Israel Bent on Excluding Syria from Talks on Troops in Lebanon

Israel is determined to exclude Syria from any discussion of Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens made clear that negotiations on the issue would be between Israel and Lebanon alone.

He ruled out linking the future of southern Lebanon and the future of the Golan Heights in the peace talks with Syria that now seem increasingly likely.

“Israel will not agree to any settlement in Lebanon that would endanger the security of Galilee,” Arens said Tuesday after a meeting with Gen. Antoine Lehad, commander of the South Lebanon Army, which Israel trains, equips and finances.

But Arens’ views notwithstanding, Syria will be a partner to talks with Lebanon, if only because it controls the government of President Elias Hrawi in Beirut under the Brotherhood Agreement the two countries signed in May.

An estimated 40,000 Syrian troops ensconced in Lebanon enabled the Lebanese regular army to take control of much of southern Lebanon and disarm the Palestine Liberation Organization and other guerrilla factions.

The deployment of Beirut’s army in the south, with massive Syrian support, challenges Israel’s claim that its presence is necessary to maintain law and order in the region.

DISMANTLING OF SECURITY ZONE UNLIKELY

But dismantling the southern Lebanon security zone and disbanding the SLA seem unlikely in the foreseeable future.

“As long as there are terrorist organizations and terrorist activities in Lebanon, we shall keep the security zone,” Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared.

Israel’s security needs seem credible in light of recent clashes with the extremist Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militia.

Three Israel Defense Force soldiers were killed and four were wounded when an IDF patrol walked into a Hezbollah ambush in southern Lebanon on July 17.

Following that incident, the IDF moved north of the security zone to take control of the Maronite Christian enclave centered on the town of Jezzine, which has been protected by the SLA.

Israel has signaled the local population that its safety lies with the Israeli-backed SLA, rather than with the newly deployed Lebanese army regulars.

But Israeli policy-makers are concerned that sooner or later, international pressure will be applied for Israel to return the Lebanese territory it controls to the legitimate government of Lebanon.

That would be subject to assurances that terrorist attacks on Israel from Lebanese soil will not be resumed.

Ironically, the only force other than the IDF capable of restraining the terrorists is the Syrian army. But Israel surely does not want Syrian soldiers along its border with Lebanon.

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