Invasion of Lebanon Wrong, Rabin Charges : Israeli Defense Minister Says Occupation Has Made Shia Muslims a Bigger Threat Than PLO
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in comments sure to produce a storm of controversy at home, on Wednesday denounced his country’s invasion of Lebanon, saying that its objective was the product of “childish thinking” and that it has made Lebanon’s Shia Muslims a bigger threat to Israel than PLO guerrillas.
The Israeli defense minister spoke after conferring with President Reagan on the final day of a trip to Washington. Rabin obtained a promise of $1.8 billion in military aid for the next fiscal year, an increase of $400 million over present levels but $400 million less than Israel had requested.
An Israeli opposition leader at the time of the June, 1982, invasion of Lebanon, Rabin had criticized it from its start. However, Wednesday’s comments were his most outspoken since he became defense minister in September, joining a coalition government that includes members of the Likud bloc that initiated the invasion.
Rabin said that his country’s 31-month occupation of southern Lebanon has so radicalized the region’s once-docile Shia Muslims that they are a greater danger to Israeli security than the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“We let the . . . (Shia) genie out of the bottle, and now it’s gone crazy,” he told reporters.
Danger to Israel Seen
If fundamentalist Shias, organized and directed by Syria, continue to attack Israeli targets after the Israeli army completes its withdrawal from Lebanon, he said, the result will “endanger Israel more than Arafat and Company,” a reference to the PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
“No PLO terrorist ever took a truck with a half a ton of explosives” to launch suicide attacks, such as Shias belonging to the terrorist Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War) are believed to have done at two U.S. Embassy buildings, the U.S. Marine barracks and an Israeli facility in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, Rabin said.
When Israel invaded Lebanon, its announced purpose was wiping out PLO bases within artillery range of Israel’s northern towns and farming communities. Menachem Begin, then the prime minister, predicted that the invasion would destroy the base of international terrorism and assure peace for the Israeli region near the Sea of Galilee.
However, Rabin--describing that objective as the product of “childish thinking"--said that “terrorism will be with us for many years.”
At the urging of Rabin, a former prime minister and former army chief of staff, the Israeli Cabinet has approved a three-stage plan for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. The first stage, a pullback from the Awwali River to the Litani River farther south, is scheduled to be completed by Feb. 18.
Rabin conceded that a renewal of sectarian violence, possibly including massacres, is likely after the Israeli withdrawal. However, he said Israel should not be held responsible because it repeatedly has tried to arrange for an orderly transfer of power to either the Lebanese government or the United Nations. He said Syria blocked Lebanese and U.N. participation.
Earlier Wednesday, Richard W. Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, called Israel’s unilateral withdrawal “the second best solution"--and the best now that Israel and Lebanon have failed to agree on a plan.
“Violence is possible; given the track record of Lebanon in past years, it is highly likely,” Murphy said. However, in testimony to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, Murphy said there are no plans for the United States to attempt to fill the vacuum caused by the Israeli pullout.
Rabin also ruled out an American role.
The White House announced after Rabin’s meeting with Reagan that the Administration will ask Congress for $1.8 billion in military aid for Israel for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Funds for U.S. Arms
Rabin said most of the money, none of which will have to be repaid, will be used to buy U.S.-produced weapons, although he said more than $200 million will be earmarked for further development of the Lavi, an Israeli-manufactured warplane. Rabin said Israel is not shopping for any U.S. weapons systems it has not purchased before.
Asked if Israel will ask its supporters in Congress to attempt to increase the military aid figure, Rabin said: “We wanted more.”
Israel’s willingness to settle for $1.8 billion might be changed, Rabin said, if the United States agrees to sell a large package of arms to Saudi Arabia or any other Arab country that has not made peace with Israel.
The Saudis’ substantial request includes additional F-15 warplanes. In his congressional testimony, Murphy said it is “very likely” the Administration will ultimately propose some sort of Saudi arms sales package.
However, Murphy said that no new arms sales proposals for Saudi Arabia or any other country in the region will be sent to Congress for approval until after completion of a comprehensive study of the security situation throughout the Mideast. He said this review has been under way for some time and will be completed in four to six weeks.
A State Department official said later that arms sales agreements already approved will be honored and that there has been no suspension of weapons sales to the region.
Economic Aid Unresolved
Left unresolved in the Rabin talks is the amount of U.S. economic aid. Secretary of State George P. Shultz has said that the aid level will depend on Israel’s efforts to put its own economic house in order. The Israeli government has requested $1.8 billion for the coming fiscal year, and an extra $800 million this year, on top of the $1.2 billion already provided.
Rabin predicted that the final Administration request for next year’s economic aid will be higher than $1.2 billion, but he refused to say how much higher. He said an austerity package approved by the Israeli Cabinet a week ago, which includes government spending cuts and a formal devaluation of the shekel, will go a long way toward meeting U.S. requirements.
Murphy, in his subcommittee testimony, seemed to agree: “They have taken a number of good steps, and there is a very clear view of what more must be done.”