TEL AVIV (Dec. 11)
The Israel Defense Force has begun an investigation into Friday’s commando raid on a Palestinian terrorist base near Beirut, in which one IDF officer was killed and three soldiers wounded.
The target was the subterranean headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, near Naameh, less than 20 miles south of Beirut.
The raid was the deepest Israeli penetration into Lebanon since the IDF invaded that country in June 1982.
It was promptly condemned by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, who remarked that Israel should have learned from its earlier experience that such actions do not work.
The results were hailed here, however, as highly successful, with upwards of 20 terrorists claimed to have been killed and dozens wounded. Billets and underground munitions stores were destroyed.
But in certain aspects the operation went sour.
Israel Radio reported Sunday that far more aircraft and helicopters than planned had to be used in the operation itself and a subsequent rescue requiring more improvisation than is normally considered prudent.
Shultz was attending a NATO meeting in Brussels when news of the Israeli raid reached him. He said it “surprised” him.
The secretary of state told reporters, “I thought that by this time the Israelis would have learned their lesson about putting troops well inside Lebanon . . . It didn’t work before.”
WHITE HOUSE CRITICAL
In Washington, the White House also criticized the raid. “We deplore violence,” spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.
“The concern of the White House is the same as it is for all these kinds of incursions in the Middle East: that we deplore violence on all sides,” he said. “We encourage countries not to engage in these types of activity.”
The special investigatory committee named by the IDF high command will look into why four soldiers were left behind when the main body of the commando force was extricated by helicopter.
A second helicopter rescue operation had to be mounted.
Although it was successful, the IDF is disturbed by the violation of an ironclad rule governing commando operations: that no soldier be left behind in enemy territory.
The IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, promptly assumed personal responsibility for the decision to leave four men behind.
He told a news conference it was his decision alone to order the evacuation to proceed without the men, who were found missing at a roll call.
Contrary to normal practice, they were left to fend for themselves until they could be rescued later.
Another area of the probe may be the casualties suffered, which have been rare, on IDF commando operations inside Lebanon since the Lebanon war.
IDF OFFICER KILLED
Lt. Col. Amir Meital, 29, of Hadera was killed in the initial assault on the terrorist base. He was buried in Hadera Sunday.
Meital was a battalion commander in the crack Golani brigade and a former commander of its elite reconnaissance force.
The three wounded soldiers were reported recovering in hospitals in Israel. Their injuries were described as light to medium.
Meanwhile, the IDF has refused to comment on reports from Lebanon, confirmed by news wire photographs from Beirut, that the commandos used booby-trapped dogs — animals with radio-controlled explosives strapped to their bodies.
Such methods were initiated by the United States in Vietnam and have since been adopted by British and West German forces, and now apparently by Israel.
The PFLP-General Command is an extremist terrorist group headed by Ahmed Jabril and believed to be supported by Syria. Jabril, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive, is believed to have been at the Naameh base at the time of the Israeli attack.
Press commentators reviewing the operation over the weekend made the point that the action occurred near Syrian forces in Lebanon, but the Syrians made no attempt to intervene.
(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)