Israel slowly advances against two foes on two fronts
More and more of Lebanon is coming under the domination of the Israeli Army.
Israel's military moves the past few days have been less dramatic than at the outset of the invasion. But the Israelis appear to be positioning themselves for what could be immensely more destructive and controversial clashes with the Palestinians and the Syrians.
Despite two cease-fires and fast-paced diplomacy aimed at stopping hostilities -- including a new proposed 48-hour cease-fire to allow the Palestinians to disarm -- Israel is expanding territory under its control daily. It now appears to be operating on two distinct fronts against two foes:
Around Beirut, Israeli forces are encroaching on the zone held by the Palestine Liberation Organization. Fierce overnight artillery battles near the international airport June 17 suggested Israeli forces were determined to push the Palestinians back into their refugee camp strongholds on the fringe of west Beirut, and perhaps fight them there.
In the coastal mountains, Israeli forces are advancing farther east of Baabda on the Beirut-Damascus highway, and are positioning themselves above the Bekaa Valley city of Zahle. This thrust seems aimed at forcing Syria back into the Bekaa and freeing the right-wing Phalange and the Druze from Syrian influence. Thereafter, the Israeli Army would be in a position to push into the Bekaa Valley from the north and south and force the Syrians out of Lebanon altogether.
But if Israel decides to go ahead with either or both these moves -- against either Palestinians in Beirut or Syrians in the Bekaa -- the consequences could be grave.
sis between the superpowers.
The continuing diplomacy at the Lebanese president's palace at Baabda thus seems the only hope for averting a major world crisis. The task of Lebanese President Elias Sarkis, operating in conjunction with a seven-member ''Council of National Salvation'' (which still had not formed at this writing), now seems twofold:
1. To work out a way of deploying the Lebanese Army into Lebanese/Palestinian west Beirut.
2. To issue a declaration asking that all foreign military forces be withdrawn from the country.
This first act could keep the Israeli Army from trying to storm the Palestinian camps, but only, it appears, if the PLO decided to put down their weapons simultaneously with the entry of the Lebanese Army. Still, there is no word from Tel Aviv that such a move by the PLO would be sufficient to keep the Israeli Army at bay. Israel might suspect that the Palestinians would simply take up arms and ask the Lebanese Army to leave once Israel pulls out.
The second act by the Lebanese president would be a way of telling Damascus to remove its troops from Lebanon, although it would be directed to all forces in the country. Since the Israelis appear to be in the dominant military position throughout the country, they would not be expected to leave until after the Syrians pull out.
Judging by the Israeli supplies, soldiers, and weapons stacked up all over Lebanon, the Israeli Army is prepared to stay a while. As in the war's first days, Israel's aims seem to be to destroy the PLO and to drive Syria out of Lebanon.
In recent days, Palestinian leaders have told the Monitor the strength of their position is that the Israeli Army faces a ''Stalingrad'' if it attempts to enter Beirut. But if the hallmark of the first days of the Israeli invasion was the blitzkrieg, the hallmark today is encroachment.
Thus, the Israelis next move does not appear to be an attack on Beirut but on Palestinian positions on the outskirts. Similarly in the mountains the Israelis are not expected to unleash an all-out assault on the Syrians but to push them back cautiously, perhaps with periodic ceasefires in between.