JERUSALEM (Jan. 14)
The Cabinet met in extraordinary session today to continue the debate, begun yesterday, on a plan for the unilateral phased withdrawal of the Israel Defense Force from south Lebanon.
The ministers convened this afternoon and were still in session by evening. A substantial majority is expected to approve the plan which is strongly supported by Premier Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. A hard core of Likud ministers, including Deputy Premier Yitzhak Shamir, the leader of Likud, are known to be opposed.
But the strongest advocate of the plan at today’s session turned out to be Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy, a Likud-Herut and a powerful voice in his party. His support was seen as likely to encourage several Likud waverers to join the Labor Party ministers in backing the withdrawal.
TWO MORE ISRAELI SOLDIERS KILLED
As the Cabinet met, Israel Radio announced that two more Israeli soldiers were killed and a number wounded in south Lebanon in separate incidents today.
The Cabinet received a detailed briefing on the withdrawal plan from Rabin and senior IDF officers at its regular weekly session yesterday, which lasted six hours. It reportedly calls for a pull-back in three stages, with pauses in between to allow the defense establishment and the government to study the situation before continuing.
The ministers are considering the unilateral option because of the apparent failure by Israel and Lebanon, after months of negotiations, to reach a military security and withdrawal agreement. Nevertheless, the talks at Nakura are continuing, although they were skipped last week. The negotiating teams are scheduled to meet again on Thursday but the consensus in Israel is that there is little chance the impasse will be broken.
SEEKING A COMPROMISE FORMULA
At today’s special session, which may run well into the night, supporters and opponents of the plan appeared to be seeking a compromise formula. According to Israel Radio, the controversy surrounds specific mention of returning the IDF to positions behind the international border.
Justice Minister Moshe Nissim of Likud, who opposes the plan, was said to have proposed a resolution to approve its first phase without specifying the subsequent stages. The first stage would remove the IDF from the south Lebanese coastal town of Sidon and its environs, a hotbed of hostility toward Israel.
Levy, who has taken independent positions on Lebanon in the past, angrily spumed the notion that support for the proposed pullback implied lack of concern for the security of Israel’s northern towns and settlements. “What is the alternative? How long shall we stick there (in Lebanon)? Months? Years?” Levy reportedly asked his colleagues in a forceful plea for support of the withdrawal plan.
He warned that simply redeploying the IDF along a new semi-permanent line in south Lebanon — as some ministers suggested — would endanger the army and mean more casualties at the hands of the hostile Shiite Moslem population.
PERES DISCLOSES SOME DETAILS
Several hours before the Cabinet met today, Peres, addressing a luncheon meeting of the Foreign Press Association in Tel Aviv, disclosed some details of the withdrawal plan. He said each phase would be short enough not to require the IDF to dig in on new lines but long enough to allow Lebanon and Syria sufficient time to make “orderly arrangements.”
He stressed that the withdrawal plan would ensure security for Israel and avert a “blood bath” in south Lebanon after the IDF departs. He declined to say how long complete withdrawal would take. According to reports yesterday, the three stages would be spread over a 6-9 month period.