Rabin Sees Hezbollah Disarmament As Precursor to Pact with Lebanon

Israel could sign a peace treaty with Lebanon six to nine months after forces of the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah are disarmed, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said this week during a visit to the Gaza Strip.

Rabin voiced belief that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas operating north of the border between the two countries now pose the sole obstacle to a peace accord between the two countries.

But when or whether Hezbollah could be disarmed is another story.

Earlier, Rabin, who is also Israeli defense minister, presented a gloomy picture of the rise of Muslim fundamentalist elements in southern Lebanon and the territories. He made this assessment during a briefing of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“This is a Khomeinist Islamic wave, which aspires to reach power everywhere by means of terrorism,” said Rabin, referring to followers of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

He insisted that had the Lebanese army deployed 3,000 soldiers in southern Lebanon earlier this month, it could have put an end to Hezbollah operations.

But at that time, Syria and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon prevented a large deployment of Lebanese forces, allowing only 500 to 600 Lebanese soldiers into the region.

In the nearly four weeks since Israel suspended its weeklong shelling of southern Lebanon, there have been 22 hostile incidents reported in the region Israel maintains as its security zone, the Knesset panel was told this week.

These statistics were compiled by commanders of Israel Defense Force operations in Lebanon, who said that the 22 incidents included bombs, roadside explosive charges and mortar attacks against positions of the IDF and its allied South Lebanon Army.

On Wednesday there was yet another incident in southern Lebanon, when IDF and SLA troops shelled a village in the region in retaliation for an earlier fundamentalist attack on the SLA.

According to IDF reports, there have been a total of 822 incidents in the security zone during the first eight months of 1993. That figure is double the number of incidents in the preceding eight months.

Knesset member Ran Cohen of the dovish Meretz bloc, a member of Israel’s Labor government, told the committee that 99 IDF soldiers had been killed in southern Lebanon since the end of the Lebanon War in 1982.

Israel lost nine IDF soldiers in the security zone on Aug. 19, when Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas launched two attacks on IDF patrols.

These incidents were the most serious since the U.S.-brokered cease-fire brought Israel’s shelling of southern Lebanon to an end on July 31.

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

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