knesset faction voted 40-10 against the agreement yesterday but did not decide whether to oppose it in a Knesset vote or abstain.
MUCH DEPENDS ON SYRIA
Much depends on whether Syria indicates a willingness to withdraw its own forces from Lebanon. Damascus has denounced the agreement and says it will not budge. But Israeli sources noted that past experience has shown the Syrians to be tough negotiators until the 11th hour when they tend to come up with a compromise.
For that reason, the Israelis have agreed to give the U.S. more time to obtain an agreement from Syria. But Israel has not said how long it would wait. Political sources here indicated that if Syria does not accept the agreement within “weeks”, Israeli forces in Lebanon would be deployed along more defensible lines, after consultation with the U.S.
One reason for this is the mounting Israeli casualties in Lebanon. The number of Israeli soldiers killed since the invasion of Lebanon in June, 1982 is approaching the 500 mark and almost 2,650 have been wounded. But there is not much support in government circles for proposals that Israel unilaterally withdraw its forces to the Awali river, the boundary of the 28-mile security zone in south Lebanon.
The feeling here is that such a move might diminish the scope of the problem but not solve it. The Israelis contend that it is their army which protects the 1,200 U.S. marines deployed in and around Beirut as part of the multinational force. That, they say, is why the Americans are less than enthusiastic about an Israeli pull-back to south Lebanon. Moreover, shortening their lines would perpetuate a situation in which the Israeli army faces the Syrian army along the Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon. This would allow the Syrians to continue to wage a war of attrition, the sort of combat they prefer and which the Israelis heartily dislike.