Nicosia, Cyprus — Lebanon is quiet now -- but for how long? Diplomats in the Middle East say the basic problems that caused Hostilities to flare in April and May are still present. After a brief hiatus -- afforded by the Israeli elections last week and, before that, the Israeli raid on Iraq -- attention is returning to Lebanon.
The good news is that there has been no major fighting in almost one month. The siege of Zahle has been lifted.
This is due in large measure to the work of a committee of foreign ministers from saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Syria who have been trying to bring the various factions of Lebanon into reconciliation.
But some diplomats say the Arab follow-up committee on Lebanon (AFUCL) is at a decisive stage. The question now is whether the northern Lebanese Phalangists will comply with a Syrian demand that they renounce their ties with Israel. Phalange military commander Bashir Gemayel says he will do so -- but only if Syria withdraws its 30,000 soldiers from Lebanon, and if other factions, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), denounce their ties with outside forces (i.e. Syria).
Mr. Gemayel's condition is considered to be unacceptable to Syria and the PLO.
The Syrian desire to nail down security in Lebanon -- in part to stabilize Syria's western border, in part to fulfill the "greater Syria" dream of Syria's President Hafez Assad -- remains.
The controversial antiaircraft missiles Syria moved into Lebanon in late April also remain. These are to protect Syrian soldiers but they also now serve as a rallying point for Syria and its Arab supporters against Israel.
Mr. Assad, in a television interview from Damascus broadcast July 8, reiterated his position that the missiles will not be removed. He said Syria was prepared to fight back if Israel attacked. Mr. Assad further predicted that other Arab countries and the Soviet Union would come to Syria's aid. Soviet naval maneuvers with Syria this week seem to underscore Mr. Assad's point.
A Lebanese political analyst sees Mr. Assad in a strong position because of the "missile crisis." He says that the Israeli raid on Iraq's atomic reactor, plus the Israeli elections and their aftermath, have drawn attention away from the Syrian crisis and that Mr. Assad now is trying to bring Arabs back to it.
Syria claimed to have downed another Israeli drone July 7 -- a reminder, at least, that the crisis is still hot.
Meanwhile, Israel is trying to form a new government. It looks as if Menachem Begin will again be prime minister. But he will be leading a shaky coalition.
Mr. Begin has demanded the missiles be withdrawn unconditionally. But it is considered less likely now that Mr. Begin will strike the missiles directly. The very strong opposition, lead by Shimon Peres, stands ready to capitalize on a Begin miscue, such as heavy Israeli losses in a Syrian conflict.
Moreover, it is not in the interest of Israel, the United States or even moderate Arab states such as Saudi Arabia to give Syria center stage and further draw th e Soviets into the Middle East as protector of the Arabs.