PARIS (Feb. 28)
The French government is furious over a remark by Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin characterizing the French soldiers serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as “the biggest bastards of them all.” But the episode is not likely to create a rift between the countries.
In Jerusalem today, Rabin acknowledged that he had made the remark at a closed session of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee Tuesday and said he would not retract it. He suggested that the Foreign Ministry so inform the French and not offer an apology.
Rabin’s “unparliamentary” comment was leaked to Israel television Tuesday night and picked up by the French media yesterday. At a Cabinet session here yesterday it was denounced by Foreign Minister Roland Dumas as “coarse, unfounded and unjustified.” Cabinet spokesperson Georgina Dufoix told reporters that Dumas also denounced what he termed “aggressive actions committed by the Israeli army against French soldiers serving with the peacekeeping force in south Lebanon.”
Rabin, for his part, accused the French UNIFIL contingent of constantly interfering with security measures taken by the Israel Defense Force in south Lebanon and suggested that the Israeli Foreign Ministry stress that point to the French authorities.
The Israeli Ambassador, Ovadia Soffer, was summoned to the Quai D’Orsay yesterday for an explana ation of Rabin’s remark. After a 50-minute meeting with the Foreign Ministery’s Secretary General, Francis Gutmann, he told reporters that both sides consider the incident closed. French sources said Gutmann did not ask for a formal Israeli apology and Israel offered none.
Soffer acknowledged that there have been “regrettable incidents” between the IDF and French troops who control the area of south Lebanon where the IDF has taken strong action against Shiite Moslem terrorists. He said Israel intends to continue to take all necessary measures to protect its troops against “the terrorists who have already murdered French, American and Israeli soldiers.”
He added, “These extremist Shiites are manipulated by our common enemy, an enemy bitterly opposed to the Free World as a whole,” He did not specify.
A source close to Rabin was quoted in Jerusalem today as saying that in some cases French UNIFIL soldiers seriously damaged IDF measures and even warned the enemy in advance of IDF moves intended to surprise them.
CLASHES BETWEEN FRENCH AND ISRAELI TROOPS
French sources acknowledged that there have been clashes between French and Israeli soldiers in recent weeks, which have become more frequent since the IDF began taking harsh measures against Shiite villages believed to harbor terrorists.
According to the sources, an Israeli soldier fired at French units on one occasion and on another, a French paratrooper was hoisted into the air by an Israeli bulldozer when he tried to prevent the Israelis from razing the home of a suspected terrorist.
Soffer said that at his meeting with Gutmann, it was agreed that both sides would try to avoid such incidents in the future. But no special liaison mechanism was set up to enforce that agreement. The Israeli envoy stressed that the incident is closed and the Franco-Israeli ties will continue to be friendly.