Israel, denied 'clear victory,' ready for long Lebanon stay
As seen from here, Israel's campaign into Lebanon has caused thousands of casualties, displaced thousands of families - but, so far, has not given Israel a clear victory.Skip to next paragraph
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Friday's cease-fire between Israel and Syria appeared to be holding at this writing Sunday. But Saturday's cease-fire with the Palestine Liberation Organization broke down Sunday; fighting, which included Israeli air strikes, again broke out in Beirut's southern suburbs.
Aside from pushing back and punishing the PLO - with the Lebanese caught in between - Israel does not appear to have achieved its more far-reaching objectives. If the Israeli advance is halted now, these would be the results:
* The PLO would have survived. So far, PLO command and communications have functioned smoothly. None of the PLO leaders, it appears, have been lost in action. The guerrilla fighters have kept up the fighting against the vastly superior Israeli Army.
* Israel would be saddled with maintaining a troop presence for the time-being in hilly countryside favorable to guerrilla warfare. If no international peace-keeping force can be found to fill the area Israel has occupied, the Israeli Army will either have to withdraw, leaving the PLO to reoccupy and harass Israeli front lines, or will have to keep troops in Lebanon indefinitely.
* Israel would have failed to penetrate Beirut's suburbs. Thus, it would not have linked up with the Phalangist forces of northern Lebanon, nor would it have cut off the PLO's supply routes.
Israel, however, has pushed the Syrian Army out of Lebanon west of the Lebanon mountain range. And Israeli forces still appear to be creeping toward control of the mountain town of Alay - enabling them to cut the Palestinians off from the east and to prevent the Syrian Army from returning to Beirut.
But the price for establishing Israeli soldiers so far into Lebanon has been high. The Palestinian Red Crescent estimates that 10,000 people have been killed and wounded in Lebanon since the invasion began June 6. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says some 600,000 people have been left homeless.
The Israeli Army admits it has suffered more than 1,000 casualties - a high number considering the size of the Army and the value Israel places on individual soldiers.
Observers here fear that an attack on Beirut may still be the chosen course of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government, given the goal of Israeli hawks to attempt to knock out the PLO once and for all.
Palestinian officials here are highly cynical about Israeli cease-fires. They believe Israel intends to declare a halt to fighting periodically and only in order to catch its breath. Each time Israel is ready to press on, these officials say, Israel will resume fighting. Abraham Rabinovich reports from Jerusalem:
The Israeli Army is preparing for a possibly long occupation of southern Lebanon. And some Israeli political figures are calling on the government to parlay the military achievements in Lebanon into concrete political gains.
Chief of staff Gen. Rafael Eitan has made it clear that the Army is preparing itself for a long stay if political considerations require it. He indicated over the weekend that if the cease-fire stabilized, Israel might begin rotating troops who were mobilized for combat last week with yet to be mobilized reservists.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Army has appointed military governors for the Lebanese towns it has captured. They are working with local mayors to restore life in the battered towns to a semblance of normality.
A suggestion that Israel alter its initial war aims in view of its military success was made in a radio interview Saturday by the chairman of the Knesset foreign affairs committee, Dr. Eliyahu Ben-Elissar.
''We've achieved a great military victory,'' he said. ''It opens new options.''
Ben-Elissar did not spell these options out. But Israeli political columnists have begun speculating on possible Israeli negotiating positions.
The removal of the Syrians from Lebanon and the establishment of an independent Lebanese government willing to make peace with Israel were seen as likely demands by Yoel Marcus, writing in the daily Haaretz. Others have speculated that Israel might demand an equal role with Syrian in influencing Lebanon's political future.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir has reiterated the ''basic'' Israeli objective: clearing a 25-mile-deep band north of Israel's border from Palestinian armed elements to prevent artillery attacks on Israeli settlements. But he has left the way open to possible further demands by saying, ''All other matters will be decided in negotiations.''