A year after Lebanon invasion, Israel unsure if campaign was worth it
Near Sultan Yacoub, Bekaa Valley, east Lebanon — Lebanon is still reeling a year after the Israeli invasion. There are signs of hope but efforts at reconciliation seem stymied. One year after Israel invaded Lebanon, young, redheaded Pvt. Shaul Hurwitz reads a National Geographic magazine in a front-line Israeli bunker some 200 yards away from Syrian positions.
Below his well-fortified hilltop post, Lebanese farmers cross Syrian lines to tend crops sowed in strips between Lebanon's wildflower-strewn hills.
Despite recent high tensions between Israel and Syria in the Bekaa Valley, the front has been relatively quiet save for engineering work on both sides to fortify positions and one failed attempt four months ago by four infiltrators from the PLO's Fatah wing to attack this position.
A year ago few Israelis expected that the Israeli Army would be sitting in Lebanon today with the Israeli Defense Force reportedly prepared to remain in Lebanon until April 1984 if necessary, and with a signed Israel-Lebanon agreement on Israeli troop withdrawal thwarted by Syrian refusal to pull back its troops from Lebanon. No one is certain when the Israelis will leave.
The first anniversary of the Israeli invasion was marked in Israel not with celebration but by a mass demonstration by tens of thousands of Israeli opponents of the war. The anniversary finds both Israel and the Arab world locked in internal debate and confusion over who won and who lost what, and where each side should go from here.
Israel had both narrow military and broader political goals in waging the Lebanon campaign. Its stated aim was to drive the PLO out of south Lebanon in order to protect its northern cities in Galilee from shelling and attack.
Its wider goal was to destroy the PLO organization both militarily and politically, thus ensuring Israeli retention of the mostly Palestinian-populated West Bank of Jordan for religio-historical and security reasons.
Another aim: Israel believed its stunning victory on Lebanese soil over Syria's Soviet-armed military and Air Force would boost American influence in the region at the expense of the Soviets.
The balance sheet on these aims remains untotaled.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in a markedly low-key defense of his government's policy during a debate on the anniversary of the war, insisted, ''There is reason to assume that after a year in which the Galilee has had real peace . . . that is how it will be in the future.''
But domestic critics of Mr. Begin's policies are asking whether the price they paid for the ''Peace for Galilee'' campaign, which followed an 11-month cease-fire with the PLO during which Galilee was quiet, was worth the cost.
''Were the 500 deaths (of Israeli soldiers) an unavoidable and 'reasonable' price to pay for the blow we administered to the PLO?'' demanded columnist Yoses Goell in the Jerusalem Post, a newspaper that favors the opposition Labor Party. ''. . .No one knows how it will end, and how Israel will get out (of Lebanon).''
Government backers point to the disarray inside the PLO - with Fatah military commanders in the Bekaa Valley challenging the leadership of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat - as evidence that Israel's eviction of the PLO from Beirut has permanently crippled the organization. ''Leave it to the PLO to save (Prime Minister) Begin,'' said a former senior government official.
As for the West Bank, which is entering its 16th year of occupation, US inability to persuade Israel to halt settlement activity there, combined with the disarray and confusion of Palestinian West Bank residents, has convinced even opposition figures here that there is little standing in the way of de facto Israeli annexation of the territory.
Israeli policy was also helped immeasurably by the decision of Jordan's King Hussein not to enter US-sponsored negotiations over the West Bank, and by American disappointment at the inability of moderate Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, to persuade the PLO and Syria to go along with American policy lines.
''Had Hussein wished to, he could have made US-Israel relations very difficult,'' wrote Israeli columnist Yoel Marcus in the independent daily Haaretz. Instead, US relations with Israel, soured during the Lebanon war, have improved markedly in the wake of King Hussein's defection and Israel's accord with Lebanon.
Some Israeli analysts say US interest in the West Bank question will now diminish. Others argue that the Americans will be forced to refocus on the Palestinian problem because of the likely resurgence of Arab radicalism in the wake of Israel's victory and the Arabs' impotence.
Also debatable is whether the Lebanon war and Arab disarray will benefit Israeli and US long-term interests in the region. Israel's victory pushed Syria into closer ties with the Russians, who have resupplied the Syrian military and brought in thousands of Soviet technicians. Syria and the Soviet Union now hold a virtual veto over the Israeli-Lebanon agreement, and the risk of an Israeli-Syrian war has risen.
Some Israeli experts on Syria, like Tel Aviv University's Prof. Yossi Olmert, believe Jerusalem and Washington missed ''a real chance for the start of a political arrangement with the Syrians'' last summer when Damascus was weak and isolated before the Soviet Union came to its aid.
Olmert also says Israel missed an opportunity to take advantage of the political and military defeat of the PLO by making a bold initiative on the West Bank.