TEL AVIV (Sep. 23)
Military sources said Tuesday that south Lebanon remained tense but relatively quiet. The sources said there was no large-scale movement by the Israel Defense Force in the border security zone. Reports in the overseas media earlier said Israel was massing troops and equipment there.
The sources said that whatever movement there was, was of a tactical nature and involved small quantities of equipment. Nevertheless, Israel is bolstering the South Lebanon Army (SLA) which operates in the security zone. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin vowed Monday night that Israel would protect the SLA and thwart any attacks on it in the security zone.
“We will increase our backing of the SLA whenever terrorist activities increase and we will reduce our activities when the activities of the terrorist groups are reduced,” Rabin told a convention of disabled war veterans in Kibbutz Geva. “I believe that the essence of our policy at present is to create conditions that will give support to the SLA,” he said.
“If its (SLA) positions are attacked again, we shall do the utmost to bring about the total and painful failure of those who attack them or to anyone who tries to carry out any attack on the security zone or targets in Israel,” the Defense Minister added.
The SLA is a largely Christian Lebanese force commanded by Gen. Antoine Lehad which Israel has supported since the withdrawal of IDF troops from south Lebanon a year ago. It has been the target of attack at different times by the Shiite Moslem mainstream militia, Amal, by Shiite extremist groups and Palestinian terrorists.
STRONG SLA FORCE FAVORED
Rabin said on a television interview Sunday night that Israel would like to see a strong, viable SLA capable of fulfilling its assigned role in the security zone as part of Israel’s comprehensive security strategy. He said it must be made clear that any attacks on the SLA would result in severe punishment for the attackers.
Meanwhile, it is the French contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) which has borne the brunt of attacks in south Lebanon. It has suffered four killed and 33 wounded over the past six weeks. On Tuesday morning, four Katyusha rockets hit French headquarters at Ma’areke, 10 kilometers east of Tyre. There were no casualties.
Asked on Sunday to comment on charges that Israel’s refusal to allow UNIFIL to extend its area of operations southward to the international border was responsible for the attacks on the French, Rabin replied that there is neither proof nor any basis for that claim.