JERUSALEM (Oct. 30)
On the eve of the Lebanese national reconciliation conference in Geneva, Israel has strongly warned against any attempt to scuttle the May 17 Lebanon-Israel agreement.
In statements by Defense Minister Moshe Arens and by Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor over the weekend, Israel insisted that the agreement, predicated on the withdrawal of Syrian, Israel and PLO troops from Lebanon, provided the basis for security arrangements along the border without which Israel could not leave Lebanon.
Meridor, speaking after today’s weekly Cabinet meeting, noted that abrogation of the agreement would be “very serious indeed” because it would set a precedent whereby an Arab state, having concluded an accord with Israel, could be pressured and threatened into revoking it by another Arab state.
While the Israel-Lebanon agreement is not, as far as is known here, on the agenda of the Geneva talks, Syria has not concealed an intention of seeking the annulment of the agreement as one result of the “national reconciliation” process. Syria, along with Saudi Arabia, has an observer role at Geneva.
FULFILLMENT OF THE ACCORD IS A MUST
Both Arens and Meridor said Israel “insists on fulfillment of the agreement.” Cabinet sources acknowledged that in strict legal terms the May 17 agreement is not in force, and never was, because instruments of ratification have not yet been exchanged as stipulated in the agreement text.
But, they argued, the very fact that Syria and other Arab rejectionists were investing so much energy in seeking the agreement’s annulment was the best proof that in political terms the agreement was very much an extant entity.
The sources said that its annulment would be “a bad precedent for the entire peace process.” They did not mention Egypt specifically, but is was clear that their concern focused, among other things on the possible effect of abrogation upon Israel’s relations with Egypt.
The sources observed that, in the eyes of the Arab rejectionists, the agreement, concluded after lengthy face-to-face negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, “struck at the heart of the Arab political boycott of Israel … that is why they (the Arab extremists) want to totally uproot it.”
The Israeli warnings were aimed at Syria and its surrogates in Lebanon, but also at the United States which inevitably plays a key behind-the-scenes role in the unfolding political process in Lebanon.
NOTE SHIFT IN U.S. ATTITUDE TOWARD SYRIA
The Cabinet sources here noted that of late there has been a shift in America’s attitude both to the Syrian role in Lebanon — which is now seen in a more negative light than before — and also to Israel’s role.
Indeed, some Washington circles now wish to see Israel play a greater role, with a higher profile in Lebanon. These circles seem to feel that unless Israel shoulders some of the burden, the Syrians will inevitably take over when the multinational force moves out, whenever that will be.
Israel, for its part, is not eager to raise its profile or increase its role in Lebanon. Arens certainly sees the September redeployment to the Awali River in south Lebanon as a first step in an ongoing process of withdrawal and disengagement.
Israeli efforts are now increasingly directed at building up a cooperative Shiite militia in south Lebanon which would operate alongside Saad Haddad’s mainly Christian militia and eventually, hopefully, enable much of the IDF deployment to be withdrawn.