JERUSALEM (Aug. 14)
Lebanese President Amin Gemayel was reported today, as Lebanese Druze intensified their attacks on government forces, to be pressing Israel to issue a public commitment that Israel’s imminent start of redeployment of its troops in Lebanon is part of a withdrawal process linked to a specific target date for total withdrawal and specific schedules for interim withdrawals.
Gemayel is understood to be urging that course on Israel both directly and through Robert McFarlane, the new special Mideast envoy of President Reagan, who was received by Syrian President Hafez Assad and rebuffed, as was his predecessor, Philip Habib, on the United States proposal that Syria pull its estimated 40,000 troops out of Lebanon.
McFarlane met here last Thursday night with Premier Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir to report the failure of his Damascus mission and, according to Israeli sources, said Assad still insisted on an unconditional Israeli troop withdrawal and continued to spurn the Israeli-Lebanese withdrawal pact which was signed last May but is still unratified.
Gemayel was reported to believe that an Israeli announcement of a specific withdrawal time-table would help him deal with his critics in Lebanon, who contend that the redeployment is meant to bring about an effective partition of Lebanon.
Gemayel has indicated that he understands that Israel’s readiness to issue a public timetable on withdrawal would remain contingent on a Syrian withdrawal, or at least the issuance of a parallel Syrian time-table. But he feels that a clear Israeli assurance would help him fortify his shaky position.
ISRAEL SEEKING RATIFICATION OF PACT WITH LEBANON
Israel has to date declined to issue such a timetable. Israeli policymakers simply continue to reiterate that Israel has no territorial ambitions of any kind in Lebanon. Some Israeli leaders are believed to want to apply some pressure on Gemayel for ratification by Lebanon of the May 17 Israeli-Lebanon pact, which remains legally a dead letter because instruments of ratification have not yet been exchanged.
Lebanon has been reluctant to proceed with ratification for fear of further infuriating the Syrians. But Israel has contended that ratification would reduce Syrian pressures on the Gemayel regime.
Information from Beirut today suggested that Gemayel was now more prepared than before to negotiate with the Druze based in the Shouf mountains over the Druze’ political future, a willingness reportedly evoked by the beating the Lebanese army received from Druze fighters last week. That was the view here after a meeting in Tel Aviv Friday between McFarlane and Shamir and Defense Minister Moshe Arens.
The Gemayel regime was severely jolted when, after Druze artillery bombarded Christian areas of Beirut, Druze warriors dislodged Lebanese army units from positions near the Shouf mountains and Druze leaders kidnapped three Lebanese Cabinet ministers, but subsequently released them.
Israeli officials also agree, on the basis of talks with McFarlane, that Gemayel is now more ready than previously to negotiate with Israel over its coming redeployment, and specifically on the need to coordinate the entry of Lebanese army units into the Shouf mountains to replace Israeli forces as they are withdrawn.
Israeli sources said that Gemayel’s regime is now convinced that the redeployment not only cannot be prevented but that it could come swiftly once the infrastructure work along the new Awali River withdrawal line is completed in the next ten days to two weeks.
THE IMMEDIATE U.S. CONCERN
The immediate Reagan Administration concern is to help accomplish the redeployment, to which it has reluctantly acquiesced, without that withdrawal toppling the increasingly shaky Gemayel government in a new upsurge of internecine fighting.
Those concerns were presumably heightened yesterday when rival Christian and Druze militiamen fought new artillery battles in the mountains ringing eastern Beirut, and Walid Jumblatt, the pro-Syrian leader of the Druze forces, said he would “fight to the end” to keep Lebanese government troops out of the Shouf mountains as well as to force the resignation of the Gemayel government.
McFarlane, rebuffed in Damascus, was devoting his efforts to helping to prevent the imminent Israeli pullback from creating a geopolitical gap in the Shouf mountains. The Reagan Administration, it was reported here, wants Gemayel to negotiate with Jumblatt who is getting close backing from Assad who appears embarked on an effort to topple the Gemayel regime.
The Reagan Administration reportedly believes that if the Druze see that Gemayel can survive and exercise sovereign Lebanese authority, the Druze will distance themselves from the Syrians and conceivably might be prepared to cooperate with Gemayel’s at present increasingly shaky government.
Shamir reiterated, at his meeting with McFarlane in Jerusalem Thursday night, that Israel’s redeployment plans did not mean Israel intended to dig in at the Awali River line and thus in effect partition Lebanon but neither was he willing to provide a unilateral time-table for total Israeli withdrawal without a parallel Syrian commitment to withdraw.