TEL AVIV (Nov. 7)
The bridges across the Awali River, closed since Friday, were reopened today to pedestrians and some vehicles. The relaxation of the restrictions, imposed after Friday’s suicide truck bomb attack on Israeli military headquarters in Tyre, apparently ended a heated debate in government circles over whether south Lebanon should be sealed off from the rest of the country as a security precaution.
The consensus among political and military leaders was that the isolation of south Lebanon would be counter-productive and politically dangerous. For one thing it would allow critics to claim an Israeli intention to partition Lebanon and transform the southern part of the country into an Israeli province.
Moreover, Shiite Moslems who constitute the majority in south Lebanon, would have protested fiercely if they were cut off from family and fellow Shiites in the rest of the country.
OPPONENT OF RE-OPENED BRIDGES OVERRULED
The most vocal opponent of re-opened bridges was Science Minister Yuval Neeman of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya party. He insisted that the crossings remain closed to protect Israeli forces from a repetition of Friday’s attack in which 28 Israelis and 32 Lebanese were killed. Twenty-nine Israelis and 12 Lebanese were injured.
Neeman was overruled, however. Pedestrians were able to cross into south Lebanon today without restriction, apart from routine checks. Vehicles were allowed southward on a selective basis and under strict controls. At the same time, the less sensitive Lebanon-Israel border crossing at Rosh Hanikra was also re-opened for the first time since Friday, allowing Lebanese stranded on business or family visits to Israel to return home.
These developments took place against the background of new attacks on Israeli troops in south Lebanon. One Israeli soldier was wounded yesterday when his patrol came under small arms fire near the Zaharani River. Another patrol was fired on today near Sidon but there were no casualties.
DEFUSING TENSION WITH SYRIA
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities acted to defuse tension with Syria as various analysts urged political rather than military measures to extricate Israel from the Lebanese morass. Military sources here stressed today that Israel has no intention of attacking Syria. That assurance came after reports that Damascus has begun mobilizing reserves.
It was intended to calm Arab fears of a sudden hostile call-up of Israeli reservists. Israel is holding a practice mobilization. But according to General Headquarters it is a limited exercise requiring reservists to report to their units from which they will be released and sent home in a few hours.
One analyst, Gen. (Res.) Aharon Yariv, former chief of military intelligence, told a press conference here today that Lebanon’s problems can be solved only by political means, not by war. Yariv, who heads the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, said Israel should limit its objectives in Lebanon and reduce its forces to the bare minimum to ensure peace for Galilee.
Israel must realize, Yariv said, that Syria has vital interests in Lebanon. In that connection, he suggested that an indirect arrangement be worked out with the Syrians, possibly through the U.S. or, by way of Washington, through Saudi Arabia, to let the Syrians know what constitutes the “red line” beyond which their conduct will not be acceptable to Israel. The Syrians, said Yariv, are not interested in a conflict with Israel.
Former Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur, now a Labor MK, also believes an understanding should be worked out with Damascus through intermediaries. According to Gur, Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat, now under siege by Syrian-backed PLO dissidents in northern Lebanon, is on the way out. He predicted that the PLO would now come under the control of Syria.