Israelis questioning effect of censuring military leaders
The Israeli Cabinet, after three extended special sessions, voted 16-1 Thursday to accept the recommendation of the Kahan Commission into the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut last September.
The lone dissenter was Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, whose dismissal was recommended by the Kahan Commission and whose future has become the center of an Israeli government crisis.
It is still unclear what steps the Israeli government will take to implement the recommendations of the report since the iron-willed Mr. Sharon seems determined not to resign and Prime Minister Begin has so far been unwilling to fire him.
The Cabinet ministers were shaken by a grenade attack which took place outside the prime minister's office where they were meeting. It killed one demonstrator and injured five others from the Peace Now movement which was calling for Mr. Sharon's dismissal.
Obviously shaken by an unprecedented attack on a peaceful political demonstration which underlines the bitter divisions engendered inside Israel by the war in Lebanon, Interior Minister Yosef Burg - his son an active member of Peace Now - said the Cabinet would not be intimidated by the grendade attack.
Prior to the decision, the Israeli military establishment, hard hit by the Kahan report on Israeli involvement in the Beirut massacre, voiced bitterness at the result.
And some Israeli leaders are asking whether the recommendations against the military should be immediately implemented.
The commission severely chastised Israeli Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan for not foreseeing the danger of the massacre. But it made no recommendations against him because he is due to retire in two months. However, it recommended that Chief of Military Intelligence Yehoshua Saguy be sacked and that the divisional commander in charge of west Beirut during the massacre, Brig. Gen. Amos Yaron, be denied a field command for the next three years.
In its report, the commission stressed the moral reason for its harshness against the officers. It wrote, ''It seems to us the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) should continue to foster the (consciousness of) basic moral obligations which must be kept even in war conditions. . . .''
However, Chief of Staff Eitan told the Cabinet yesterday that the recommendation against these officers should not have been made on the basis of a few hours' occurrences but on the record of their service over the whole war in Lebanon. The two officers appeared before the Cabinet Thursday and echoed these arguments. General Yaron said the Cabinet should consider the effect on the future of the Army.
The removal or chastisement of so many senior officers is certainly a blow to Army morale and, to a lesser extent, to the functioning of the Army. One senior officer on the IDF general staff told the Jerusalem Post, ''There is a deep feeling among the senior staff that . . . the Army has been landed with a disproportionate share of the blame.''
The officer noted pointedly that Army anger would greatly increase if the blame went only to generals, leaving politicians unscathed. This was probably a reference to Mr. Sharon, who has so far refused to resign, while at the same time opposing the sacking of the officers.