JERUSALEM (Jul. 24)
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Moshe Arens will fly to Washington tomorrow for a meeting with President Reagan Tuesday on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Lebanon and Israel’s plans to redeploy its forces there.
Premier Menachem Begin received an invitation from Reagan this morning to send his two senior ministers for talks at the White House. Begin had been scheduled to make the trip himself. But last week he unexpectedly cancelled his July 27 appointment with the President for unexplained “personal reasons.” Shamir and Arens, going in his place, are expected to discuss bilateral matters as well as the escalating crisis in Lebanon.
Lebanon was the focus of discussion at today’s weekly Cabinet session. The redeployment plans, approved by the government last week, are reported to be proceeding despite mounting pressure from the government of President Amin Gemayel for Israel to stand fast in its present positions for the time being.
Gemayel, who was in Washington this past week, urgently sought help from the U.S. to secure the withdrawal of all foreign troops from his country which now seems to be facing political as well as possible physical partition.
UNITED FRONT FORMED AGAINST BEIRUT GOVERNMENT
A week of savage fighting between Gemayel’s troops and pro-Syrian Lebanese forces opposed to his regime and to its withdrawal/security agreement with Israel culminated yesterday with the proclamation of a united front in opposition to the Beirut government. The announcement was made by Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Lebanese Druze community which has been at war with Gemayel’s Christian Phalangists.
Jumblatt is one of three members of the newly formed National Salvation Front’s command council. The others are former President Suleiman Franjieh, a Maronite Christian, and former Prime Minister Rashid Karomi, a member of the dominant Sunni branch of Islam.
The National Salvation Front, backed by Syria, seems to have the trappings of a second Lebanese government with a provisional structure to handle military, financial, social and information affairs.
Its formation raised fears that Lebanon may be divided into a Syrian supported enclave in the northern and central parts of the country which, in view of Israel’s presence in the south, would leave the Gemayel Administration in control only of Beirut and its immediate environs.
Jumblatt said his Druze forces were responsible for the heavy shelling of Beirut last week which caused serious casualties. The Druze have been intermittently battling the Christian Phalangists in the Shouf mountains of eastern Lebanon, a region the Israeli army plans to evacuate in accordance with its redeployment plans.
For that reason, apparently, Israel’s Druze community appealed to the Israeli government today not to undertake a premature withdrawal which would leave their Lebanese brothers at the mercy of the Phalangists. The appeal was made by Sheikh Amin Tarif, head of the Israeli Druze, at a reception for his community given by President Chaim Herzog.
In the midst of these developments, the U.S. has replaced a key member of its Middle East negotiating team. President Reagan announced Friday that Robert McFarlane, a deputy assistant for national security affairs, will replace veteran diplomat Philip Habib as the President’s special envoy to the Middle East. (See separate story.)
It is not considered likely that Israel will alter its plans to redeploy its army in Lebanon to shorter, more defensible lines in the hope of eliminating or reducing Israeli casualties in what has become a dangerous war of attrition in Lebanon. But the actual redeployment probably will not begin until after Shamir’s and Arens’ talks in Washington.
Gemayel has sharply criticized the Israeli plans and has reportedly asked American intervention with Jerusalem to have the move suspended until the Lebanese army is able to cope with the military situation in the Shouf mountains.
Sheikh Tarif, for his part, urged Israel to hold off its evacuation of the Shouf mountains until an agreement is reached between the local Druze and the Lebanese authorities. Israel must not leave the Shouf before it is clear of “foreign elements,” he said. Herzog assured the Druze leader that Israel would do everything possible to protect the Druze community in Lebanon.
ISSUES TO BE DISCUSSED
Shamir and Arens will probably take up with Reagan and other Administration officials matters that Begin would have discussed with them had he not cancelled his trip to Washington. These are said to include U.S. economic aid to Israel and the Lavie jet fighter project. Reagan recently authorized the transfer of American technology to Israel to enable it to produce its second generation war plane.
At today’s Cabinet session, Arens demanded that 20 billion Shekels be allocated to finance the project as well as Israel’s continued presence in Lebanon. Finance Minister Yoram Aridor said he would refuse to “print” new money for the purpose, so other means must be found to raise it that would not fuel inflation, now running at an annual rate of well over 100 percent.
One minister suggested that daylight saving time be instituted as an energy saving measure. Interior Minister Yosef Burg replied that it was too late for this year but he would name a commission to study the matter and come up with recommendations for next year. Meanwhile, the matter of the 20 billion Shekels will be referred to the Ministerial Economic Committee which is under severe pressure to institute sharp budget cuts.