TEL AVIV (Dec. 12)
The Israeli commando force that attacked a Palestinian terrorist base deep inside Lebanon last Friday was thrown into some confusion when its commanding officer, Lt. Col. Amir Meital, was killed in the early stages of the assault.
That appears to have been one reason for a top-level decision to withdraw the force with great haste, leaving behind four soldiers who were belatedly rescued.
Another reason was the possibility of a clash with Syrian troops deployed nearby.
Those factors emerged Monday as the Israel Defense Force high command continued to investigate the operation.
In addition to Meital’s death, three soldiers were wounded in the raid, which was otherwise described as a great success.
The target was a subterranean base of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a terrorist group headed by Ahmed Jabril. The base was located near Naameh village, less than 20 miles from Beirut, the Lebanese capital.
The general staff seems most disturbed by the fact that the evacuation by helicopter violated a cardinal rule of the IDF: never leave a soldier behind in enemy territory.
The IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, assumed full personal responsibility for ordering the evacuation to proceed even though a head count indicated four men missing. He stressed the need to save lives.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin expressed full confidence in Shomron on Monday and claimed the ultimate responsibility was in fact his.
Maj. Gen. Doron Rubin, head of the IDF’s training branch, who had overall command of the operation, said the proximity of Syrian troops to the main body of the Israeli commando force was an important factor in Shomron’s decision.
Shomron disclosed that the raid on Jabril’s base was mounted only after the planners deemed it fairly certain that nearby Syrian troops would not intervene.