A hand for Habib

Various political and military factors contribute to the welcome easing of Lebanon's missile crisis. But particular credit must go to America's special Mideast envoy, Philip Habib, not to mention a Washington administration sufficiently concerned and thoughtful to have brought a distinguished senior diplomat out of retirement for this mission of peace. No one says that the dangers of warfare have been eliminated between Syria, which placed the missiles in Lebanon, and Israel, which wants them removed. Yet Mr. Habib's patient on-the-spot diplomacy has won a welcome from both sides and fostered an environment in which steps toward settlement can be taken.

The long-range prevention of future incidents will, of course, require resolution of the tragic political and religious conflicts within Lebanon, which have been often described in these pages. BEyond this there must be an overall Mideast settlement, including a just outcome for the Palestinians whose plight --and guerrillas -- intrude on Lebanon.

But progress in this direction obviously would be thrown back by an escalation of the missile crisis. DEspite the adversarial rhetoric of Prime Minister Begin and President Assad they are currently refraining from inflammatory actions.The longer the calm continues, the better the chances for agreement on one or another of the face-saving proposals in the air: Removal of the Syrian missiles at the request of Lebanon rather than Israel, for example. This to be accompanied by Israel's desisting from the kind of "operational" warplane flights that brought Srian reaction --without having to give up reconnaissance flights of the sort familiar before the crisis.

Both parties, as well as envoy Habib's home government, seem willing to allow him time for his conciliating labors as long as hope remains. The fact that hope does remain is reason enough for gratitude to Mr. Habib. We note that this very name conveys in Arabic such ideas as love and a ppreaciaton -- apt ingredients in anyone's search for peace.

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