Israel is interested in and prepared for the cessation of all hostilities in Lebanon as soon as possible. In fact, were it not for the intervention of the Syrians in the past 48 hours, our drive against the terrorists would have been completed upon attaining our stated objective: "to place all the civilian population of the Galilee beyond the range of terrorist fire."

It has surely not gone unnoticed that while various nations have suffered what President Reagan has himself called "the scourge of terrorism" and others have recognized its evil face, only Israel has been ready to take up the challenge and actually confront the danger and endeavor to erase it at the cost of valuable young lives.

In doing so, we have exercised our legitimate right of self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

The population in the north of our country was subject to bombardment from terrorist emplacements within neighboring Lebanon, whose government lost control of the situation more than seven years ago. They deliberately placed their guns in centers of the Lebanese civilian population, expecting thus to derive immunity and to perpetrate their constant aggression with impunity. It is our concerned belief that no nation, forced to live under the circumstances of our northern population, would act differently.

For as long as it was possible, we willingly cooperated with the political efforts of Ambassador Philip Habib. But even his consummate diplomatic skill was unable to restrain the PLO terrorists for long. Since July 1981, when he achieved the cessation of hostilities, the terrorists had violated their commitment nearly 150 times in a chain of events that culminated in the attempted assassination of our ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov.

Following upon this record of barbarism, our defense forces were ordered to sweep the PLO terrorists out of southern Lebanon, to destroy their guns and put them beyond the reach of our population. This meant creating a PLO-free zone approximately 40 kilometers deep. Obviously, to attain that and for tactical and topographical reasons, our forces were obliged to move temporarily further north in some parts of the terrain.

The presence of a large Syrian force in unhappy Lebanon is a complicating factor. At the start of our action, we declared that we would not attack the Syrians unless forced to do so in self-defense. Prime Minister Begin urged the Syrian leaders to stay out of our conflict with the PLO. They are, after all, not there as the PLO's guardians.

To our regret, the Syrians did not heed our request nor our warnings but became actively engaged in ground and air combat with our forces. As a result, the fighting has spread, and the operation, which we wanted to limit in time and in scope, has been extended.

We have not abandoned hope that wiser counsel will prevail in Damascus and that the Assad government will order its troops to disengage and, better still, to leave Lebanon.

It is my earnest desire to emphasize that we are not at war with the people of Lebanon, who are the unfortunate victims of unnecessary, unjustified and prolonged occupation by numerous foreign military elements, principally the PLO and the Syrians.

We do not covet a square inch of Lebanese soil and have no intention of remaining there a minute longer than necessary. We are anxious to see the emergence of a free, secure Lebanon whose territorial integrity we would respect and with whom we would gladly conclude a peace treaty.

Since the commencement of our struggle against the PLO, we have received innumerable messages of good will and expressions of support from Americans in all parts of this great country. None has moved me more than one from a Lebanese who states that "having been obliged to leave my country because of the Syrian/Palestinan occupation and the destruction of my country, I would like to express my gratitude to the Israeli people and army for their intervention in Lebanon and the help they are giving us for the restoration of our pride and independence."

"I think that only a people who suffered understands the suffering the Lebanese people went through these seven years of tyranny. I only hope that this war will end as soon as possible in order to avoid more death and destruction. Thank you again and God bless your people and each one of your soldiers."

A dramatic change in the fortunes of Lebanon will only be possible when the PLO ceases to be a factor in that country, as it is not a factor in any other independent Arab state.

Therefore, it is in the mutual interest of Israel and Lebanon for our present operation to go its normal course to a successful conclusion, which means that the terrorists will not be permitted to threaten both our peoples from that territory.

A revived, independent Lebanon, at peace with neighboring Israel, free of the PLO terrorists and the Syrian-Soviet surrogates, would be a boon to all the free world. This historic opportunity for positive change should be grasped by the United States.