Israel Still Hopeful About Relations with Lebanon Despite Gemayel’s Trip to Damascus

Official circles here continued to cling to the hope that something may be salvaged from Israel’s efforts to establish at least quasi-diplomatic relations with Lebanon despite President Amin Gemayel’s trip to Damascus to see President Hafez Assad of Syria. One Likud MK called it a trip to “Canossa.” (Canossa was the village in northern Italy where Emperor Henry IV made humble submission to Pope Gregory VII in 1077.)

While Gemayel’s abrogation of the May 17, 1983 Israel-Lebanon withdrawal and security agreement is considered a foregone conclusion, officials quoted by Israel Radio today expressed hope that the Israeli mission maintained near Beirut would not be ousted and that Gemayel will not surrender totally to Syria’s demands.

The officials reiterated Israel’s belief that cancellation of the May 17 accord would be a grave blow to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence. Some observers felt that Israel would benefit insofar as it would now be free to decide on a further pullback or redeployment of the Israel Defense Force in south Lebanon.

The government has hesitated up to now because of a lingering hope that Gemayel may yet resist Syrian pressure. In such circumstances, a redeployment of the IDF would weaken the Lebanese President’s resolve. But many observers now believe that Gemayel’s last reserves of resistance to Syria were shattered by the withdrawal of the U.S. marines from Beirut.

The U.S. position is that Gemayel brought the disaster on himself by refusing to yield a fair share of political power to Lebanon’s majority non-Christian population, relying instead on American fire-power to enable him to “stand tough” against his internal rivals.

GEMAYEL COMMITTING POLITICAL SUICIDE

According to Likud MK Ehud Olmert, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, Gemayel has signed his “political death warrant” by going to Damascus to meet Assad. He doomed his own regime and is “a puppet of the Syrians now,” Olmert said. He predicted that the Syrians “will discard him soon enough” because “they can find better puppets.”

Olmert, one of the most influential members of Likud’s younger element has conceded that Israel did “not achieve all of its objectives” in the Lebanon war and supports another partial pullback of the IDF in south Lebanon.

His brother, Yossi Olmert, an academician who heads the Lebanon and Syria department at Tel Aviv University’s Shiloah Institute on foreign policy, operates under no political or partisan restraints. Long a critic of the Likud government’s policies in Lebanon, he declared recent developments “a great victory for Syria.”

Syria has won a major success in Lebanon, he said it has managed to roll back a diplomatic process involving Israel and another Arab country and this was the first time since the mid-70′s that Syria’s persistent efforts to thwart peace diplomacy in the region has been crowned with unequivocal success, Olmert said.

He also suggested that Gemayel’s “death warrant” may prove more than political. His surrender under Syrian pressure could cost him his life, given the high quotient of violence in Lebanese politics, Olmert said.

He predicted, however, that Syria will have its hands full in Lebanon where internal strife makes life extremely difficult for outsiders. The Syrians can hardly hope to control that country without outright military occupation, he said.

NEXT STORY