Lebanese, Israelis eye each other with mistrust and fear across border; Israel worries about PLO 'buildup' in south Lebanon
Israelis living along the border with Lebanon have been urging their government not to launch a strike against Palestinians across the northern border in retaliation for an armed incursion Jan. 30.
Analysts maintain that Israel is seeking an opportunity to strike at the Palestinians in Lebanon before the final pullout from Sinai April 25. Israeli Cabinet officials have dismissed this as ''nonsense.''
The chairman of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, Abraham Broshi, said that if the government wanted to retaliate against the incursion it should strike into Jordan from where the infiltrators came and not into southern Lebanon. ''The cease-fire along the Lebanese border has not been violated,'' he said. Nonetheless, an official in the town of Qiryat Shemona warned against a ''heating up'' of the border.
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon maintains that the incursion was a violation of last year's cease-fire even though it occured 100 miles from the Lebanese border. ''The terrorist operations are conceived in Lebanon - that is where implementation begins,'' he said.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, while slapping Jordan lightly on the wrists for failing to have prevented the incursion from its territory, did not put the onus on the Jordanian government. He blamed the Palestine Liberation Organization with whom Israel had skirmished across the Lebanese border last July and whose squad attempted to infiltrate across the Jordan River.
Israel has expressed growing concern over the Palestinian buildup in southern Lebanon since last summer's cease-fire, claiming that the Palestinians have violated the cease-fire 60 times. (Reuters reported Feb. 3 Israeli military sources saying the PLO had doubled the size of its force in south Lebanon to 1, 000, but a United Nations spokesman denied the report.)
While these alleged violations have involved Israel's Christian allies in southern Lebanon, the Palestinians have been careful to refrain from action against Israel itself along the Lebanese border to avoid Israeli retaliation. Numerous voices in both major political camps in Israel - the ruling Likud bloc and the opposition Labor Party - have called for Israeli troops to cross the border in the event that hostilities resume.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, however, has assured the US - in a Jan. 20 letter to President Reagan - that Israel would not move into south Lebanon unless there was ''clear provocation'' from Palestinian or Syrian forces.
The daily newspaper, Haaretz, editorialized this week that the government's ''exaggerated reaction'' to the Jan. 30 infiltration strengthened suspicions ''that there are elements pushing for a broad military strike in the north before April 25.'' The newspaper said there was no justification to such a strike.
In the wake of such reactions, the official tone in Jerusalem has softened. Both Sharon and Shamir said later in the week that Israel was not seeking unnecessary wars.
''Our goal is to preserve peace and the cease-fire as long as possible,'' said the defense minister Feb. 3. He added, however, that Israel ''cannot view with equanimity the fact that the cease-fire is kept in one region only.''