JERUSALEM (May. 16)
Israel is keeping a close watch on the deployment of Syrian troops in the southern suburbs of Beirut. But it is far from upset by the prospect that the Syrians may clash with and possibly crush Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian movement of Shiite fundamentalists.
“Anything that is bad for that extremist organization we view with favor.” Premier Yitzhak Shamir said Monday.
He and other officials acknowledged that the recent flare-up of fighting between Hezbollah and the mainstream Shiite Amal militia could spread to southern Lebanon near the Israeli border. But they view possible Syrian intervention in Beirut with equanimity.
The Cabinet was briefed on the situation Sunday by the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron. No details were released, but the fact that the news media were informed of the subject of Shomron’s report indicated the importance Israel attaches to developments in the Lebanese capital.
Reports from Damascus Monday night said that Iranian and Syrian officials were still negotiating terms for a possible peaceful entry of Syrian forces into the southern Beirut suburbs, where Hezbollah guerrillas have bloodied Amal in recent weeks.
Israeli sources noted that Syrian troop movements have posed no threat to Israel. In fact, Syrian troops have been shifted from the Bekaa valley, in eastern Lebanon, northwestward toward Beirut.
This greatly diminishes chances of an IDF clash with the Syrians, which seemed highly likely during Israel’s brief incursion into southern Lebanon two weeks ago.
The only resistance encountered by the IDF came from Hezbollah. Its base, the fortified town of Maidoun, was captured and destroyed by the Israelis, who suffered three dead and 17 wounded. At least 50 Hezbollah guerrillas were killed.
Hezbollah, whose name means “Party of God.” has aided Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists and has been the most dangerous force operating in southern Lebanon, according to the Israelis.
Some observers are cautioning that the Syrians and their Amal clients may strike a deal with Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, which would give Hezbollah freedom of movement in southern Lebanon.