Facing world pressure, Israel halts advance short of Beirut
Israeli forces, facing mounting international pressure as well as stiff armed resistance on the ground, have stopped just short of an all-out attack on this capital city.Skip to next paragraph
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With both big powers getting actively involved in diplomatic efforts to halt the fighting, the Israeli forces at time of writing were concentrating on fierce attacks on the remaining Palestinian positions south of Beirut -- and on various forms of propaganda warfare.
Israeli planes dropped a downpour of yellow leaflets on Beirut advising Syrian soldiers and forces of the Palestinian Liberation Army to leave the city via the Beirut-Damascus highway. Also on June 10 the Israelis broadcast Arabic warnings to Syrian troops in the Bekaa Valley advising them to flee for their lives.
Refugees clogged the Israeli-recommended exit from Beirut. Remaining residents huddled in buildings while Israeli jets blasted overhead, attacking Palestinian -- and Syrian-controlled quarters of the city. But no actual Israeli ground assault followed, although Israeli forces were reported to have advanced as far north as the city's international airport.
It was assumed either that the Israelis felt they could achieve their military objectives without capturing Beirut itself -- as implied in statements by Israeli officials in Jerusalem -- or that the cost in lives and world (especially American) disapproval was reckoned too great.
But the Begin government's attempt to smash the Palestine Liberation Organization continued unabated in other southern parts of this shattered country. Heavy Israeli air, sea, and ground attacks were carried out against Palestinian refugee camps and PLO strongholds on the west side of this city and all the way down to the southern corners of the country.
Israeli forces were also attacking Syrian troops throughout the Bekaa Valley. The Syrian antiaircraft missiles, which had been a thorn in the side of the Begin government for the past year, appeared to have been destroyed by the June 9 Israeli bombs.
President Reagan's June 10 call for an immediate cease-fire came just as an Israeli assault on Beirut seemed imminent. American spokesmen said that the US had been in contact with the Soviet Union and other governments about the crisis. There were also reports, denied in Washington, that US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig would head for the Middle East to join special envoy Philip C. Habib, already busy seeking a settlement of the conflict.
Israeli occupation of half of Lebanon in five days -- just as its occupation of the Sinai, West Bank, and Golan Heights in previous wars -- provides Israel with strategic bargaining power. On the strength of this occupation, Prime Minister Menachem Begin could press for:
* A new Camp David-type arrangement involving peace and normal relations with what seems likely to be a pro-Israeli Lebanese state in the postwar period.
* Creation in Lebanon of a series of ethno-religious mini-states based on the Israel (''Jewish state'') model.
* An American-European guarantee that forces hostile to Israel will be permanently banned from Lebanon.
Already it is clear that Israel intends to maintain control of Lebanese territory from the city of Sidon south to the Israeli border. This may well imply the stationing of Israeli garrisons throughout south Lebanon. A complete Israeli wihdrawal could come about, it seems, only if Western powers replaced Israel in the newly occupied territory and guaranteed to be ruthless with anti-Israeli guerrillas.
Even with such a US-dominated ''multinational force'' in the south, Mr. Begin almost surely will press for either de jure government under the influence of the pro-Israeli Phalange or a de facto political entity in southern Lebanon, perhaps headed by renegade army leader Maj. Saad Haddad.
Whatever the form, this new governing body would then be a possible partner in a Camp David-style agreement, whereby Israel would withdraw from a demilitarized southern Lebanon and political and economic links between Israel and Lebanon would be established.
Palestinian and Lebanese intellectuals have often said they believe Israel's long-term strategy is to see the nation-states of the Middle East broken into their ethno-religious components. This would allow the Jewish state to correspond with a Maronite Christian state or, perhaps, a Shiite state, a Druze state, and others as ''first among equals.''
Politically transforming Lebanon to Mr. Begin's liking would probably mean ending the confessional system under which each ethno-religious group has had a quota in parliament and in the cabinet with a Maronite president, a Sunni prime minister, and so forth, based originally on population.
Since its 1943 institution, the confessional system has failed to contribute to Lebanon's stability. What caused confessionalism to fall apart was the presence of 600,000 Palestinian refugees in the country, unrepresented and often at odds with the Lebanese.
Whatever the shape of a postwar Lebanon government, if Palestinian and Syrian influence are broken, Israel will be influential here for some time to come.