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Lebanon and the Marines

February 7, 1983



How sad and ironic that in Lebanon confrontations have been taking place not only between adversaries but between Israeli and US soldiers. Indeed Americans will earnestly hope that new arrangements between Israel and the US will forestall the kind of incident in which a US Marine felt compelled to draw his pistol and prevent three Israeli tanks from entering an area believed under Marine control. But this and previous incidents point up the risk which US troops take as their stay in Lebanon is prolonged - and the need for stronger diplomatic efforts to get all foreign forces out of that embattled country.

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Israel's concern about continuing guerrilla attacks in Lebanon is understandable. The PLO has been shattered but it has not been eliminated. Thirty Israeli soldiers have been killed and 183 injured since the war ended.Yet it is also true that, until the Israeli, Syrian, and remaining PLO forces pull out of Lebanon it is difficult to strengthen and extend the authority of the Lebanese Army and provide arrangements for ensuring security along the Lebanese-Israeli frontier.

In Washington's eyes, Israel has not been helpful in the Lebanese negotiations. US envoy Philip Habib has privately expressed frustration, as has President Reagan. In fact a certain Israeli feistiness in dealing with Americans is noticeable these days as the US is blamed for putting up obstacles to an agreement. Israeli Maj. Gen. Avraham Tamir recently declared in a negotiating session: ''Noboby is going to influence us on matters of our defense. We will do what we please.'' What pleases Israel is to keep Israeli troops in southern Lebanon. Such a posture perhaps makes for good politics in Israel but it does not help frayed US-Israeli relations.

How to break the current impasse is problematic. The US gives no indication that it is prepared to use strong pressure on Israel. Mr. Reagan has postponed a visit of Prime Minister Begin to Washington in mid-February, making such a visit contingent on progress in the Lebanon talks. But, inasmuch as Mr. Begin does not want to be lectured to, it is doubtful he regrets the cancellation. The Israeli leader must also be pleased to hear Secretary of State Shultz saying these days that the US does not intend to apply economic or military sanctions as a form of leverage on Israel.

Without some sort of leverage, however, diplomatic progress seems unlikely. Strictly speaking, it is not a matter of ''pressuring'' Israel but of pursuing policies that are in the USm not just the Israelim interest. Those interests often coincide but sometimes they do not and, where they do not, should not Washington have the same prerogative as Israel - the same right to say, ''Nobody is going to influence us on matters of our security, we will do what we please''?Is it in the USm security interest to go on funding the operations of a foreign state which are deemed detrimental to Lebanon's territorial integrity, deterimental to peace in the region, and even detrimental to Israel's own long-term security? Common sense says it is not.

These are questions which the US government will have to face up to. Congress will also have to confront the possibility that US troops may have to remain in the region for an indefinite period to support the Lebanese government and that, if the danger of fighting rises, it may have to give formal approval for the deployment of forces abroad. The War Powers Resolution calls for such approval where troops are being sent into situations likely to give rise to hostilities.

The diplomatic challenge is to prevent such a situation by achieving a full withdrawal of foreign forces. How that can be done without addressing the question of the massive US aid for Israel is hard to see.