The Israeli government today tried to put the best face on yesterday's angry message from the White House, terming President Reagan's outrage at the Israeli bombing of Beirut a "temporary" matter that would have no impact on American-Israeli relations.
"I can tell you that this is not a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations," a senior official said. "This is a time of difficulty."
While minimizing the president's anger -- conveyed yesterday in a written message to Prime Minister Menachem Begin that was followed by two telephone conversations between the two leaders--the Israelis also sought to calm fears that the latest cease-fire in Beirut was just another pause before the resumption of heavy land, sea and air attacks on Palestinian guerrillas trapped in the city.
In a statement issued by the Israeli Foreign Ministry's senior spokesman, Avi Pazner, the Begin government stressed its support for the efforts of U.S. special envoy Philip C. Habib to arrange a peaceful evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization fighters.
"Israel would like to see a political solution to the question of the presence or nonpresence of the PLO terrorists in Beirut and Lebanon," Pazner said. "Israel will observe the cease-fire scrupulously, on a reciprocal basis, meaning that if the terrorists break the cease-fire as they have before we will respond accordingly."
The Foreign Ministry statement seemed carefully phrased to suggest that, at least for now, Israel would refrain from responding to PLO fire with the full weight of its Air Force, naval gunboats and artillery.
Beirut was quiet today except for an incident reported tonight. Military officials said an Israeli Army water truck mistakenly crossed over into Syrian-held positions about six miles east of the capital. They said the driver of the truck was missing.
The military command also announced that one soldier was wounded by sniper fire in eastern Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Begin and other Israeli officials continued to express optimism that Habib's mission was close to success. Informed sources here said that Begin privately has told associates that he expects the PLO withdrawal to begin next Thursday, the same day cited in a Lebanese state radio report today.
The two major obstacles to reaching a withdrawal agreement center on a French proposal that U.N. cease-fire observers participate in the evacuation arrangements, and on the timing of the arrival in Beirut of the multinational force that is to oversee the withdrawal.
Israeli officials restated today their strong opposition to any U.N. presence in Beirut during the evacuation. Israel considers the United Nations to be an anti-Israeli body, and officials suggested that their opposition to this aspect of the plan was nonnegotiable.
Israeli sources said the likely compromise on the deployment of the multinational force would involve the arrival in Beirut of a small contingent of Lebanese Army or Italian troops within a few hours or a day of the initial withdrawal of an equally small contingent of the Palestinian guerrillas.
The multinational force is to be composed of 800 French troops, 800 U.S. Marines and 400 Italian soldiers, supplemented by regular Lebanese Army units. Publicly Israel has insisted that it will not allow any element of the force into Beirut until more than half the PLO guerrillas have withdrawn from the city.
But in the negotiations, informed sources said, Israel has come much closer to accepting the U.S.-backed proposal that a small segment of the force be deployed just prior to or at the beginning of the evacuation to provide at least some psychological security to the guerrillas as they start to leave their fortified positions in the city.
The Israelis prefer that these first peace-keeping units be Lebanese but have also suggested willingness to allow early deployment of American troops. The Reagan administration, however, reportedly is reluctant to put U.S. troops in such a leading position. Since the Israelis are adamantly opposed to allowing the French to be the first to enter the city, the task may fall to the Italians.
In downgrading the importance of yesterday's angry American response to the bombing of Beirut, officials here shrugged off U.S. support the same day for a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for strict adherence to the cease-fire.
According to some officials here, yesterday's outburst from the White House was trivial compared to Reagan's anger last week when Israeli ground forces entered West Beirut shortly after the president had met in Washington with Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
These officials said that as a result of American anger over the move into West Beirut, Begin told Defense Minister Ariel Sharon there were to be no more advances by Israeli ground forces without approval from the government.
The Jerusalem Post reported today that yesterday's emergency Cabinet meeting was instigated by Sharon and Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, who were seeking authorization for just such a new military move on the ground.
But the Cabinet ministers, angry at being awakened yesterday to reports of heavy new Israeli air assaults just as the Habib mission appeared on the verge of success, rejected the request. With Begin's support, they decided to strip Sharon of the authority to order air strikes on Beirut on his own initiative.
Israeli newspapers were dominated today by accounts of the bitter Cabinet meeting and quoted some unnamed ministers as calling for Sharon'sresignation. But veteran political observers here said they expect Sharon to remain in his post, although kept under close watch by Begin and the Cabinet at least until the crisis in Beirut has passed.