JERUSALEM (Mar. 13)
The Knesset began a debate today on the deteriorating situation in south Lebanon where the Israel Defense Force sustained heavy casualties this week.
Urgent agenda motions introduced by leftwing opposition factions, call for the speedy withdrawal of the IDF from south Lebanon in a single operation rather than the three-stage phased pull-out presently underway.
But Premier Shimon Peres, appearing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee yesterday, ruled out a preemptory withdrawal of the IDF in the wake of mounting attacks by Shiite Moslem extremists. Political and military sources have also made it clear that there will be no disorderly retirement by the IDF and no decisions to hasten the withdrawal because of Sunday’s suicide truck-bomb attack on a convoy in south Lebanon that killed 12 Israeli soldiers and wounded 14. Two more soldiers were killed yesterday and two were wounded in an ambush east of Tyre. Four Israeli soldiers were wounded today by a roadside bomb that exploded as an IDF patrol passed by near Aramta village. A local resident was also hurt. A fifth Israeli soldier was injured as a result of an attempted car-bomb attack on a convoy south of Jezzine.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin who deliverd the government’s opening statement before a packed Knesset today, defended the IDF’s new “iron fist” policy in south Lebanon against critics who said the recent attacks proved it was counter-productive. The policy calls for raids on Shiite villages suspected of harboring extremists and weapons.
Rabin noted that long before the get-tough measures were initiated, Nebi Berri, leader of the Shiite militia, Amal, and a member of President Amin Gemayel’s government in Beirut, threatened stepped-up attacks on the IDF. Rabin also spoke out against a demand by Eliezer Granot of Mapam for a commission of inquiry into the Lebanon war.
The Defense Minister said any postmortem analysis of the war would be futile. The immediate problem, he said, is security. He said the basic guidelines of the Labor-Likud national unity government are to protect Israel’s northern border and bring the IDF home. He said it was in that spirit that the government tried but failed to reach an agreement with Lebanon on security measures. It also failed to reach such arrangements with Syria and with the indigenous Shiites in south Lebanon.
SECOND STAGE TO FOLLOW PLAN
Rabin stressed that the second stage of the withdrawal process would be completed according to plan and would not be hastened because of Shiite terrorism. Nevertheless, while visiting troops in Lebanon yesterday, he said the Cabinet might consider some acceleration of the timetable. Well placed military and political sources made it clear that there would be no disorderly retirement of the IDF and no decisions to speed-up the withdrawal because of the suicide attacks on Israeli soldiers.
Government and independent experts have warned that if the Shiites are allowed to believe that their harassment tactics are directly responsible for driving the IDF out of Lebanon, they would be more likely to pursue their war against Israel across the border.
Advocates of a speedier pull-out, among them Communications Minister Amnon Rubinstein and Minister-Without-Portfolio Ezer Weizman — a former Defense Minister — have urged that stages two and three of the withdrawal plan be combined. This would bring the IDF to the international border without pause at an intermediate line as originally planned.
Voice of Israel Radio’s English-language broadcast said yesterday that Rabin spoke of speeding up the third stage. It said that senior military sources have indicated that the army is ready to speed the withdrawal if the government gives the order.
RIGHTWING OPPOSING WITHDRAWAL
But there is also growing opposition to the withdrawal plan from the rightwing. Herut and other hardliners are demanding that it be scrapped and insist that the IDF remain in Lebanon for the time being. Others want a permanent security zone of considerable depth in south Lebanon to protect Israel’s northern border towns. Government officials say the withdrawal will continue according to plan, as approved by the Cabinet, neither faster nor slower.
The IDF stressed meanwhile that its raid Monday on the Shiite town of AI-Azhariya in which 34 terrorists were killed, was not in retaliation for Sunday’s truck-bomb attack on the IDF convoy. According to military sources, the search of the town of 12,000 was planned more than a week earlier on the basis of intelligence reports that its residents were involved in recent attacks on the IDF east of Tyre.
The search uncovered “very large” stores of weapons and sabotage equipment, the military sources said. They said most of the terrorists were killed when they tried to escape in trucks loaded with explosives which blew up when fired on. The sources also reported that soldiers of the Lebanese regular army joined villagers in resisting the IDF search. One Lebanese soldier was reportedly killed and 20 were detained but later released, according to the sources.
TERRORIST HEADQUARTERS BOMBED
As the Knesset debate opened today, Israel Air Force jets bombed a headquarters of the Syrian-backed Al Saiqa faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization near Mar Alias on the Beirut-Damascus highway.
Near Jezzine today, the northernmost point of south Lebanon still under Israeli control, an explosives-laden Mercedes car attempted to ram a two jeeps IDF convoy. The soldiers, especially alert since Sunday’s carnage, leaped from the lead jeep which careened into a ravine, injuring one soldier. The Mercedes exploded without causing further Israeli casualties.
Two booby-trapped cars exploded today in the Rashadiya refugee camp south of Tyre, injuring several local residents and a soldier of the Fijian contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Israeli sources said the car bombs, intended to attack the IDF, blew up accidentally.
There were no Israeli casualties in three attacks last night and this morning. Katyusha rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms were fired at IDF positions and patrols near Rashaya in the eastern sector, near Nabatiya and at a South Lebanon Army (SLA) unit in Tyre.
2 CASUALTIES IDENTIFIED
Meanwhile, the two IDF soldiers killed in yesterday’s ambush near the Kasmiye bridge east of Tyre were identified today as students at the special Hesder yeshivas which combine religious instruction with military training and service in the IDF.
An army spokesman identified them as Daniel Moshytz of Jerusalem and David Cohen of Haifa, both aged 20. Moshytz, who was born in London, the second of five children of Hannah and Michael Moshytz, had been in Lebanon for two months when he was killed. Cohen, who spent his childhood in South Africa and the U.S., was the son of Aviezer and Rachel Cohen who had been emissaries of the Young Israel, an Orthodox movement.