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Rabin Warns Israel May Clash with Shiites Because Extremists Gaining

June 26, 1985
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin warned last night that Israel may be heading for a showdown with the Shiite Moslems in Lebanon because extremists in that community appear to be taking control.

Addressing a symposium at Tel Aviv University on the after math of the war in Lebanon, Rabin expressed concern that units of the Shiite militia, Amal, loyal to their leader, Nabih Berri, may not be able to withstand the extremists in their ranks.

The latter, believed responsible for hijacking TWA Flight 847 on June 14, are holding 40 of its American passengers hostage in Beirut. Berri, who is Justice Minister in the Lebanese government — a government most observers agree exists only on paper — has undertaken the role of go-between in the hostage crisis.

Although the hijackers have demanded that Israel release more than 700 Shiite prisoners in the Atlit detention camp in exchange for the hostages, many observers here and abroad believe this is not the central issue.


The hijack crisis “is in effect a test for Amal and its leadership in their rivalry with the extremist elements,” Rabin said. He observed that it came at the “least opportune time” as far as Israel’s relations with the U.S. and Amal are concerned.

The hijackers’ demands have been addressed to Washington with the intent to force the Reagan Administration to pressure Israel to free the Atlit detainees. Both the U.S. and Israel have maintained publicly that they will never make concessions to the hijackers or ask anyone to do so.

Rabin noted that Israel has had little trouble with Amal in south Lebanon since April I. Attacks directed at the Israel Defense Force in the security zone near the international border caused no military or civilian fatalities, he said. But the leadership struggle within the Shiite community could worsen the security situation and could even result in an Amal alliance with the Palestine Liberation Organization which it has fought bitterly in recent weeks, Rabin said.


The Defense Minister appeared to reject the idea expressed by many Israelis that the release of 1,150 convicted Palestinian terrorists last May 20 in exchange for three Israeli soldiers held by terrorists in Damascus was a contributory factor in the TWA hijack.

Rabin noted that Beirut has long been a haven for aerial hijackers. The TWA hijack was in fact the eighth by Shiite extremists since March, 1983, he pointed out.

Rabin also said there were “clear signs” that the Syrians are thinning out their military forces in Lebanon though he could not say to what extent. Syria occu- pies about two-thirds of the country. A year ago, Israel insisted it would not withdraw the IDF from Lebanon unless the Syrians pulled their army out simultaneously.

But Israeli policy changed radically. The unilateral withdrawal of the IDF began last year and the position in Jerusalem was, if the Syrians want to remain mired in the deadly swamps of Lebanon, “let them enjoy it.”

The symposium was conducted at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.

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