All quiet on the northern front Israel-Lebanon accord: Christopher served cause of peace.

April 27, 1996

THE UNDERSTANDING that the United States announced for an end to shooting between Israel and Lebanon was a triumph for Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Although Mr. Christopher hardly wants to help Sen. Bob Dole in the November election, his arduous shuttle diplomacy showed the energy a 70-year-old can bring to a seemingly intractable problem.

As a result, Hezbollah guerrillas will not shoot at Israel from Lebanon. Israel and its Lebanese allies will not shoot at civilians. Both governments undertake that no civilians will be targets. Israel has not committed to leave Lebanon nor has Hezbollah gone away. The U.S. will enlist Europe in rebuilding the infrastructure of southern Lebanon that Israel destroyed in 16 days of shelling.

Will it stick? Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah, which he heads, will abide by the accord. Although Mr. Christopher negotiated doggedly with President Hafez el Assad of Syria, the fiction is maintained that Lebanon is the party dealing with Israel.

It would seem that Syria has agreed to Lebanon policing Hezbollah. A good guess is that Iran was kept informed by Syria and acquiesced. If so, this would be the second tacit understanding between the Clinton administration and the Islamist regime in Tehran, the first having been Iran's arming of Bosnia.

Hezbollah is a Lebanese group rooted in the Shiite community and loyal to Iran. It is not the Palestinian resistance, but there is a relationship. Iran was brandishing Hezbollah in hopes of halting the Israel-PLO accord.

This failed when the Palestine National Council revoked calls for the destruction of Israel from the PLO charter, and Israel's Labor Party removed opposition to a Palestinian state from its electoral platform. Only after this breakthrough did the last obstacles to the Lebanon-Israel cease-fire fell away.

The agreement grants a special role to France, whose diplomatic intervention the U.S. had resented. The key role of Syria looms larger while shrouded behind the ostensible sovereignty of Lebanon, where Syria maintains 35,000 troops. Israel will live with the opprobrium from killing 150 persons and dispossessing 500,000 more without stopping the Katyusha rockets. But most Israelis believe their government did right, and Prime Minister Shimon Peres' standing in opinion polls improved.

Syria and Lebanon have not been pushed into peace with Israel. But as the PLO-Israel accord proceeds, President Assad can see the growing isolation that goes with holding out.

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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