Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said today that Israeli troops should be allowed to man "anti-terror supervision stations" in southern Lebanon for an unspecified length of time because only they are capable of preventing the infiltration of Palestinian guerrillas.
Speaking to a group of American and Canadian Jews attending an Israel Bonds conference here, Sharon provided new details on Israel's demand for the creation of a "security zone" in southern Lebanon as part of a troop withdrawal agreement with the Lebanese. His remarks appeared to represent Israel's response to the mounting U.S. complaints about Israel's demands in the negotiations on troop withdrawal.
Sharon said Israel was asking to leave behind in Lebanon a small number of troops to man stations for a "limited period," although he did not specify how long this would be.
He also vowed that in the negotiations Israel will not abandon its Lebanese Christian ally in southern Lebanon, Saad Haddad, arguing that until the Lebanese Army is strengthened, Haddad's militia will be the only "efficient troops" in the area.
"Haddad fought in the most loyal way together with our forces, and Israel will not let down people who fought with our forces," he said.
Sharon acknowledged that there is a dispute with the United States over the security zone issue but said it did not involve a looming "confrontation" between the countries.
In recent days, however, U.S. officials have made clear their differences with the Israelis on this issue. In the negotiations, the United States has sided with Lebanon's demand that the Israeli troop withdrawal be total and that any military installations established in the security zone be operated by non-Israeli personnel.
On Sunday, U.S. special envoy Philip C. Habib reportedly suggested to Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Sharon several options to do the job: an expanded multinational force, the United Nations force stationed in southern Lebanon, the Lebanese Army or a combination of all three. But the Israelis rebuffed Habib's suggestions, apparently on the grounds that Sharon voiced today.
The defense minister said the purpose of the "anti-terror stations" would be to provide Israel with "information on any attempt by the terrorists to reestablish their infrastructure in southern Lebanon."
"It cannot be done by American soldiers or troops or officers from any European country," he said. "It must be done by people who know the terrain, who know the language" and who are able to distinguish among Lebanon's myriad Christian and Moslem factions.
Sharon said the stations would not be electronic listening posts, such as the early warning stations established in the Sinai as part of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and would not be directed at any Arab country outside of Lebanon.
Referring to published reports here that Israel is demanding three stations manned by a total of 750 troops, Sharon said fewer soldiers would be required but he was not more specific.
Sharon said it was "impossible" for the multinational force to do this job and he accused some unnamed units of the U.N. contingent of actively cooperating with the Palestine Liberation Organization before last June's Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
He said it may be "years" before the Lebanese Army is capable of policing southern Lebanon and that in the meantime the militia commanded by Haddad, whose forces are trained and supplied by the Israelis, should be the principal military element in the area.
Sharon also said that Israel is demanding agreement that no other foreign forces will be allowed in Lebanon and restrictions on the number of Lebanese soldiers and types of weapons that will be allowed into the security zone.