Israelis Sweep Into S. Lebanon to Search for Guerrillas
Hundreds of Israeli troops swept into the army’s self-proclaimed “security zone” in southern Lebanon on Monday, searching for Palestinian guerrillas in their biggest operation north of the border in more than two years.
An army spokesman confirmed the action and said it was “due to the growing number of terrorist attempts to infiltrate into Israel for the purpose of committing murder and terrorist attacks for (hostage)-bargaining purposes.” He said the action will end “with the conclusion of the search.”
Although the spokesman did not give any additional details, Lebanese and other sources indicated that the action involved as many as 1,500 troops and was centered in the eastern sector of the security zone near the point where Lebanon, Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights meet.
This area was the site of several recent infiltration attempts into Israel, including one on April 26 in which an Israeli battalion commander and one other soldier from an elite army unit were killed and two other soldiers were wounded. Six Arab guerrillas also were killed in that attempt, as was another in the same area the next day.
There have been at least a dozen attempted infiltrations from the north since Nov. 25, when a lone guerrilla used a hang glider to cross the border and attack an army base, killing six Israeli soldiers before being shot to death himself. At least 11 Israeli troops have died along the northern border in the last five months.
Beirut Radio reported late Monday that Israeli ships and airplanes were taking part in the latest operation, bombarding Lebanese villages in the south. And U.N. sources confirmed that there was “lots of illumination” along the Lebanese coast both north and south of Tyre, which is about 15 miles north of the Israel border.
No Other Unusual Activity
However, the sources said that U.N. outposts scattered through much of the more populous western portions of the area had detected no other unusual activity as of midnight local time. The last time the Israelis are known to have crossed the border in such force was in February, 1986, when they launched a six-day sweep through the western sector to search for two captured comrades and to punish their abductors. By the end of the operation, 13 Lebanese had been killed, a dozen wounded, more than 100 taken prisoner and about 3,000 questioned.
Israel invaded Lebanon in June, 1982, ostensibly to destroy a virtual “state within a state” of the Palestine Liberation Organization that had taken root in southern Lebanon and posed a constant threat to Israel’s northern settlements. Another goal of the invasion, it was later confirmed, was to install a friendly Christian regime in Beirut that would make peace with Israel.
While it succeeded in driving most PLO fighters out of Lebanon, the action, which involved more than 15,000 troops, failed in its second purpose. And by the time Israel finally withdrew the bulk of its forces three years ago, the Lebanon incursion was widely perceived in the country as perhaps its most unsuccessful war.