Menu JTA Search

Israel Not Yet Ready to Give Up Security Zone in Southern Lebanon

Israel says it has no intention of giving up the security zone it established in southern Lebanon in 1985, despite the Lebanese regular army’s apparent success in disarming guerrilla groups threatening the security of Israel’s northern border.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir stated flatly Sunday that Israel would remain in southern Lebanon as long as the region continues to serve as “a base for anti-Israel terrorists.”

Foreign Minister David Levy said it is too early for Israel to make any changes in its security arrangements in southern Lebanon.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens dismissed press reports that Israel would consider withdrawal from all of southern Lebanon if Syria, which influences the Beirut government, put an end to attacks on Israel from Lebanese soil.

Lebanese government troops have now taken over the last positions held by the Palestine Liberation Organization in Sidon, a port in southern Lebanon that has not been under Beirut’s control since civil war erupted 16 years ago.

After heavy fighting last week, the Lebanese army established positions controlling access to and from the two big Palestinian refugee camps that were the PLO strongholds in the region.

The Palestinians removed their weapons from the area and, according to reports quoting PLO chief Yasir Arafat in Tunis, are cooperating fully with the Lebanese government.

As far as Beirut is concerned, the altered conditions in the south make it unnecessary for Israel to maintain the 6-mile-wide, 50-mile long buffer zone on Lebanese soil, which it has claimed is essential to the security of its settlements in Upper Galilee.

The security zone is patrolled by the South Lebanon Army, a largely Lebanese Christian militia trained, equipped and financed by the Israel Defense Force. The IDF exercises freedom of movement within the zone and north of it.

SYRIAN WITHDRAWAL A CONDITION

Danny Naveh, Arens’ personal spokesman, said Israel has paid in blood for the security of its northern region and would make no move that could jeopardize its citizens’ safety.

But Foreign Minister Levy implied that Israel might withdraw if certain conditions are met. According to Levy, those conditions would include direct peace talks with Lebanon and the withdrawal of all foreign forces from that country.

Apart from Israel, the only foreign force established on Lebanese territory is Syria, which protects the government of Lebanese President Elias Hrawi.

“As long sas there are foreign forces and a foreign presence in Lebanon, Israel must do everything to defend its citizens and communities,” Levy told reporters after the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday.

Levy met Sunday with Edouard Brunner, a Swiss diplomat who was appointed in March as United Nations special envoy to the Middle East.

Brunner assured the Israeli foreign minister that he only came to talk about the status of the Middle East peace process sponsored by the United States, not to interfere in it.

“I didn’t come here to give any advice to anybody,” Brunner insisted. “You know your interests better, you know your region better, you know your country better, you don’t need to take advice from abroad,” he said.

One problem holding up the peace process is Israel’s refusal of even a passive U.N. role in a peace conference. It has rejected an American proposal for a U.N. observer.

Beirut, for its part, is convinced that only U.S. pressure can dislodge Israel from southern Lebanon. It believes pressure will depend on the state of U.S-Israeli relations, which will reflect the extent of progress in the peace process.

Shamir, addressing a B’nai B’rith convention in Jerusalem on Sunday, warned that “anyone who tries to turn the peace effort into a siege of Israel, to squeeze surrender out of her and do away with her security assets, will fail.”

NOT’JUST ANOTHER ATTACK’

Israel was badly shaken on July 3, when Palestinian fighters staged a successful hit -and-run attack on a well-defended IDF outpost on the slopes of Mount Hermon, at the eastern end of the security zone.

An IDF reservist on guard was killed in the ambush. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Syrian-backed faction of the PLO, claimed credit.

The guerrillas apparently had to pass through Syrian lines to reach the Israeli position and to escape. The region, where the Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese borders converge, has been quiet in recent years.

The incident was the subject of lengthy commentary in virtually every major Israeli newspaper over the weekend. The big question was whether the attack was mounted with the knowledge or complicity of the Syrians.

Yediot Achronot observed that it was not “just another attack.”It was what the Palestinians call “quality attacks,” meaning attacks on IDF soldiers instead of civilian targets.

Until now, the organization involved had aimed only against civilians, and the newspaper wondered if a new trend is in the making.

Ma’ariv noted the attack was the first since 1974 against an IDF post in that area. It was carried out against a clearly military target, took advantage of the terrain and had to pass through Syrian territory.

Al Hamishmar said the attack was a significant operational success for the terrorists. “From the standpoint of the IDF, it cannot — despite objective limitations and difficult field conditions — allow itself to accept this sort of result on any level,” the newspaper said.

Hatzofeh said that as long as the identity of the terrorists and their departure point are uncertain, the attack should not be connected to the situation in southern Lebanon.

“But if it is proven that the terrorists came from Lebanon and that they want to open a new route, this a dangerous development,” it said.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY