JERUSALEM (Oct. 23)
Premier Yitzhak Shamir said today that the attacks on U.S. marine and French military headquarters in Beirut this morning were “the work of forces that are interested in preventing a peaceful solution in Lebanon and in broadening and deepening the carnage there. We deeply share the grief of the American and French peoples,” he said.
Shamir’s remarks, at the opening of the weekly Cabinet session did not suggest who was responsible for the tragedy. But Cabinet sources made it clear that Israel held Syria to blame and believed the attacks were carried out by Syrian surrogates in Lebanon. The sources stressed that the attacks were “another example of the kind of terror Israel too faces … indiscriminate attacks.” But they were careful not to ask publicly that the marines stay in Lebanon regardless of their casualties. “Israel has no (official) position on that. They are not in Lebanon to protect Israeli interests,” was the remark most frequently heard.
A SERIOUS CONCERN
This reflected a serious concern in Jerusalem over a public opinion backlash in the U.S. blaming Israel for dragging the Americans into the Lebanese embroglio.
The sources recalled President Reagan’s sharp words for the Syrians at his press conference last Wednesday. He warned Damascus that if they thought they could “wear me down” they were wrong. Israeli sources intimated that the bomb attack on marine headquarters was in fact a test by Syria and its surrogates in Lebanon of the Administration’s resolve.
The political and diplomatic assessments offered by Shamir and Deputy Foreign Minister Yehuda Ben-Meir emphasized the radical shift in U.S. attitudes recently toward what they perceived as a more sober and realistic estimate of Syrian intentions. The Americans, they believe, have come to share Israel’s appraisal of Syria’s destructive role in Lebanon.
Shamir and Ben-Meir referred to their recent discussions with Reagan’s special Mideast envoy, Robert McFarlane, just before he was elevated to become the President’s national security adviser, and their talks with his deputy, Richard Fairbanks, who is still in the region.
There was skepticism here, meanwhile, as to whether the projected national reconciliation talks, supposed to get underway shortly in Geneva, would indeed transpire, despite a hopeful prognosis by Fairbanks. Israeli sources suggested today that “Syria calls the shots” and it was difficult “to see what Syria would seek to gain” from talks aimed at reconciling the various conflicting parties in Lebanon.