In response to a terrorist attack Monday in the center of Jerusalem, the Israeli government has pledged to follow a more aggressive and preemptive policy to fight the rise in terrorism.
The gun and grenade attack, which Israeli officials say was carried out by three Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists, wounded 52 Israelis. The attack has led Israel to step up efforts to control PLO activities in Lebanon.
In recent weeks, Israel has witnessed a rise in terrorism, sabotage, and guerrilla attacks. Last Saturday, Katyusha rockets were fired on Kibbutz Misgav Am on the Lebanese border. For the first time in several months the Israeli military retaliated Sunday by shelling what the Israeli government said were PLO bases in Syrian-controlled eastern Lebanon.
Since then, suspicions have been aroused among Israeli government officials that terrorists are being permitted to cross the Syrian-controlled Lebanese border. On Monday, Israeli military sources announced that the Jerusalem raid was carried out by terrorists infiltrating from Lebanon. In an effort to prevent further infiltration, Israel closed its northern frontier Tuesday with Lebanon. It also closed the bridges over the Awali River, which forms the northern edge of Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir reassured the Israeli public that the security services and other security elements will find ways to prevent actions of this type.
Over the past few months, Israeli officials have reported that PLO fighters have started to filter back into Lebanon. Israeli intelligence estimates put the number of PLO members in Lebanon at 7,000. Israeli officials claim that the PLO forces represent the most radical, aggressive, and best-armed elements of the movement.
One such group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, led by Nayef Hawatmeh, claimed responsibility for the raids in Jerusalem. Israeli defense sources stress that Mr. Hawatmeh would be unable to act without the full support of the Syrians.
Hawatmeh's group not only claimed revenge for the September 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, but also said that raids would continue until Palestinians in Israeli prisons are released.
The recent increase in the number of attacks undoubtedly reflects the frustration mounting among Palestinians in Lebanon. It also demonstrates that the remnants of the PLO groups are renewing their commitment to the armed struggle against Israel.
Since the abrogation of the May 1983 Lebanese-Israeli accord, Israel has redoubled its efforts to implement measures that will control PLO activities in southern Lebanon. Israel is shaping a new militia in southern Lebanon to foster conditions that will halt terrorist activities.
An Israel Defense Force spokesman reports that significant strides have been made to strengthen the Southern Lebanese Army, formerly the Christian militias under the late Saad Haddad. By last week the force numbered close to 1,700, and by the end of March another 300 Lebanese were expected to have joined.
The Israeli authorities hope to change the image of this army from that of a Christian force to one of a mixed unit, heterogeneous in religious composition and thus acceptable to all of the south Lebanese populace. Military sources say the composition of this is 60 percent Christian, 20 percent Shiite Muslim, and 20 percent Druze.
Senior Israeli officials also say that Israeli attempts to organize Shiite militias and develop special relations with the Druzes are progressing. Israeli authorities are working under the assumption that it will be in the interests of the Shiites and the Druzes to control Palestinian activities in southern Lebanon.
Israeli planners say that decisions in the Shiite community offer the possibility for at least tacit cooperation. As an example, Israeli military forces claim that there now exists in the Southern Lebanese Army a company of Shiites which formerly was a branch of the Shiite Amal militia.
The Israeli government is moving ahead with determination to implement plans that will keep the PLO out of southern Lebanon. Israeli officials also stress they will not be deterred by the rise in attacks. Quite the contrary, it heightens Israeli resolve to implement whatever security measures are deemed necessary to halt attacks. Senior defense officials still seem to be under the influence of former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who believed that there was a military solution to guerrilla and terrorist activities.