WHILE Western headlines focus on Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's statement that the killing of an Israeli citizen in Gaza may jeopardize the peace agreement in Gaza-Jericho, almost no headlines dealt with Monday's Israeli air attack inside Lebanon.
Though it seems forgotten, the government in Tel Aviv continues to launch offensive raids into Lebanon. Since Jan. 1 of this year, some 33 air- strikes have been conducted - all of them illegal. About 70 people have been killed, and 250 wounded, many of them civilians. On Aug. 4, for example, Israeli planes, in search of ``suspected guerrilla hideouts,'' killed seven civilians in three air raids. Yet no government has protested - diplomatically or otherwise - even though the raids violate United Nations Resolution 425, which requires an unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon.
Of course, UN resolutions do not mean much in the Middle East. Israelis sponsor and their forces cooperate with a renegade Lebanese army in administering a self-proclaimed ``security zone'' in south Lebanon. No state recognizes this claim, certainly not Lebanon; but no government wants to do anything about it. The zone is a source of violence that attracts the radicals that Israeli forces attack.
Radicals must be stopped. But the argument for airstrikes against extremists is a slippery slope. Many attacks on Israeli forces in Lebanon are carried out by soldiers who believe they are driving out an occupying army. To argue, as Tel Aviv does, that airstrikes are needed because Hiz-bullah can launch Katyusha rock-ets into Israel is a straw man. The rockets represent no real threat to Israel. They are invariably launched after an attack. And Israel still reserves for itself the right to preemptive strikes.
Both rockets and air raids create terror and kill innocent people.
The real message of Israel's continued bombing of Lebanon is for Syria and Iran. The message is that inside the new peace process, Israel can act with impunity; no one will object to illegalities. This raises the stakes for Syria, which allows supplies to reach Hizbullah in the south, to sign a peace deal.
Ultimately, the actions against Lebanon and the silence of the non-Arab world further marginalize the Palestinians. That Prime Minister Rabin can easily halt the peace accord with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat by using the phrase terrorism, yet order airstrikes into another country, shows how weak Mr. Arafat truly is, and how unjust the accord is. In this atmosphere, Arafat can be strung along indefinitely. Palestinians will not get a state, and will not be equal citizens on their own land.
Real peace in the Middle East can't be made at the expense of one party. The United States must end its silence.