JERUSALEM (Jan. 4)
Premier Yitzhak Shamir met with senior policy-makers and military officers today to discuss the Israel Defense Force situation in Lebanon. Informed sources said there was little prospect of an imminent, large-scale pull-back but that Israel is reviewing its options in the face of the situation in Beirut and the ongoing terrorist attacks on IDF soldiers in south Lebanon.
The consultation today took place hours after an Israeli Air Force raid against Iranian and Shiite terrorist bases in castern Lebanon, near Baalbek. (See separate story.)
Israeli sources said the casualty figures broadcast by Lebanese media — 100 dead and several hundred injured — might be too high. An IDF spokesman said the Israeli pilots reported accurate hits.
PROCESS OF DELIBERATION
The consultation at Shamir’s office was attended by Defense Minister Moshe Arens; Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy; the coordinator of policy in Lebanon, Uri Lubrani, and other senior officials. Informed sources described the meeting as “part of a process of deliberation” rather than presaging a dramatic change of policy or change of deployment.
There have been reports here in recent days that the army may pull out of Sidon and take up a more southerly line. Some noncombattants already have been withdrawn from Sidon. But a senior defense source told reporters Sunday that there were no plans to abandon Sidon or the Awali River line north of the town.
The defense source said Israel’s sole condition for eventual withdrawal from Lebanon was security for Galilee. He said the army would pull out –possibly in stages — if the Lebanese army or local armed elements proved capable of taking responsibility for security in the south and prevent a return in force of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The source spoke of efforts to encourage and help local Shiite militias to establish themselves. But relations between Israel and the Shiites have been soured by the recent three-day/ closure of the Awali River bridges for security reasons.
THINNING OUT OF IDF PRESENCE PREDICTED
Informed sources predicted that the current process of deliberation between the government and the army, at the highest levels, might result in a thinning out of the IDF presence in the south, and some transfer of authority to Lebanese national or local units.
The sources noted the hopes expressed in Beirut today that a security agreement was at hand that would ease tensions in the Lebanese capital. That agreement, if reached, would presumably enable Lebanese army units to move southwards towards the Awali River and eventually cross the river. (See related story from Washington.)
Such a development presumably would facilitate the gradual withdrawal of the U.S. marines and the other units of the multinational force. This is increasingly the desire of large sections of American public and Congressional opinion. Israeli officials are aware that they must take account in their own policy planning, the likelihood that the marines will pull out of Lebanon in the coming months.