Israeli raids in Lebanon may undercut Habib mission
With special US envoy Philip C. Habib expected back in the Middle East by the weekend, Israel struck again at Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bases in Lebanon June 3.
The Israeli raids, by land and sea, were carried out despite calls by the United States for Israeli restraint. Such attacks againts the PLO in Lebanon have become a matter of some irritation for the Americans. They fear the Israeli strikes will make Mr. Habib's dealings with Arab states more difficult and complicate his efforts to resolve the Syrian missile crisis.
Indeed, the latest Israeli attacks and the continuing Lebanese crisis overshadowed preparations under the way here for the June 4 summit meeting in Sinai between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Only last weekend Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. sent Prime Minister Begin a message criticizing a May 28 air attact on PLO and Libyan targets shortly after Mr. Habib's departure from Israel. Mr. Haig said the raid could have been construed as a provocation aimed at the Syrians.
Prime Minister Begin told newsmen this week, however, that the raids would continue. The Israeli government says they have halted cross-border attacks by PLO guerillas on Israeli civilians for the past year.
Israel has agreed not to strike at the Syrians while Mr. Habib is on his mission. But Mr. Begin insists that the anti-PLO raids, which were halted while Mr. Habib was in the area, have no connection with the American envoy. Israeli Chief of STAFF Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan told Israeli radio, "Action against the terrorist [the PLO] must continue because they are using the interval for reorganization and preparation."
Mr. Habib's mediation task in the Arab world may be further complicated by Mr. Begin's implication in an American television interview that they envoy knew in advance of the Israeli raids. Mr. Begin said he had told Mr. Habib "four or perhaps six times that we are going to hit the terrorists and he accepted it. He knew about it in advance."
However Mr. Begin denied that Mr. Habib had given, or that Mr. Begin had asked for, a green light.
Informed sources here say that Mr. Begin's repeated exposition of Israel's general policy on the striking at the PLO in Lebanon was not the same thing as informing the Americans in advance of planned raids. A US State Department spokesman said June 2, in direct reference to the raid, that US wanted to make clear "that no green light was given [by the US] for any military activities."
Assistant US Secretary of State Nicholas A. Veliotes may have blurred this explaination -- and American policy -- somewhat when he offered an explanation of Israel's actions to a group of US newsmen, also on June 2, saying that "the reason for Israeli action is because of armed elements in south Lebanon that could attact Israel." But American sources here insist there has been no change in US policy, which urges military restraint on all parties to the current crisis.
Secretary of State Haig also created some confusion about US policy here when he told newsmen June 2 -- in reply to a question about Mr. Begin's threat to take action if the Lebanese crisis were not resolved -- that "there is a time limit" to Mr. Habib's mission and "some" though not an immediate "sense of urgency."
However, informed sources here believe that Washington still views Mr. Habib's time- frame for mediation as "open-ended," as it has done in the past.
Israeli policy in Lebanon resulted in a fiery debate in the Israeli parliament June 3 when the opposition Labor Party challenged the extent and legitimacy of the government's commitment -- first made in 1978 and repeated in April 1981 -- to support Lebanese Christians in case Syria attacked them by air.
In the meantime preparations continued for the Begin-Sadat summit to be held at Ophira on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The euphoria and hoopla of previous summits between the two men will be lacking this time.
Labor party leaders charged that the summit was unnecessary at this time. They said it was a gambit aimed at Israeli parliamentary elections on June 30.
Israeli residents of Ophira threatened to demonstrate against Mr. Sadat because they are reluctant to leave when the remainder of Sinai reverts to Egypt in April 1982.
While Mr. Begin has said that the summit's main purpose is to discuss the Lebanese crisis, Israeli sources say the results of this discussion are unlikely to be made public. But some kind of public gesture is expected, perhaps an announcement that the two leaders have agreed on the formulation of a multinational force to police the peace in Sinai after Israel withdraws.
Negotiations on the details of this force, conducted by Egypt, Israel, and the United States, already appeared to be nearing a successful conclusion.