Sharon misled Israel on war plans, book says
Former Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon - along with Lebanon's Maronite Christian warlords - secretly planned the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon without ever fully unveiling his plans to Israel's civilian leaders, a new Israeli book charges.
General Sharon believed he had the Reagan administration's tacit approval, according to the book.
In this Israeli election summer, Israel is ''stuck in south Lebanon, hoisted by its own petard. Still lacking security for its northern settlements, it could only hope that things would not get much worse than they were before the war,'' conclude Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari in their book, ''Israel's Lebanon War.''
Mr. Schiff, Israel's most prominent military commentator, is a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Mr. Yaari is an Israeli television journalist.
Before Israel's election on Monday, in which the Lebanon war and its costs were key issues, some members of both the ruling Likud bloc and the opposition Labor Party had already read parts of the book. It was partially published in Israel in the Hebrew language and serialized in an Arabic version.
But the extent to which the authors say Sharon misled the Israeli Cabinet and public, as well as members of the Reagan administration, about his intentions of taking the war to Beirut and redrawing Lebanon's political map, emerges only from the longer, English version. It will be published in September by Simon & Schuster in New York and Allen & Unwin in London.
Neither the Labor Party nor former Prime Minister Menachem Begin (in whose Cabinet the present prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, sat as foreign minister), nor former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig, nor the various Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian actors escape the close examination by these two Israeli insiders. On balance, Syrian President Hafez Assad, now firmly in the driver's seat in Lebanon and Syria, seems to have made the fewest mistakes of any of the other main actors.
During the buildup to the war, Mr. Schiff tried many times to sound alarm bells through his writing about possible consequences for Israel of an operation against the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon. He warned that it would likely get out of hand and become something larger. This angered Sharon, who tried, as Schiff now says, to ''close doors'' of access to Schiff's many senior military and political sources.
Sharon failed. The authors open their book with a detailed account of secret planning sessions between Israel and Lebanon's Maronites, beginning in 1976 during the Lebanese civil war.
Disillusioned with Syrian policies in Lebanon, the Christian Phalange Party's chief and godfather, Pierre Gemayel, and his sons Amin (now the Lebanese President) and Bashir, as well as the rival Maronite clan of ex-President Camille Chamoun, all turned to Israel for help.
The authors recall how the ''notion of a Jewish-Maronite partnership'' in Lebanon was conceived by Israeli founders David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan in 1955. Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett ''had to fight tooth and nail'' against their plan, the book says.
The plan was to ''buy'' a Maronite Army officer to invite Israeli intervention and ''enable Israel to establish its control over Lebanon,'' a plan which, Mr. Sharett predicted, would bring only extreme difficulties for Israel.
Camille Chamoun's son, Dany, proved far more eager to collaborate with the Israelis on a ''no holds barred'' basis than did the Gemayel family. The book describes, with direct quotations, how the Gemayels disgusted former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by confessing to him that they were ''ashamed and dismayed'' to have to turn to Israel for help.
The Gemayel family's reluctance to be seen openly collaborating with their Israeli ''liberators'' reached its peak as Israeli forces approached Beirut after the June 1982 invasion.
As the book records, Bashir Gemayel, Lebanon's President-elect who was murdered in September 1982 - by Syria, the authors say - never responded to Sharon's angry, ''Don't just sit there, do something.'' Bashir broke the Phalange's promises to fight alongside Israeli troops.
After humiliating interviews with Sharon and Prime Minister Begin, Bashir chose to rely instead on US assurances of support rather than Israeli ones. In the end, his brother Amin ''sat teetering on his shaky throne.... Although his family had invited the Syrians, the Israelis, the Americans into Lebanon in turn , never once had it savored the taste of victory,'' the authors write.
A few of the book's further points:
* Secretary Haig, until his resignation in July 1982, consistently tried to soften or drop ''punitive'' measures against Israel proposed by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and other top US officials. On one occasion, Haig encouraged Begin to be tough with Reagan and ''hold out for what you want.'' When Begin emerged from the interview without having conceded anything, Haig gave Begin a triumphant ''thumbs up'' sign.
* US Middle East envoy Philip Habib was used by Begin to try to exact impossible concessions from Syrian President Assad in return for Israeli assurances of an early withdrawal from Lebanon. Assad agreed to a cease-fire, but Mr. Habib lost further credibility with the Arab side.
* Begin refused to permit the Israeli Cabinet - which never specifically authorized Sharon's main forward military moves - to listen to an intelligence expert's explanation of the shooting of Israel's ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, which triggered the Israeli invasion. The attack, the expert said, was not by Yasser Arafat's mainstream Palestine Liberation Organization, but by Iraqi-paid, anti-Arafat dissident terrorist Abu Nidal.
''Abu Nidal, Abu Snidal,'' Begin scoffed. ''He was a terrorist. That's enough.''
* Senior Israeli military men, despite denials from Israeli officials, knew about the Sabra-Shatila massacres of Palestinians by Phalangists within hours after they had begun. Further, the Phalangists did not infiltrate the camps without the Israelis' knowledge. They were guided and directed into them while the Israelis provided various forms of assistance.
The book strongly implies that the US, in an election year or otherwise, is unwilling or unable to exercise any benign influence on Israel's actions. The authors clearly believe that actions of Sharon and those who willingly followed him have deeply harmed Israel.
The authors quote Col. Eli Geva, the much-decorated Israeli armed forces officer who refused to shell civilian targets in Beirut and asked to be relieved of his command rather than continue fighting the war.
''It's not our fight,'' Colonel Geva said before the siege of Beirut, which began in September 1982. ''Our actions are pushing the Palestinian problem into the spotlight. What we're doing is raising America's consciousness about the Palestinian problem. We may find ourselves confronted with solutions not at all to our liking.''