Two Israeli Army generals said tonight that the U.S. Marine contingent of the multinational force in Beirut is failing to prevent guerrilla attacks against Israeli forces in the area and has refused attempts to work out a better system of coordination with the Israeli Army.
Maj. Gen. Amir Drori, the Israeli Army's northern commander, charged that the Marines have become a "buffer" behind which Palestinian guerrillas are able to flee in safety after making hit-and-run attacks against the Israelis to the east of the American lines.
In a special briefing tonight, Brig. Gen. Yaacov Even, the Army's chief spokesman, amplified on Drori's remarks, saying that since Dec. 22 there have been nine incidents adjacent to the U.S. lines in which one Israeli was killed and 25 wounded.
"The system has not proved to be foolproof," Even said. "It calls for some improvement. No, not it but they--the one dead and 25 wounded--they call for some improvement."
The generals' remarks came against a backdrop of rising tension over a number of incidents between the Marines and Israeli forces in Beirut and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger's publicly expressed concern last week that there could be a serious incident between the Americans and the Israelis.
They also came on the same day that a rocket, said by the Israelis to have been launched from U.S.-controlled territory, exploded a few hundred yards from the beach-front hotel in the Beirut suburb of Khaldah where U.S., Israeli and Lebanese officials are conducting negotiations on a troop withdrawal from Lebanon.
[The rocket explosion, in which an Israeli soldier was slightly wounded, failed to prevent the negotiations. Israeli spokesmen said it was a Soviet-made rocket frequently used by the Palestine Liberation Organziation in Lebanon.]
Even said the Israelis are convinced that the rocket was launched from an area near the Beirut airport that is under the Marines' jurisdiction, but he said he did not know whether the Israelis had made a formal protest to the United States about the incident.
Drori's comments came in an interview with The Associated Press that was reported tonight by the state-run Voice of Israel radio. Even said that accusing the Marines of serving as a "buffer" for Palestinian guerrillas was perhaps too "harsh," but he also was critical of the American role in the multinational force, which includes French and Italian troops.
Even said that an abandoned railroad track running into Beirut from the south is supposed to serve as the dividing line in the area--with the Israeli Army to the east of the track, controlling the Beirut-to-Damascus highway, and the multinational force to the west of the track. The Marines are stationed in the southern sector of the territory controlled by the multinational force around the Beirut airport.
Even said that although the Marines freely use a highway that is in the Israeli zone to the east of the track, Israeli soldiers are under orders not to cross the dividing line into the western sector without Drori's personal approval.
"As far as I know, such confirmation has never been granted," he said.
Even said the railroad track "is not a buffer, but a wall. We won't cross it. We expect the perpetrators guerrillas not to cross it, not with their rockets, not with their mortars. We expect not to be hurt."
The Israeli Army spokesman added, "Means do exist. If an army, a very well trained army . . . and the Marines are the best, made up its mind that no fire would be shot from its area of control, maybe the fire would have stopped."
Blaming the incidents and the rising tension between the Marines and the Israelis on "misunderstanding," Even said that the commander of the Marine contingent failed to attend a meeting with Drori on Jan. 10 after being ordered not to have direct contact with the Israelis. He said that instead another Marine officer who serves as liaison with the multinational force met with Drori last week.
"Today it is obvious to Gen. Drori that the Marines did not get a thorough briefing," Even said. "They claim not to know that the old railroad track is the border. There is some sort of misunderstanding."
Even said a second meeting, which the Marine commander is scheduled to attend, has been set for Thursday in an attempt to work out the differences.
Asked if the Israelis would like the right to pursue guerrillas across the Marine lines into West Beirut, he said, "What do you think? When we are on a chase we like to complete it. But of course not at any price. We are not going to confront Americans because we are on a hunt."
Even said he shared Weinberger's concern about a clash between the Marines and Israeli soldiers but he also expressed surprise that "American statesmen got so furious" over the incidents between the two forces.
"No Israeli soldier has been hurt by American fire and no American has been hurt by Israeli fire," he said.