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Putting Shultz pact to the test

By Trudy RubinSpecial correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 11, 1983


The surprise exodus of relatives of Soviet diplomats from Beirut is one signal. The escalating shelling between Christian and Druze suburbs of the Lebanese capital is another.

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The achievement of a US-mediated draft agreement between Israel and Lebanon is likely to spark a period of high tension in the Mideast while its future hangs in the balance.

Israel and Lebanon have not yet signed the pact which calls for Israeli troop withdrawals from Lebanon. Syria, whose ultimate approval and parallel troop withdrawals from Lebanon are critical, has castigated it. So has Syria's ally, the Soviet Union.

And the United States - which engineered it - is urgently seeking the help of moderate Arab states to save it, as US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger meets in Paris with the Saudi defense minister.

But as these players all jockey for position, and regional tension continues to rise, each will face increasing political pressures and unanswered political questions that must be resolved before the Lebanon agreement is implemented.

In Lebanon the pullout of Soviet dependents from Beirut is a clear signal of the type of pressures President Amin Gemayel will be facing. The Soviet ambassador to Lebanon said they were leaving for summer holidays (although school is not out for another month), but Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Israel believed the Soviet aim was to press Lebanon not to sign the agreement. Israeli sources say Syrian pressure has included death threats against Lebanese leaders.

As the moment of decision draws closer, intercommunal Lebanese fighting, which has risen steadily in recent days, is bound to become more bitter, especially between the Christian militia and that of the Druze (a minority Islamic sect) in Lebanon's Shouf mountains.

Many Druze fear that if Israeli soldiers pull out of the Shouf, they will face massacres by the Christians. Pro-Syrian and pro-Palestinian Lebanese factions also want to keep Syrian and PLO troops in Lebanon to protect them, even if this means the Israelis stay, too.

The fighting has become so intense that the Lebanese parliament may be unable to meet Thursday to vote on the treaty. But the unpalatable alternative for Lebanon is de facto partition of that country between Israel and Syria - and continued bloodshed.

Israel, where officials are now expressing skepticism that the treaty will be implemented, faces domestic and external pressures in either case. Israel accepted the treaty in large part to improve relations with the United States and to shift the blame to Syria if foreign troops remain in Lebanon. But Israeli troops have suffered 482 deaths and 2,682 injuries in the Lebanon conflict to date, and many Israelis are questioning whether the sacrifice was worthwhile.

The opposition Labor Party has already decided to abstain at best on the Knesset (parliament) vote on the treaty. With several right- and left-wing Knesset members opposed, along with some members of the prime minister's Herut Party, the treaty's passage through the Knesset may be rocky.

Should Syria veto the treaty by refusing to pull back its troops, Israel would probably soon redeploy its forces along the coast and leave much of the dangerous Shouf area. That would still leave Israel heavily committed and vulnerable to guerrilla attack, in a war that is increasingly unpopular at home.