Marine Commandant Gen. Robert H. Barrow has demanded that "firm and strong action" be taken to stop Israeli forces in Lebanon from putting Marines and Army officers in "life-threatening situations" that are "timed, orchestrated and executed for obtuse Israeli political purposes."
The general's charges were contained in a letter, dated March 14, to Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger. The letter was released by the Pentagon yesterday.
Barrow has been angry for months over what he considers deliberate Israeli provocations designed to discredit international peace-keeping forces in Lebanon. He finally wrote Weinberger because "I must formally register my deep concern."
Weinberger underscored his support for Barrow's stand by sending the complaint to Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who took up the question of Israeli harassment with Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who was visiting Washington for talks on troop withdrawals from Lebanon.
Barrow's letter followed a pushing incident last weekend in East Beirut between a Marine patrol and Israeli troops. It was written before five Marines were wounded in Beirut on Wednesday by a grenade hurled at them by an unknown assailant. That incident is not believed to be related to Barrow's complaint.
"I had considered commenting on earlier incidents between Marines and the IDF Israeli Defense Forces ," Barrow wrote Weinberger, "but corrective measures, which were rapidly implemented in February, 1983, appeared to defuse the situation. I can no longer remain silent on this continual problem of provocation from the IDF."
He said that not only are the 1,200 Marines in Beirut being harassed by the Israelis, but "I have received information concerning serious harassing incidents by the IDF of U.S. officers attached to the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization" in Lebanon.
"These particular incidents involved USMC U.S. Marine Corps and USA U.S. Army officers in life-threatening situations," Barrow wrote, "replete with verbal degradation of the officers, their uniform and country. Unfortunately, and of greater concern to me, incidents of this nature are the rule rather than the exception."
He appended to his letter a list of the incidents, which the Pentagon did not release. But other sources said Israeli harassment of the Marines has ranged from calling them cowards to shooting close to their headquarters at night and sometimes in the path of their vehicles during the day.
The most celebrated confrontation occurred on Feb. 2 when Marine Capt. Charles B. Johnson of Neenah, Wis., waved his pistol at an Israeli tank that had ignored his demands to stop and pushed into what he considered the Marine area. The Israeli tank commander backed away with his three tanks, and no shots were exchanged.
In the wake of that incident, the zones to be patrolled by the Marines, Israelis and other forces were marked off with colored barrels, which seemed to ease the tense situation in Beirut.
The Israeli government said the tank confrontation occurred in a disputed area and denied there has been any attempt to provoke Marines in Lebanon. The Israelis have faulted the United States for not providing liaison officers to work with their forces and have accused Weinberger of decreeing a non-fraternization policy for Marines and Israelis, a charge the defense secretary has denied.
The Israeli Embassy yesterday called anew for better liaison, releasing a statement that said, "We welcome the Marine contingent in the Beirut area and wish to have the fullest cooperation with them. Israel has repeatedly expressed a desire for a direct liaison with the U.S. Marines. We have such a liaison with the French, British and Italian contingents of the multinational force, and we have not had any incidents whatsoever between them and us." In his two-page letter, Barrow said: "It is evident to me, and the opinion of U.S. commanders afloat and ashore, that the incidents between the Marines and IDF are timed, orchestrated and executed for obtuse Israeli political purposes. The U.S. has been prompt and forthcoming in defusing previous problems and has established a viable communications procedure between the Marines and the IDF. The IDF, however, persist in creating serious incidents."
Liaison officers, said Barrow, "will not preclude additional problems unless the attitude and actions of the Israelis are altered. It is time for firm and strong action to demonstrate to the Israelis that a role as a peace-keeper does not presume weakness . . . ."
Weinberger, when asked about Barrow's letter at a brief news conference yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base, said: "I'm just going to let his letter speak for itself."
Pentagon officials said the letter was triggered more by recent Israeli challenges to Marine and Army officers in the U.N. force in Lebanon than by the previously publicized incidents in Beirut.
Knight-Ridder newspapers reported that the defense attache in the U.S. Embassy in Beirut sent a cable to Washington describing some of the challenges to Marines assigned to the U.N. peace-keeping force in Lebanon. The Israelis held Marine Maj. John Todd at gunpoint for 25 minutes on Jan. 25 when he was traveling in a convoy along the coastal road to Beirut. "All other vehicles in the convoy were allowed to pass," the cable said.
"More seriously," Knight-Ridder quoted the cable as saying, on Jan. 31, "Capt. Bruce Denault (USMC) was traveling east on the Beirut-Damascus highway conducting a routine patrol. As he rounded a blind curve, an IDF tank situated to his right opened fire with its .50-cal. machine gun directly in front of Capt. Denault's vehicle. Capt. Denault stopped his U.N. vehicle and returned to the tank position, where he was told that he could proceed. The IDF stated that no U.N. vehicle could use that road that day. After waiting approximately 30 minutes, Capt. Denault returned to Beirut . . . . "
On Jan. 30, Army Maj. Herman Kafura "was deliberately fired on by IDF soldiers while investigating random IDF firing into civilian populated area south of Beirut in which two women were killed. This occurred while Maj. Kafura was driving a U.N. vehicle with U.N. flag, and after identifying himself as U.N. and U.S. officer . . . . "
Weinberger in the past has vigorously protested Israeli harassment of peace-keeping forces in Lebanon. During a briefing by the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee yesterday, a paper titled "Talking Points on Caspar Weinberger" was circulated.
The paper said Weinberger "has consistently interpreted Israeli actions in the worst possible light" and has waged "a campaign of anti-Israeli vilification." An AIPAC spokesman said the paper was "an internal memorandum" prepared by a member of its staff and did not represent the lobbying organization's official position.