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Rabin Defends Israeli Army’s Operation in Southern Lebanon

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin characterized the Israel Defense Force’s two-day incursion into southern Lebanon this week as a defensive measure made necessary by the lack of a central government in Lebanon capable of controlling the region.

“As long as there is no government in Lebanon capable of entering into anti-terrorist arrangements…as exist de-facto with Syria and Jordan, and of course with Egypt… there is no alternative but to continue with this policy,” Rabin said.

Rabin described the operation in interviews with Voice of Israel Radio and the Army Radio Thursday. He affirmed that the most serious action was against the pro-Iranian Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas, who, “more than any other grouping in Lebanon, cooperates with (Yasir) Arafat’s wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization” and Syrian-backed PLO dissidents.

The battle to capture Maidoun village Wednesday, the main Hezbollah stronghold, cost the IDF three dead and 17 wounded. Between 40 and 50 guerrillas were killed, according to military sources.

Two of the IDF fatalities were officers. Capt. Zion Mizrachi 23, of Moshav Megadim south of Haifa, and Capt. Boaz Ravid, 26, of Bet Oved, were buried Thursday. Funeral services will be held Friday for Sgt. Marco Bernstein, 21, of Nahariya.

Rabin explained to the radio interviewers that Israel’s policy of protecting its northern settlements required that the area north of the border be kept free of terrorists.

He said the policy was established by the government in January 1985 and implemented five months later, when the IDF pulled out of southern Lebanon and set up the border security zone patrolled jointly with the Israel-backed South Lebanon Army.

SECURITY ZONE ‘NOT SUFFICIENT’

“The maintenance of the security zone is not sufficient, without preventive actions against terrorist targets, whether deep in Lebanon, or in the zone and its immediate environs,” Rabin said.

He said that without such initiatives, “we will be unable to ensure that the elements aiding anti-Israel terrorism and the various terrorist elements themselves, are kept out of the security zone.”

Rabin rejected suggestions that the IDF operation would only escalate violent confrontations with Hezbollah, Islamic zealots whose name means “Party of God” and who are strongly influenced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.

While he acknowledged that Hezbollah itself has not in the past tried to infiltrate into Israel, there have been instances of Hezbollah rocket attacks across the Israeli border.

The Israeli dead and wounded, all paratroopers, were hit by shell fire from a Shiite artillery unit of the Lebanese army. Most of the wounded were struck by shrapnel. One of the wounded who was seriously hurt was reported out of danger in the intensive care unit at Rambam Hospital in Haifa Thursday.

Two other soldiers were treated for moderate wounds. The rest were only slightly hurt.

The casualties occurred during the second phase of the operation, when the IDF paratroopers, supported by artillery and a small tank force, stormed Maidoun and engaged in house-to-house fighting. Attack helicopters destroyed three Lebanese army artillery pieces north of Maidoun and another was destroyed by IDF artillery.

The IDF had overwhelming fire-power but it was confronted by a tenacious foe who had turned Maidoun into a veritable fortress after ousting the civilian population two years ago.

The guerrillas, equipped with anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, were holed up in a labyrinth of trenches and bunkers.

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