Arabs fear Israel may be trying to force Lebanon out of Arab world
Israel's actions in Lebanon now appear to be aimed at taking Lebanon, in effect, out of the Arab world and into alliance with Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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This possibility has apparently galvanized pro-Western Arab states such as Saudi Arabia into pressing for an end to Israel's operations in Lebanon. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was reported June l0 to be in Bonn for urgent consultations with President Reagan.
Earlier, when Israel first invaded Lebanon June 6, the reaction of most of the other Arab states was far more muted than when Israel launched its previous full-scale invasion of Lebanon in March l978. There are two main reasons for this:
* Then, the Arab economic heavyweights of the Gulf region were able to exert considerable behind-the-scenes influence to secure a relatively speedy Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Less than 24 hours after Israel launched its action, Saudi Arabia's King Khalid issued a public call to the United States President to intervene. (And within a month, Israel had actually started to withdraw, as demanded by the United Nations.)
But in the present invasion, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors have other pressing worries. They are trying to adjust both to a worldwide slump in oil prices as well as to the threat posed by revolutionary Iran's apparent victory over Iraq.
In these delicate new circumstances, the Arab Gulf states were initially unwilling to use up much political capital with the West in pleading Lebanon's cause or exercising pressure on Washington.
* Back in 1978, it was still touch-and-go whether Egypt's President Sadat would be willing to follow up on his initial peace initiative with Israel. The US administration was committed to doing everything possible to coax Egypt to stay on the peace trail and to persuade other Arab states to join it. That effort included pressing for a speedy Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.
Now, Sadat's successor in Egypt, President Mubarak, is formally tied to the peace process through Egypt's treaty obligations. And reports from Egypt say that Mr. Mubarak has told at least one closed meeting there that he is coming under ''unbearable pressure'' from the Reagan administration to go along with Israel's version of the remaining provisions of the Camp David process - those concerning Palestinian autonomy.
Hence Egypt no longer commands the leverage it enjoyed in March 1978, in the delicate Israel-Egypt-US triangle.
In 1978, the US and its Western allies, spurred on by Arab diplomatic and economic pressure, exerted heavy ''influence'' on Israel to cease operations in Lebanon quickly, and to withdraw. This time, Israel has appeared to feel itself under no such pressure. Instead, the only significant constraint on Israeli actions was, until June 9, the considerable Syrian military presence in Lebanon (under Arab League mandate).
With Syria's air-defense missiles in the Bekaa Valley now apparently wiped out, Israel has established itself as stronger than Syria in Lebanon.
The Israelis have already exceeded the target they originally announced: the creation of a 25-mile buffer north of their frontier. Many Lebanese say the Israelis now want to gain enough territorial bargaining chips in Lebanon to be able to demand a formal peace treaty with the government in Beirut as the price for withdrawal.
Israel's spokesman in Washington, Nachman Shai, was quoted June 10 as saying, ''We hope (the Lebanese government) will reestablish an independent Lebanon and even sign a peace treaty with Israel.''
The Israelis are likely to demand at least two other conditions for withdrawal: That the Lebanese government abrogate the formal agreements allowing Palestinian guerrillas to operate in the country; and that it revoke the mandate of the Syrian peace-keepers.
Few Lebanese politicians have ever openly endorsed such a plan, although some leaders of the right-wing Christian militias have privately supported these objectives.
Lebanese President Elias Sarkis may, or may not, go along with the Israeli plan. But that may be irrelevant to the Israelis. Sarkis' six-year term ends in September, and the Israelis are already in a powerful position to influence the elections.
Lebanese presidents are elected by the country's Chamber of Deputies, in which the Christian rightists and their allies can ultimately line up a majority -- especially since their ally, House Speaker Kamel al-Asaad, could arrange the electoral session to make it hard for anti-Israeli deputies to attend.
Any excision of Lebanon from the Arab body politic is unlikely to be a ''clean'' operation. A plan to draw Lebanon into an open alliance with Israel would certainly meet with deep opposition not only from many Lebanese, and from Syria, but from the entire Arab world.