Israel now acknowledges its widespread use of American arms in Southern Lebanon and is hoping that the change of administrations in Washington will eliminate the intermittent restrictions that this use has caused in the past.
David Kimche, director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, said in an interview he thought the Reagan administration "will understand perhaps more than the previous one our need to strike at terrorism."
Speaking after consultations in Washington with National Security Adviser Richard Allen and other Reagan associates, Kimche said, "We think we will have more understanding."
Washington has ample evidence of such violations from U.N. military observers' reports and aerial photographs taken by U.S. Air Force aircraft operating from nearby Cyprus.
The State Department officially describes U.S. policy as under review.
Israel has succeeded -- largely because of support in Congress -- in interpreting in its favor a key paragraph in the 1952 mutual defense assistance agreement governing use of U.S. weaponry provided the Jewish state.
It states: "The government of Israel assures the U.S. government that such equipment, materials or services as may be acquired from the United States under the provisions of section 408 [e] of the Mutual-Defense Assistance Act of 1952, as amended, are required for, and will be used solely to maintain, its internal security, legitimate self-defense of areas of which it is part or in the United States collective security agreements and measures and that it will not undertake any act of aggression against any other state."
Israel prefers to note only the self-defense aspects of the law. Earlier this year, for example, Israeli aircraft went more than 50 miles north of their border to shoot down a Syrian jet, apparently in keeping with this doctrine.
Israeli artillery and artillery of other forces under Israeli control have shelled urban centers, including Sidon, a city of 200,000 residents.
Israeli jet aircraft regularly fly over Beirut on reconnaissance missions, sometimes producing booms as they go through the sound barrier.
Israel emphasizes that the strikes are planned as surgical raids aimed at Palestinian guerrilla installations, from which raids into Israel are launched. The Palestinians say the raids, which have killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians and equal numbers of Palestinian refugees, are deliberately aimed at civilians as part of a terror campaign.
The Israeli establishment last December took the unusual step of apologizing officially to Syria after four Syrian soldiers were killed inadvertently by an Israeli deep-penetration raiding party.
Since its inception in January 1979 the Israeli preemptive strike doctrine has been applied except from August that year to the following April. The official largely responsible for achieving a curb on automatic use of U.S. weaponry in that period was John Gunther Dean, the American ambassador in Lebanon.
In 1979 the Lebanese government gave the U.S. Embassy a report, with names, ages and occupations, that said 969 Lebanese civilians had been killed and 224 wounded in Israel air strikes and shelling. The embassy then was instrumental in prompting then-secretary of state Cyrus Vance to write a letter that August to Rep. Clement J. Zablocki [D-Wis.], chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Adding weight to the report was a Lebanese government estimate that 175,000 Lebanese civilians had fled the south since April 1979 to escape the Israeli forces. The Palestine Liberation Organization estimated 50,000 Palestinian civilians had done likewise.
The Vance letter said only that violations "may have occurred." It added, "Our concern over the use of U.S. military equipment has been made clear in discussions with senior officials of the Israeli government," and it promised to monitor the situation.
Israeli resumed its attacks after the Iraqi-backed Arab Liberation Front killed two Israelis at the Misgav Am frontier kibbutz in April 1980.
Twice in one week, Dean, using language from U.N. Security Council resolutions, condemned stepped-up Israeli preemptive strikes that reportedly caused civilian casualties. Amid the Reagan-Carter campaign, his statements were disavowed by the State Department.