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Knesset Rejects Motion Critical of Government’s Pledge to Lebanese Christians

June 4, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

An opposition motion critical of the government’s secret commitment to help Christian forces in Lebanon if they were attacked by Syria from the air was stricken from the Knesset agenda by a vote of 52-36 today. The motion was presented by former Premier Yitzhak Rabin, speaking for the Labor Alignment, who said Premier Menachem Begin’s pledge to the Christians in 1978, without consulting either the Cabinet or the Knesset was of “unprecedented gravity.”

The commitment came to light only after Israel Air Force jets shot down two Syrian helicopters on April 30 during a Syrian assault on the Christian-held town of Zahle in central Lebanon. According to Rabin, it was tantamount to giving a third party (the Christians) the right to decide when and how the Israel Air Force would act in Lebanon. Moreover, Rabin asserted, Begin violated the most fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy by not seeking the approval of the Knesset or, at least, of its Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.

Begin retorted that the decision was made after weighty consultations between himself and Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman who were at the time the Foreign Minister and Defense Minister respectively. He said the pledge had been that the Israeli government would “consider seriously and supportively” whether to send its air force into action if the Lebanese Christians were attacked by the Syrian Air Force and would “very probably agree to do so.”

He denied Labor charges that the Israeli pledge encouraged the Christians to provoke the Syrians. “For three years following that pledge nothing happened,” Begin said.

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