Begin and Sadat: eye to eye on Lebanon?
Ophira (Sharm el Sheikh), Sinai
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat concluded their 10th summit here June 4 with a show of agreement on the Lebanese missile crisis.
This issue, according to Egyptian and Israeli sources, was the major topic at the summit. But whether the "important agreements" referred touched on Lebanon was not known at time of writing.
What is clear, as Egyptian sources here stressed, is that Mr. Sadat has been anxious to develop e real strategic alliance with Israel alongside the United States, against Soviet penetration in the region. And, they added, President Sadat fears that an Israeli- Syrian confrontation would lead to an increased Soviet presence via Syria in the Middle East.
Even though this would place Egypt in a difficult position, the Egyptian President has said that Egypt would stay neutral in any such confrontation. Questioned on this point after the summit, Mr. Sadat appeared to retain his determination to avoid war even if Israel should attack the Syrian missiles.
He dodged slightly, saying only that he did not think that "this crisis will . . . lead to war." Mr. Begin, however, stressed the continuing validity of "our mutual pledge not to raise arms against each other."
At the news conference Mr. Begin also emphasized that the "important agreements" and "serious solutions" that were reached would not be divulged until "the process of their realization."
On Lebanon, President Sadat said he had asked "my friend Begin" to give the United States "ample time without deadlines" to solve the Israeli-Syrian confrontation. Mr. Begin replied that he accepted President Sadat's request.
But the Israeli leader also referred to remarks made earlier this week by United States Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. about a "time limit," saying that he agreed with Mr. Haig that "this [mediation process] cannot go on for an undefined period of time." This did not appear to change positions previously taken by Mr. Begin.
And the two men appeared to disagree over whether Israel should stop raids into Lebanon against bases of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Mr. Sadat had asked Mr. Begin to end the raids but Mr. Begin said they were "the only way to defend our people."
Both men placed full blame for the Lebanese crisis squarely on President Assad of Syria. President Sadat, who has previously blamed both Israel and Syria for interfering in Lebanon, June 4 said that "the whole crisis was started in 1975 by President Assad," an apparent reference to Mr. Assad's interference in the Lebanese civil war. President Sadat said he would request the Lebanese President to tell Syria to move its troops out of Syria.
Egyptian sources traveling with Mr. Sadat stressed that he had agreed to Mr. Begin's request for a summit so the leaders could meet face-to-face and could avoid "costly mistakes" on "an issue of vital importance, Lebanon."
The Egyptians identified with the United States position in the Middle East on forming an anti-Soviet alliance of moderate Arabs parallel to Israel. They said that Mr. Sadat presents a "viewpoint identical to the Americans." The problem, they said, was to convince Mr. Begin that his actions in Lebanon might harm the prospect of such an alliance.
Both leaders, at their news conference, underlined their agreement on the Soviet threat. Mr. Sadat said that he and Mr. Begin "don't differ on Soviet meddling here. We don't want to face another Afghanistan in this area. We don't want the Russians fishing in troubled waters."
Well-informed Israeli sources say President Sadat made clear to Israeli Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon two weeks ago that he wanted to develop a stronger regional alliance with Israel. Mr. Sharon visited Egypt and carried Mr. Begin's request for a summit. There have been rumors that he promised Mr. Sadat some concessions on autonomy for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza.
These sources said as a gesture of his good will Mr. Sadat assigned Mr. Sharon a helicopter to fly along the sensitive Egyptian border with Libya. Mr. Sadat sees Libya, a repository of Soviet influence and weapons, as a symbol of dangerous Soviet influence in the area.
Many Israeli journalists here were skeptical of the summit's intent, calling it a boost for Mr. Begin's election chances. Mr. Begin disclaimer at the press conference, "This didn't even occur to us" drew hisses from Israeli journalists.
Other issues -- like an early withdrawal of Israel from the rest of the Sinai or the establishment of a multinational peacekeeping force were not mentioned at the press conference. Mr. Begin said autonomy for the Palestinians was not discussed, but he hoped that after the Israeli elections on June 30 "we shall reach full autonomy before the end of this year."
Mr. Begin stated that the two leaders would meet again soon in Alexandria.