Diplomacy failing, Israel on the move

Diplomacy was active June 22 in trying to prevent another, more violent conflict in Lebanon - but it did not seem active enough given the critical mass of military power in the country and the escalating inclination to use that power.

The physical evidence in this war-ravaged country points overwhelmingly to another military conflict to come. It appears this will entail another round of Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

All June 22, Israeli heavy artillery and infantry were moving up southern Lebanon toward Beirut. Throughout this region, Israeli forces had encampments, marshalling yards, and convoys of heavy armor. They were being activated near the confrontation lines with Palestinian and Syrian forces.

In the hills east of the capital, Israeli forces attacked Syrians in the town of Hammanah, along the strategic Beirut-Damascus highway. That broke a fairly well kept cease-fire between the two countries that had gone into effect June 11 .

And once again Israeli and Palestinian cannons traded fire on the southern edge of Beirut. Late in the day, Israeli jet bombers returned to attack the Beirut area for the first time in a week.

Diplomacy, meanwhile, was moving at a snail's pace. The multifactional Lebanese Council of National Salvation held its second meeting, and Lebanese Prime Minister Shafik Wazzan afterward said some progress had been made. But on the ground - where the victims of the shelling live and where any disarmament of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would have to take place, there was only more digging in. No sign of disarmament was apparent.

Diplomacy was in for rough going - not so much because of a lack of faith in it by the individuals involved, but because of the inescapable conflict of the forces behind the individuals.

The PLO's Yasser Arafat, according to Lebanese leaders, was indeed looking for a way out of what would be either a strength-sapping siege or an all-out, final conflict with the Israeli Army. But his public pronouncements were that the PLO would stand and fight. Any deal he cuts with Lebanese authorities to surrender PLO weapons will have to be cleared with Palestinians much more uncompromising than Mr. Arafat.

While the PLO may have been evolving away from militancy in recent years, the guerrilla fighter is still its trademark - and, in embattled Beirut, its main constituent.

By the same token, Israel has since 1965 been harassed by the PLO, seeing in it a direct threat to the survival of the Jewish state. To hold back from a final assault on the PLO's Beirut strongholds - Sabra, Shatila, and Borj Al Barajneh camps, and the Fakhani neighborhood - would be to stop short of destroying (as Israeli strategists believe can be done) Israel's most threatening foe.

What moderates in Lebanon are pointing out today, however, is that if Mr. Arafat and his middle-of-the-road Fatah organization are destroyed, the radicals in the PLO will rule the roost.

''Arafat is a reasonable, moderate man,'' a leading Lebanese politician says. ''If he is done away with there will be the extreme of extremists, the terror of terrorists springing up in all the Arab world. It is in the interest of the civilized world to maintain Arafat.''

But there are others, more conspiratorially minded here who believe it is in the interest of Israel and Arab states to see that the center of the PLO cannot hold. These Lebanese see a more radical PLO as one more easily controlled by Syria, Libya, Algeria, and the Eastern bloc. And they see it as a more obviously malicious foe toward which Israel can turn the West's attention.

A tour June 22 of southern Lebanon, where Israeli military might was unleashed earlier this month - and where it is massing once again - leaves the impression that the Israelis are determined to utterly crush the PLO.

In Sidon, massive bombing reduced most of the sprawling Ain Al Helwah Palestinian refugee camp to rubble. The bombing went on for three days before Israeli soldiers stormed into the town. By then Palestinian fighters had either been killed or had fled.

A Western military attache contends the camps on Beirut's southern edges would be subjected to similarly intense bombardment before the Israeli Army attempts to charge in. Israeli officers regularly tell journalists that they are sure they will be ordered to attack and that a primary objective will be to minimize Israeli losses.

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