Report from south Lebanon: Major Haddad and his men

In the rocky yards of the little Lebanese hill villages, next to the clotheslines and battered old automobiles, American-built Sherman tanks and howitzers wait. Returning from their workday in the red-clay fields, men loyal to Maj. Saad Haddad catch rides out to their combat posts.

After trading pleasantries, they settle down for an evening of artillery fire across the steep valley of the Litani River at Palestinian positions. Sometimes Major Haddad's men initiate the shelling, sometimes it is the Palestinians, in a three-year-old circle of provocation and retaliation.

Week in, week out, hostilities recur, interrupted by lulls of a day or two -- or often by escalations. From just across the border Israeli forces assist Haddad with artillery, air support, and, occasionally, commando forays. Palestinian forces respond by firing Soviet field rockets into Israel or by sending guerrillas into Haddad's Lebanese enclave or into Israel.

Caught in the middle of this routine of violence are a million civilians and 6,000 United Nations soldiers. During the day, children kick a soccer ball in the dusty street, shopkeepers lean against doorways, soldiers (Israeli, Lebanese , and UN) acknowledge each other casually. But when the sun disappears behind the hills, this quiet Lebanese valley becomes a war zone.m

"I am the only legitimate commander of the Lebanese Army." This is the claim of Saad Haddad, a former major in the Lebanese Army, discharged a year ago by his superiors in Beirut.

Major Haddad is armed by, and works closely with, the Israelis to control a thin strip of southern Lebanon. His presence, all sides in the conflict agree, helps deter Palestinian guerrilla infiltration into Israel.

Haddad sees his enclave as the only "free" territory in Lebanon.The Lebanese government and military, he says, are totally controlled by Syria, which has 22, 000 troops of the Arab Deterrent Force in his country. Therefore, even though Haddad still wears the green fatigues and cap of Lebanon, and still flies the Cedar-of-Lebanon flag, he no longer recognizes Lebanese military forces other than those of his own command.

When Lebanese soldiers began moving into the village of Kantara March 16, Haddad opened fire on them with his guns. In the process, three Nigerian soldiers of the United Nations peacekeeping forces were killed.

Even though Major Haddad is armed and aided by the Israelis, he is, as one Western source noted, "essentially a warlord over whom no one has total control." Haddad's artillery barrage on Kantara, which caused an international reaction, appeared to be his own doing."He is his own man," says an Israeli general.

Israel authorities argue, moreover, that while five UN soldiers have been killed by Haddad's guns since 1978, 20 have been killed by Palestinian forces in other areas of the buffer zone.

Claiming that the Lebanese forces at Kantara were positioning for an eventual assault on his enclave, Haddad insists, "I am not going to let this plan be executed." Haddad was speaking March 24 in an interview with the Monitor in the Israeli border town of Metulla.

"These men [Lebanese soldiers] are coming now to fight me. If the government wishes to establish sovereignty, let them first do it in Beirut. Let them act for Lebanon, not for Syria."

Haddad traces his alliance with Israel back to 1977, when fighting broke out between the Lebanese Army and Syrian forces near the Lebanese Army headquarters in Beirut. Stationed in southern Lebanon at that time, Haddad says he received a radio message from Lebanese Army Chief of Staff Victor Khoury asking for help. Haddad, who had at that time established links with Israel, radioed back suggesting that he would need the help of the Israelis to come to Khoury's aid in Beirut.

"Do whatever you want," Haddad quotes Khoury as saying. Haddad says he consulted the Israelis, then radioed Khoury to say that the Israelis were prepared to intervene in Lebanon if asked. But, Haddad says, the Syrians apparently intercepted the message and ended the fighting.

It is significant that a visitor reaches Major Haddad's enclave through Israel.

In the foothills of snowcapped Mt. Hermon, at the very northern tip of Israel , is the border town of Metulla. A mile farther is the "good fence" through which one can pass into Lebanon with an Israeli military permit.

There are only Israeli soldiers at the fence, not Haddad's men or Lebanese guards, to escort a visitor onto Lebanese soil. Inside southern Lebanon, Israeli soldiers are discreet but are a common sight. Israeli authorities freely admit that Haddad receives Israeli arms, ranging from rifles to Sherman tanks.

As Major Haddad approaches self-sufficiency, many Lebanese fear they are watching the initial phases of a disintegrating Lebanon. Israeli authorities and Haddad, however, insist that it is precisely because Lebanon has been disintegrating for the past five years that Haddad has come into his own as a major factor in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"I would quit tomorrow," says Haddad, "if Lebanon were liberated."

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