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Israel set for prolonged conflict

Israel's invasion forces in Lebanon appear set on a protracted conflict, rather than on a brief punitive raid.

By June 7 Israeli ground forces were hammering away mercilessly at the Palestine Liberation Organization on the battlefield in southern Lebanon while Israeli planes struck as far north as PLO headquarters in Beirut.

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At the same time, with peace efforts of no initial avail, the Syrian Army and the Maronite Christian Phalangists were coming under increasing pressure to join the war.

Syria maintains 30,000 soldiers originally sent into Lebanon to end the 1975- 76 civil war. Their entry on the side of the beleaguered PLO would greatly enlarge the scope of the war, possibly extending it to Syria itself.

The 10,000 or so well-armed Christian Phalangists would come in on the other side, that of the Israelis.

At time of writing, both parties were remaining relatively aloof. But the Syrians had begun firing on Israeli troops in the far southern Bekaa Valley region.

Israel's blitz escalated June 7 with fighting for the Labanese coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon following overnight Israeli landings from the sea. By late afternoon the Israelis were just on the southern edge of the Palestinian stronghold of Damour.

Meanwhile, Israeli planes were regularly raiding the PLO headquarters area of Beirut. A pall of black smoke hung over the Lebanese capital. Near the PLO's Fakharni Street headquarters, the streets were deserted and Palestinian workers huddled in bomb shelters or around antiaircraft guns.

For Israel, the problem now seems to be how Mr. Begin can limit the invasion. For at any point that the Israeli Army tries to establish a front line it will face continuing Palestinian attack from the north. Thus if Israel takes Sidon, then the bigger Palestinian stronghold of Damour will become the threat. And if Damour, then Beirut.

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Thus what Israeli troops were doing on the ground seemed to belie Mr. Begin's pledge to simply bring ''Peace in Galilee'' by silencing Palestinian artillery up to Sidon. Instead, the attack seemed to be the much vaunted ''knock-out punch at the PLO'' that Israeli hawks such as Defense Minister Ariel Sharon had been advocating.

If Israel indeed continues to thrust northward, possibly as far as Beirut, it could be committing itself to prolonged occupation of much of Lebanon -- or to proxy control over a large area. United Nations sources noted that Israel had poured more than 45,000 troops into the country and seemed prepared for a long stay.

A dangerous development was pressure from Israel for Israel's south Lebanese ally, Maj. Saad Haddad, and the Phalange to join the fight against the PLO. So far the largely Christian Phalange, under the command of Bashir Gemayel has been holding back.

Of more immediate concern was the destruction being wreaked in Lebanon and the thousands of casualties.

On June 7, Syria still had not clearly made the decision as to whether to enter the war. As this correspondent was touring the southern Bekaa Valley, Syrian long-range artillery for the first time went into action against Israeli forces advancing from the Mount Hermon area.

The shelling was light, but it was definitely being fired southward. But it might have been only a warning to the Israeli Army not to press too far into the Bekaa, which is Syria's stronghold in Lebanon. Several hours later, correspondents reported Israeli artillery was returning the fire.

Syrian soliders at the Army's headquarters in Shtora said senior officers had been meeting throughout the morning. There were no Syrian convoys coming across the Anti-Lebanon mountain range, but Syrian forces in the highly militarized area seemed to be on high alert.

Busloads of refugees were heading toward Beirut. At the southern end of the Bekaa Valley, in the Arkoub region, Lebanese villages were inordinately quiet and residents were nervous.

Outside of war-torn Lebanon, there seemed to be only three developments that conceivably could influence Israel to ease off:

1. A dramatic increase in American pressure on the country.

2. Internal opposition in Israel.

3. Achievement of Israel's military objectives.

But Mr. Begin June 7, although he met with special US envoy Philip C. Habib, seemed reluctant to accept the United States efforts to produce a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

And while Mr. Begin's leading domestic opponent, Shimon Peres, called for a speedy end to the conflict, there was every indication that Mr. Begin still had several weeks before domestic opposition became significant. By then Mr. Begin might choose to ignore it.

Finally, while Mr. Begin could achieve his stated military aim -- to finally silence Palestinian guns that threaten northern Israel -- this aim could be complicated by the fact Israeli positions will be open to harassment by the PLO as long as it retains an armed presence in Lebanon.

If, however, Syria continues to get drawn toward the vortex of war in central Lebanon, then Israel's military will have a much tougher task and an outright military solution will be harder to achieve. And if the Phalange enters the fighting, Syria is that much more likely to join in.

All of these dramatic developments seemed to be spinning out of the attempted assassination June 3 of Israeli ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov.

But the Israeli invasion was not a mere reaction to this event. It was a carefully planned, long-debated operation. And certainly the animosity between Israel and the PLO goes far beyond a single incident.

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