Israel hopes that military ''salami tactics'' short of full-scale invasion will convince the Palestine Liberation Organization to get out of Beirut.
The massive air, land, and sea strikes Aug. 1 against PLO positions in west Beirut are part of a softening-up process demonstrating what lies ahead if the PLO stays put.
Senior Israeli officials say they have not abandoned hope that United States special envoy Philip C. Habib can arrange a negotiated PLO exodus from the Lebanese capital. Israeli Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor played down Sunday's attacks as ''local'' and said the Cabinet had taken no decision to launch an attack on west Beirut. He attributed the attacks to PLO ceasefire violations.
But officials here do not hide their impatience at what they regard as PLO foot-dragging over leaving west Beirut. They say the PLO has been using the US and Mr. Habib's ''umbrella'' to ease the Israeli siege of west Beirut. They also say that, so far, Mr. Habib has provided them with no concrete evidence of the PLO's serious intention to withdraw from Lebanon.
The latest military action, a senior official states, ''should help the political process because the PLO probably will realize that we mean business.''
To counter this, Israel has been escalating military pressure on the PLO over the last week and a half. On July 21, the Israeli Cabinet decided on a policy of ''static fire'' around Beirut. This meant attacks ostensibly aimed at specific PLO targets in west Beirut, but they have reportedly caused many civilian casualties.
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon has distinguished between Beirut and the Palestinian refugee camps south of the city, which normally are included in its boundaries. The Aug. 1 attacks pounded these PLO strongholds from newly taken positions at Beirut's international airport. This raised speculation the next move may be to capture the camps altogether, thus drawing the ring ever tighter around the more heavily built-up areas of west Beirut.