Kibbutz Misgav'am, Israel — A Palestinian terrorist raid on this kibbutz provides Prime Minister Menachem Begin with tragic ammunition to argue Israel's political and security needs when he visits President Carter next week.
"I thought Begin's settlements policy gave the PLO ammunition, but this outrage by the PLO gives Begin ammunition," said an Israeli journalist standing at the scene of the Attack.
But the impact of Mr. Begin's argument also will depend on what kind of response Israel makes to the raid in which a two-year-old boy and the kibbutz secretary, as well as an Israeli soldier, well killed. A major military retaliation against the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in south Lebanon would present an unwelcome complication to the efforts of President Carter and his current guest, President Sadat, to end the deadlock over Palestinian autonomy.
The Baghdad-based Arab Liberation Front (ALF), one of the most hard-line PLO groups, claimed responsibility for the kibbutz raid. Five terrorists crossed from Lebanon -- only a stone's throw from this lush, hilly, fruitgrowing communal farm. At midnight (Sunday-Monday) they seized six children ranging from 1 1/2 months to 4 years in age.
Two mothers and two teen-agers escaped. But the kibbutz secretary, who was fixing the electricity, was shot and killed when he challenged the terrorists. After an abortive 3 a.m. rescue attempt by Israeli Army forces in which one soldier was killed and three were wounded, negotiations were conducted for five hours in Arabic about the requested release of 50 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
On Monday morning, Israeli troops charged the building. All five terrorists and a 2 1/2-year-old boy were killed and four other children wounded in the bloody gun and grenade battle. Israeli military sources say the child was killed by the terrorists.
The ALF chose to strike on the day Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was due to arrive in Washington. But their purpose may have been less a slap at the autonomy negotiations -- this group disavows not only autonomy, but also any negotiated settlement with Israel -- than a goad to PLO chief Yasser Arafat.
Backed by Iraq, long critical of Mr. Arafat's policy of putting out diplomatic feelers to Europe and even the United States, the ALF calls for armed struggle and the total defeat and destruction of the Israeli state.
he ALF, which competes for supporters in south Lebanon with Mr. Arafat's Al Fatah organization, is the recipient of plentiful Iraqi funds, which go to buy the newest arms and communications equipment for its fighters there. It opposed Mr. Arafat's willingness to endorse a United Nations buffer force in south Lebanon -- Unifil -- and to publicly accept a cease-fire with Israel in south Lebanon in 1978.
At a time when the autonomy talks are facing difficulty, the ALF may well hope to provoke Israel into a major new attack against the PLO in south Lebanon. This would deeply embarrass President Sadat and the US. It would also put the internally troubled Syrian regime of President Assad -- whose relations with Iraq have been recently deteriorating -- on the spot.
While the terrorist attack does nothing to bolster Mr. Begin's arguments for Israeli settlements in West Bank population centers, it will provide him with ammunition to attack West Europe's preoccupation with diplomatic initiatives involving the PLO should the May 26 autonomy target date pass without results.
He will doubtless also refer to this raid to dissuade President Carter from any idea of support for the Europeans. At home, the incident cannot totally remove the public's attention from raging inflation. But it serves to reinforce the ugliest Israeli popular image of the PLO as "child-murderers," or as Mr. Begin so frequently refers to them in speeches, "that murderous organization."
The attack, which conjures up memories of the murder of 16 schoolchildren at Maalot in 1974, may give Mr. Begin a temporary respite from his decline in the polls as the Israeli public rallies around in the time of tragedy. The niceties of the distinctions between rival PLO groups will no doubt seem irrelevant to Mr. Begin and the Israeli public.
The Israeli Prime Minister will probably refer to the raid while in Washington as a justification for Israel's opposition to President Sadat's suggestion for the demilitarization of the West Bank. He may also use it as an argument for the full mobility of the Israel defense forces on the West Bank under any autonomy scheme.
In addition, while Lebanon is not one of the major topics to be discussed in Washington, the raid will bolster the Israeli's criticism of Unifil's inability to stop terrorist infiltration into Israel. And it probably will be used to defend Israeli backing of Major Saad Haddad's Lebanese-Christian buffer force, which operates across the border just north of Kibbutz Misgav'am.
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, who was present along with Israeli Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan when the children's house was stormed, would not comment on queries about how Israel would respond to the attack. In the past, such terrorist raids have often triggered Israeli bombing attacks on south Lebanon that left Lebanese and Palestinian civilians dead and wounded.