Cabinet to Discuss Deployment of Israeli Troops in Lebanon, but No Unilateral Pullout Planned

Premier Menachem Begin announced at today’s Cabinet meeting that the Ministerial Defense Committee will convene shortly to discuss the deployment of the Israeli army in Lebanon and means to reduce its vulnerability to attack.

Begin made the announcement at the close of the session which was devoted largely to the worsening situation in Lebanon. But Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor told reporters afterwards that Israel would not initiate a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon despite the “large and painful number of casualties.” Israeli fatalities in Lebanon reached the 500 mark over the weekend. (See separate story.)

The Cabinet was briefed by Defense Minister Moshe Arens on the situation in Lebanon. Five ministers demanded that Arens submit a plan for the redeployment of Israeli troops to make them less vulnerable to ambush and hit-and-run attacks which have caused mounting casualties in recent weeks.

ARENS FIRST CONFRONTATION

The demand was seen as Arens’ first confrontation with his Cabinet colleagues since he became Defense Minister little more than three months ago. It was noted that he could no longer claim that he had not familiarized himself with events or that he could not discuss delicate security matters for fear of “leaks.”

Arens was asked bluntly how long Israel must wait for the Syrians to pull out of Lebanon in order to implement the Israel-Lebanon withdrawal agreement, signed May 17; what new deployment was planned by the military establishment; and what will be the status of Israel’s ally in south Lebanon, Maj. Saad Haddad, if the agreement with the Beirut government cannot be implemented.

Arens rejected complaints that the U.S. was putting pressure on Israel to hold its present lines in Lebanon. “We must ensure that no hostile elements take over areas evacuated by the Israel Defense Force,” he said. He urged unity in the government and patience.

Meanwhile, a brewing crisis over former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon’s demand for an official inquiry into the Lebanon war in order to clear his name, seemed to be defused. The Knesset will vote tomorrow on motions by the Labor Alignment and Shunui for an investigation into the government’s conduct of the war. Sharon assured the Cabinet that he had no intention to vote with the opposition or do anything that could cause the government to fall.

SHARON WANTS INQUIRY

But he wanted an inquiry into allegations that as defense chief, he had misled the Cabinet on military moves in Lebanon and confronted it with faits accompli. Sharon seemed mollified however, by a statement by Begin at today’s session that the entire Cabinet shares responsibility for its decisions and that applies to the conduct of the war in Lebanon.

Sharon nevertheless attacked his most outspoken Cabinet critic, Deputy Premier Simcha Ehrlich who he accused of charging “deliberate provocations” by the Israel army “against the Syrians during the war.” Ehrlich, supported by Communications Minister Mordechai Zipori, accused Sharon of being the first to attack his colleagues. Justice Minister Moshe Nissim defended the conduct of the war and urged the ministers to support it publicly.

Health Minister Eliezer Shostak and Minister of Transport Haim Corfu demanded curbs against antiwar demonstrators outside the Prime Ministers residence. But Interior Minister Yosef Burg noted that the demonstrations were held with police permission and that despite the inconvenience caused the Prime Minister, freedom of expression should be preserved.

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