srael claimed vindication today in the confrontation between U.S. Marines and Israeli soldiers near Beirut this week and suggested that it is owed an apology by the United States.
A senior official, clearly reflecting the sentiment in the Israeli government, blamed Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger for "blowing this completely out of proportion" and for suggesting a commendation for the Marine captain who was directly involved in the incident.
"We find it a bit surprising that an officer who drew a gun on a soldier from a country described as a friend and ally of the United States should be commended with a medal," said the official, who could not be identified under the ground rules of the briefing for foreign correspondents.
"It is clear this was a mistake on the part of the Marines. These Israeli tanks were in a place they were entitled to be in. Maybe we deserve an apology."
Asked if Israel was demanding an apology, the official said no but that "after the Americans examine the incident, it would be decent." He added that "the American public is grown up enough to understand that someone drawing a gun on an Israeli by mistake should not be commended but blamed."
The incident, the latest in a series that has raised the level of tension between the Marines and the Israelis, occurred Wednesday near the science building of Lebanon University, where a contingent of Marines is stationed as part of the multinational force in the Beirut area.
An Israeli patrol, composed of three British-made Centurion tanks, came within 300 yards of the Marine positions before being turned back by Marine Capt. Charles Johnson. At one point during the tense confrontation with the patrol leader, identified here only as "Lt. Col. Rafi," Johnson unholstered and loaded his .45 caliber automatic pistol.
As a result of the incident, American and Israeli officials agreed yesterday to place colored barrels clearly marking off the Marine positions at the science building from other areas on the Israeli side of a line that divides Israeli troops from the multinational force in Beirut.
However, such measures, while they may reduce the number of incidents between soldiers on the ground in Beirut, are unlikely to relieve the atmosphere of mutual frustration and suspicion that has grown up around the continued Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and the slow-moving negotiations to achieve a troop withdrawal.
The incidents between the Marines and Israeli soldiers have added to that atmosphere and appear to reflect the mutual suspicions between the governments, with each side blaming the other and questioning why it does not exercise more control over its military force in the Beirut area.
While the Israelis continued to express bafflement over what, in the words of the senior official today, "the whole fuss is about," they were quick to criticize Weinberger for his role in the controversy and to question why he made an issue of the incident.
Asked why he thought the confrontation took place, the official said, "Maybe they the Americans didn't know the facts, or maybe they have other reasons. I don't know, but it is a dangerous game."
Among senior Reagan administration officials, Weinberger has always been considered among the most antagonistic toward Israel by officials here.
In addition, the Israelis appear eager to buttress their contention that no outside force without a direct stake in this region can effectively combat Palestinian guerrillas seeking to attack Israeli targets. At a news conference in Tel Aviv yesterday, an Army spokesman complained that since Dec. 22 there have been 10 such incidents, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and 29 others were wounded, in the Beirut area.
Maj. Gen. Amir Drori, the Israel Army's northern commander, has charged that the multinational force in general and the Marines in particular are serving as a "buffer" behind which Palestinian guerrillas are allowed to flee in safety after making hit-and-run attacks in the Israeli zone.
Asked about indications that Capt. Johnson may have prevented a more serious incident between the Israelis and Lebanese troops in the area, the official said, "I don't think it is the Marines' duty to separate us and the Lebanese Army. There is no problem between us and the Lebanese Army."