Aiding Lebanon

Americans probably never thought that the United States, in addition to its many other global commitments, would become deeply involved in the tiny land of Lebanon. But it is clear that the US will not soon pull its troops out of Lebanon or end its deepening economic commitment there. These are needed both to assure that Lebanon is reestablished as an independent, viable country free of all foreign forces and to forward the process of peace in the Middle East. More than casual interest therefore attaches to the visit to the United States this week of Lebanese President Amin Gemayel.

Does this youthful Christian leader, catapulted to power by the assassination of his brother Bashir, have the qualities of leadership necessary to forge a new and workable political balance among Lebanon's feuding religious groups? After two short weeks he appears to be doing reasonably well. He has offered reconciliation to Muslim leaders. He has unified the capital of Beirut, disarmed the private militias in the western sector, and reestablished the presence of the regular Lebanese Army in most of the city. The hard test will come, of course, when he has to crack down in East Beirut, where the Christian Phalangist militia holds sway.

This is why Mr. Gemayel will need all the help he can get from Washington in rebuilding the Lebanese Army. The government in Beirut cannot hope to enforce peace and order without a strong, well-trained military force capable of establishing its authority throughout the country. How to blend the free-wheeling Christian militias into an integrated force is a formidable challenge, but it must be done.

In this connection it is hard to see how President Gemayel can accept Israel's demand that Major Haddad, leader of a 2,000-man militia in southern Lebanon, be given a large role in the army as a condition of Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. All along, Leba-nese Army units have been humiliated in the south because Israel built up the Haddad force as its client. To give Major Haddad a special status now risks perpetuating the Lebanese Army's weakness.

One can appreciate Israel's concern that PLO fighters not re-infiltrate southern Lebanon and engage in guerrilla attacks. Clearly such a security threat must be removed. But, while the Lebanese Army is being built up, it should be possible to bolster the UN force there and perhaps associate with it a strengthened multinational force of US, French, Italian, and other troops. Combining such forces seems problematic. Yet from the standpoint of international law it would be well if the multinational force could somehow operate under the umbrella of the United Nations. That Israel has little faith in or regard for UN forces should not deter the US from trying to strengthen international peace-keeping as a matter of principle.

In addition to military help, President Gemayel seeks aid to rebuild Lebanon's devastated economy. The American people should know that the enterprising Lebanese need no prodding to do their part; they have already plunged in briskly to restart the wheels of commerce. But it will take massive help to restore Beirut physically and to care for the hundreds of thousands of displaced Lebanese as well as Palestinian refugees.

Who should bear the financial burden? It is not illogical to ask why the nation which invaded Lebanon to begin with should not do the rebuilding. However , given the vast cost to Israel of the Lebanese invasion and the need to restore its own forces, it may not be in a position to do much. However, it is doubtful that Americans will feel sympathetic to providing Israel with more ammunition, more cluster bombs, more tanks after the patent misuse of such materiel. The least the administration and the Congress should do is consider holding the line on US aid to Israel - which now amounts to almost $3 billion a year, or $750 per head for every Israeli.

Mr. Gemayel, in short, looks for the backing of the US and the United Nations to achieve his goals. He no doubt can count on such support - as long as he shows that he intends to be a leader of all the Lebanese people and that sectarian violence and hatred are the fundamental enemy to be defeated.

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