Ben-meir Says Israeli Troop Redeployment Necessary if Syrians Refuse to Withdraw

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yehuda Ben-Meir said today that while Israel would give no timetable for a possible partial pull-back of Israeli troops in Lebanon, a redeployment of Israeli troops would be inevitable should the Syrians continue to refuse to withdraw their forces from Lebanon.

Speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith attended by some 200 persons, Ben-Meir said Israel would give no deadline for any Israeli withdrawal so as to provide “as much leeway” for the continuation of political efforts by the U.S. to persuade the Syrians to withdraw. Of the U.S. diplomatic efforts, Ben Meir said: “We’ll see if it can take off and have some effect.”

At the same time, he said, “It is clear that Israel cannot stay forever” in Lebanon. He added: “If it will turn out tragically that the Syrians indeed have no intentions of leaving Lebanon at all in any circumstances, and are going to stay for an unpredictable degree of time, we will have to rethink exactly how we will deploy ourselves. There will have to be changes ….”

COORDINATION WITH U.S.

Ben-Meir pointed out that any Israeli action would be done “through a process of intensive prior negotiations” with the United States and Lebanon. He said there would be coordination between the U.S., Lebanon, and Israel because “We are aware of the difficulties and dangers that might be involved in changes of Israeli deployment in Lebanon in terms of maintaining law and order and stability and preventing the destabilization of the Lebanese regime in which we have an interest.”

Ben-Meir also called on King Hussein of Jordan to join in peace negotiations with Israel as a “free agent and not as an agent” of Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat. This was an apparent reference to the King’s past efforts to seek endorsement of his involvement in negotiations with Israel on the future status of the West Bank.

Ben-Meir called the rearmament of the Syrian forces by the Soviet Union “very, very extensive.” He noted that the Soviets have brought into Syria quantities of military hardware unprecedented in the past “both in quantity and quality.” He said Soviet involvement in Syrian military affairs is “a joint concern to Israel and the U.S.” which both countries are discussing and consulting about among themselves.

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