Israelis play 'a dangerous game' in south Lebanon

Having pulled back to south Lebanon for what may be a long stay, Israel is facing the problem of how to control 600,000 increasingly hostile Lebanese. To help its Army maintain security, Israel has been setting up a network of armed Lebanese groups and militias in towns and villages in the south, based on various local religious and family factions.

But south Lebanese notables, especially from the majority Shiite Muslim community, warn that in fratricidal Lebanon this is a dangerous game. They fear that in the present supercharged political atmosphere such armed bands may spark the kind of vicious intercommunal fighting in the south which is devouring the Beirut region.

Some also warn that such Israeli policies - and Israel's continued stay in Lebanon - will ultimately provoke Lebanese attacks on Israeli troops rather than protecting them.

''The troubles will really begin for the Israelis in the south after the partial withdrawal,'' predicted Mohammed Ghaddar, leader of the Shiite Amal (Hope) movement in southern Lebanon. Amal is still a powerful force in the area although Israel banned its members from carrying weapons.

The national Amal organization was formed in 1978 to fight for economic and political rights for Lebanon's Shiite Muslims, the biggest and poorest of the country's patchwork of religious communties. It decided not to attack Israeli troops in the south during or after the Israeli invasion because it supported the Israeli aim of driving Palestinian fighters out of the south. But Amal has never cooperated with the Israeli network of Lebanese militias in the south which it opposes.

Warned Mr. Ghaddar just before the Israeli pullback, ''Amal is ready to make a decision against the Israelis. After the partial withdrawal they will no longer be on a peace mission. They will be an army of occupation.''

Israeli military sources say the Lebanese population in the south is still basically friendly and grateful that Israel pushed the Palestine Liberation Organization fighters out. The Israelis blame any trouble on a few leftists, remaining PLO members, or radical Shiites who support Ayatollah Khomeini.

The new Israeli line on the Awali River - 113 kilometers of outposts, watchtowers, trenches, electric fences, checkpoints, and patrols - is designed to limit infiltration by hostile Lebanese and Palestinians coming from Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon.

But Israeli military sources admit frankly, ''There is no way to prevent attack, only to minimize it.'' Of 172 Israeli soldiers killed since the official end of the invasion on Sept. 1, 1982, many more died in the south than in the area which Israel has just evacuated.

Moreover, few south Lebanese believe a fortified line can keep out infiltrators. ''There are many ways to go, secret paths, I can show you,'' confides Fawzi Kassab, a Christian from Karkhah village overlooking the Awali where the Israelis are building fortifications.

Thus, if the Israelis want to keep down casualties, catch infiltrators, and prevent renewed attacks across their northern border, they will need local help.

According to present Israeli thinking they also need to build a security network in the south, before they can contemplate leaving.

The Israelis have clearly ruled out reliance on the Lebanese Army in the south. Lebanese soldiers at the local Sidon barracks, which was bombed by Israel during the invasion, are not allowed to carry arms or conduct military activity. ''The Lebanese Army isn't ready to take 20 kilometers around Beirut,'' one Israeli military source in Sidon said in scornful explanation. ''There is confusion enough here without another factor.''

Instead, the Israelis have chosen to rely on a number of armed Lebanese factions. Foremost is the militia of Maj. Saad Haddad, a renegade Christian Army officer who formed a fighting force in 1978 with Israeli funding and training in an enclave just north of the Israeli border in order to fight PLO guerrillas in south Lebanon. Major Haddad's men wear olive-drab Israeli uniforms.

Israel had hoped that the Haddad forces could act as a surrogate for Israeli troops when they withdrew.

Since June 1982 Haddad has been recruiting men for his force, estimated at 1, 000 to 1,500 including Christians and Shiites.

Over this past year he was allowed by Israel to expand his domain north to the Awali. It is Haddad's men who stand at the north entrance to Sidon on the Awali bridge checking all traffic entering the city. Local Sidon officials resent the taxes levied by Haddad on every auto license in the south, on sand for building, and on every liter of gasoline refined in the region.

But it gradually became clear that the Christian Haddad, whose forces had no legitimate family or traditional base in the Muslim southern region beyond his enclave, was vastly overextended.

However, Israeli actions have soured relations with the strongest and most legitimate militia in the south, Amal. Formed by the revered Shiite spiritual leader Iman Musa Sadr, who disappeared five years ago in Libya, Amal turned against the PLO, despite the initial support by some Shiite youth, when Palestinian attacks across the Israeli border brought bombs raining down on Shiite villages.

For a long time the Israelis ignored Amal in the south, but they eventually approached them to cooperate. Amal refused to cut a separate deal without central government approval.

The current Amal struggle in Beirut for a larger share of power for Shiites in the central government has tied the southern Amal branch closer to overall Lebanese politics. Southern Amal leaders will no longer be interviewed by name without advance permission by top Amal head Nabih Berri.

''Amal won't make an agreement because Israel is staying here,'' says a senior Shiite. ''Israel would fix a date for their leaving, Amal would guarantee their border and ensure no terrorist would hit them,'' he says.

In the meantime, starting in January 1983, Israel began recruiting both Lebanese and Palestinians into armed national guard units in villages and refugee camps. A civilian support group, the United Southern Assembly was set up in the spring in Tyre through which Israeli officials tried to offer villages agricultural and financial assistance. They seemed to have made little headway. Some informed Western observers make a comparison with Israeli attempts to set up rural ''Village Leagues'' in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to encourage cooperation, an effort which was recently all but abandoned.

Amal officials and local Shiite villagers complain that the Israelis recruit ''the worst elements'' including former PLO backers released from the Israeli detention camp at Ansar upon promises to cooperate, and local toughs who use their new guns to extort money from villagers.

''Each army tries to win by making many groups, to divide and conquer,'' says one key Amal notable cynically. ''They succeed with a weak person who wants money and power. They play families against each other.''

Shiite villages also report that village leaders are frequently pressured by arrests or threats into joining the national guard. In one case, Shiite leaders cited Amal leader Ali Ajami of the village of Sarafand who was taken to Ansar. Shiite notables were told the price of his release was formation of a national guard unit in Sarafand.

Amal leaders are also bitter about arrests of members; 130 Amal activists are now in Ansar. ''At the beginning our people would inform on PLO infiltrators,'' says one Amal official, ''but now they may start to protect them because they begin to hate the Israelis.''

Amal pressure may have been one reason why Israel clamped down recently on another armed militia which they had allowed to operate in the south, the Maronite Christian Lebanese Forces or Phalangists. Hundreds of Phalangists set up bases in Christian villages near Sidon, following the Israeli invasion when official Israeli policy still envisioned Christian domination of Lebanon.

Phalangist attacks on Palestinians got much publicity. But their conflicts with the Shiites in the south were far more dangerous. Shiite villagers say they were harassed at Christian roadblocks. In April, the Phalangists killed a 70 -year-old Amal member in Sarafand, shot and wounded his wife and daughter-in-law , and beat his son to death. ''In south Lebanon we never had any Muslim-Christian conflicts in the past,'' says a Amal leader.

Amal leaders warned the Israelis that one more such incident would prompt them to take their guns out of the garages. The Israelis, themselves disillusioned with the Phalangists, subsequently clamped down somewhat on their activities.

Next: south Lebanon's Palestinians

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