Habib's crucial second round
Philip Habib is scheduled to resume this weekened his efforts for President Reagan to keep the Lebanon crisis from exploding into another Middle East war. His first round of shuttle diplomacy to that end lasted from May 7 to 27 and succeeded in achieving its main American purpose -- to dissuade Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin from starting another round of shooting against Syria.Skip to next paragraph
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This second Habib round will try to go a little further. The first round secured a temporary truce, but no more. The second round must try to reduce the underlying tensions between Israel and Syria.
The key to the success or failure of this second diplomatic round by Washington's special negotiator for the Middle East is in Mr. Habib's pocket. How much authority has President Reagan given him to restrain Israel's creeping political-military penetration of Lebanon?
The present crisis is usually presented in terms of the deployment of Syrian surface-to-air missiles inside Lebanon. That happened on April 29, one day after Israeli fighters shot down two Syrian helicopters over the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon. Mr. Begin promptly demanded removal of the missiles (Soviet-built SAM-6 weapons) and has ever since insisted that unless they are removed by the Syrians, he will send the Israeli Air Force in to destroy them.
But the shooting down of the two Syrian helicopters, followed by the Syrian deployment of surface-to-air missiles, is only an incident in an older and continuing story.
Syria has always felt it should have all or much of Lebanon.
Recent publication of Israeli memoirs shows that as far back as the 1950s Israeli leaders were thinking in terms of using Maronite Christians in Lebanon as instruments for their purposes. This concept has long since been put into action.
Militia units, recruited largely from among Maronites, have taken over a strip of southern Lebanon lying just north of the official Israeli frontier. The area is now known as Haddadland. It is policed by forces under the command of a Maj. Saad Haddad. They are largely paid and armed by Israel. Haddadland has become a de facto Israeli military possession.
Beginning last December, members of another Lebanese militia unit, also largely recruited from among Maronite Christians, went into action. They call themselves Phalangists. Their base is at Juniye, a seaport north of Beirut which is the de facto capital of a Maronite enclave in central Lebanon. In December Phalangist troops had crossed the crest of the Lebanon range and moved down into the largely Greek Orthodox city of Zahle, which lies in the Bekaa Valley.
The Syrians have deployed their troops in much of the Bekaa Valley since 1976 as part of the Arab Deterrent Force intended to stop the Lebanese civil war.
There was fighting around Zahle in December. A truce was patched up on dec. 26 and lasted more or less until April 2. Between Dec. 26 and April 2 President Reagan took office in Washington, having during his political campaign said all the things Israeli hawks wanted him to say, including that Washington regarded Israel as its most important ally in the Middle East. His new White House foreign policy adviser, Richard Allen, made a speech that said Israeli operations in Lebanon partook of the nature of "hot pursuit."
Whether President Reagan intended his own and Mr. Allen's words as a green light for Israel to act with less restraint in Lebanon, the result has been just that. Israeli military operations have been stepped up steadily ever since.