Hrawi Government Viewed as Now Able to Strongarm Arafat’s PLO
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ President Elias Hrawi plans to capitalize on the dwindling post-Gulf War fortunes of PLO leader Yasser Arafat to try to curb guerrilla attacks against Israel, an official said Monday.
″The president feels the fallout of Iraq’s defeat presents a good chance to strongarm the demoralized Palestinians in south Lebanon to stop attacking Israel,″ the government official said.
″We’re not on a collision course, yet. I think Arafat has been so weakened by Iraq’s defeat that he will order his men to bow to the Lebanese authorities,″ the official said on condition of anonymity.
There is a general belief among Lebanese officials and Arab diplomats that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s humiliation by the U.S.-led multinational coalition could trigger Arafat’s downfall.
″You can’t win when you bet on a loser. It’s no secret that there is plenty of talk in the Arab world that Arafat must be replaced,″ the government official said.
Saudi Arabia and allied Arab nations in the Persian Gulf have stopped their subsidies to the PLO because of Arafat’s support of Saddam. These subsidies form the PLO’s main income.
Arafat’s estimated 6,000 hard-core guerrillas in south Lebanon, his main power base, are demoralized. The Lebanese media says Arafat plans, or has already ordered, substantial salary cuts for his fighters.
Shortly after the Gulf War broke out Jan. 17, Arafat’s guerrillas unleashed barrages of Katyusha rockets on a self-designated ″security zone″ Israel occupies in south Lebanon as a buffer against cross-border attacks.
Israel responded with heavy air, sea and artillery strikes that left at least 22 guerrillas killed and 48 wounded in a week of escalated hostilities dubbed by the Arab press as the Gulf War’s second front.
When Iraq appeared headed for defeat, guerrilla activity began to fade correspondingly.
On Saturday, Hrawi told a visiting delegation of south Lebanese that he would not tolerate more rocket attacks.
″Such attacks brought on Israel’s invasion of south Lebanon in 1978 and partly triggered the 1982 invasion, too. As of today, we will not tolerate that Katyusha rockets be used to provoke another Israeli invasion.″
A few hours after he spoke, the Lebanese army announced it found and dismantled two Katyusha rockets in south Lebanon two hours before they were set to be fired on Israel at midnight Saturday.
Israeli warplanes on Sunday destroyed a PLO base about 6 miles southwest of the spot where the two Katyusha’s were discovered.
Hrawi did not say what he would do if the guerrillas failed to comply. His estimated 2,000 troops deployed in south Lebanon Feb. 7 are no match for Arafat’s force.
Military sources in Beirut said the army can count on the support of about 5,000 Shiite Muslim Lebanese militiamen in the event of a confrontation with the Palestinians in the south.
The predominantly Shiite population has been the main victim of Israeli reprisals during the 20 years the volatile region has been the theater of Arafat’s armed struggle against the Jewish state.
The army command also is planning to deploy another battalion of 1,000 soldiers in the south in the next two weeks, the sources said. They spoke on condition they are not further identified.
Hrawi, a Maronite Catholic, on Saturday spoke of the anti-Palestinian sentiment his sect and the Shiites harbored during Lebanon’s nearly 16-year- old civil war.
″Those we had received with open arms and treated them as equals to the Lebanese are the ones spreading trouble in the south,″ Hrawi said. ″They must realize that the liberation of their homeland cannot be attained by firing Katyusha’s from our land.″
The Maronites, who have dominated power since Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943, have been the main foes of the Palestinians since the civil war erupted in 1975.
Hrawi is hoping the U.N. Security Council will pressure Israel into ending its occupation of the south Lebanon enclave, which was carved out in 1985 when Israel withdrew the bulk of its occupation army.