JERUSALEM (Jun. 27)
Premier Menachem Begin said today that he will convene a special Cabinet session this week to discuss the redeployment of the Israel Defense Force in Lebanon. Begin made the disclosure at a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee shortly after meeting with the U.S. special envoy Philip Habib, who arrived here yesterday.
Some observers interpreted Habib’s visit at this time as a U.S. effort to head off any Israeli decision on redeployment in Lebanon until after Begin’s scheduled meeting with President Reagan in Washington at the end of July. The U.S. fears a partial Israeli pullback would be a signal to Syrian or Palestine Liberation Organization units to move forward, unless the Lebanese army, backed by U.S. marines and other multinational force elements, moved into the vacuum.
But Israeli sources made it clear this evening that while a Cabinet discussion might begin this week, the Premier did not expect the Cabinet to reach a final decision until after his talks with Reagan.
PERES URGES IMMEDIATE PULLBACK
Opposition leader Shimon Peres urged Begin to go ahead with the pullback before his Washington visit. “Why drag it out?” Peres was quoted as saying at the committee. “It is a matter of lives.” Begin responded that the withdrawal was not necessarily linked to the timing of his visit to Washington.
Begin said the Americans appeared to be coming around to Israel’s assessment that the Syrians have no intention of cooperating in an overall withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon at least for the time being. Begin said that was the impression he got from Habib. Other Israeli sources confirmed that the U.S. envoy had been “less optimistic” than in the past on the prospects of the Syrians eventually agreeing to pull out.
Habib left today for Saudi Arabia, apparently in a new American effort to encourage Arab pressure on Syria to withdraw.
But another distinguished American visitor, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, said after a meeting with Begin today that in the past President Hafez Assad of Syria had put forward “strong positions” only to moderate them later.
Kissinger said he did not know if his own negotiating experience with Damascus in 1975 was “still relevant.” But he did not preclude the same process occurring now. He expressed “a high respect for Assad’s intelligence and for Syrian nationalism.” He said it would surely be “very controversial” if the Administration were to ask the Congress for more U.S. marines in the multinational force, to step into the areas vacated by Israel in a partial pullback.
If their deployment were part of an Israel-Syrian accord on a demilitarized zone, “that would be one thing.” But otherwise Congress would likely balk at introducing American troops into areas that the IDF felt were too dangerous to stay in, Kissinger remarked.