Major Haddad is at center of pullout talks
Jerusalem — He is a slight man given to wearing a cap and cravat with his olive drabs. Often loquacious in passable English or fluent French, he is sometimes morose and withdrawn.
But on the future of Maj. Saad Haddad - renegade Christian Lebanese Army officer and commander of a southern Lebanese militia trained and funded by Israel - hangs the outcome of Lebanese-Israeli negotiations on terms for withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon.
Israel insists that Major Haddad and his men must continue to play a key role in ensuring the security of south Lebanon and preventing a return of Palestinian or other elements hostile to Israel who might resume attacks across Lebanon's border.
Lebanon says it will absorb the major's men into the Lebanese Army - but with no guarantee that they will stay in the south and without Major Haddad. The two sides appear deadlocked over the issue, which Israeli sources say is the chief stumbling block to resolving the Lebanon negotiations.
American officials, increasingly anxious to conclude a Lebanon agreement, on whose success their credibility as Mideast mediators depends, complain impatiently that other safeguards can surely guarantee Israel's security as well as the presence of the controversial major.
But to Israeli leaders, including opposition Labor Party figures like former Premier Yitzhak Rabin, Major Haddad has become a symbol of Israeli determination to maintain some direct control in south Lebanon even if Israeli troops go home.
Moreover, the major's future has also come to figure prominently in government attempts to quash growing criticism within its own ranks that Israeli concessions may leave the country less in control over events in south Lebanon than it was before it invaded last June.
In his first open attack on new Defense Minister Moshe Arens, former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon - architect of Israel's Lebanon policy - charged on Sunday that Israel was conceding too much in the negotiations for too little.
Four junior ministers who backed Mr. Sharon's views called for a unilateral troop withdrawal by Israel to the Awali River in south Lebanon, a move that would leave Lebanon virtually partitioned into Syrian-, Israeli-, and Lebanese-controlled zones. Although it has not been endorsed by the Cabinet, such a move remains an Israeli option of last resort.
In contrast to Major Haddad's symbolism for the Israelis, he has become a bete noire for Lebanese leaders. His continued role is viewed as an affront to the concept of a unified central government, and the Lebanese authorities fear the Syrians would use his presence as a pretext not to withdraw their troops. Moreover, there is personal animosity between the family of Lebanese President Amin Gemayel and Mr. Haddad, who has had links with the rival Christian Chamoun clan.
Major Haddad abandoned his Army post during Leba-non's civil war to found a Christian-dominated militia in Muslim and Christian villages along Lebanon's southern border with Israel. They fought to keep away Palestinian guerrillas. This region, long neglected by Lebanon's central government, had been caught in the crossfire between Palestinian attacks into Israel and Israeli retaliatory raids.
Early contacts with Israel blossomed into full cooperation after Israel's invasion of south Lebanon in 1978, with Israeli soldiers training, arming, and accompanying Major Haddad's fighters, who wore Israeli uniforms.
Israel's insistence on retaining its alliance with Haddad is based on several factors. First, Israel remains deeply skeptical of the ability of the Lebanese Army, shattered during the Lebanese civil war, to be sufficiently rebuilt to ensure the security of south Lebanon. Assurances by the Americans, who are training special Lebanese troops to patrol the south, are scoffed at.
Israel also opposed patrols by United Nations or foreign forces in south Lebanon, which it believes do not have the motivation to prevent infiltration. Perhaps most critical, having agreed to give up earlier insistence on manned Israeli observation posts in south Lebanon - a device for keeping some Israeli troops there indefinitely - Israeli officials recognize that only if a trusted Lebanese surrogate remains in charge in south Lebanon can Israel maintain any future close control on the ground.