Israel's deputy foreign minister said today he will confer with U.S. officials in Washington Thursday about "various ideas we have" for a unilateral pullback of Israeli forces to more defensible lines inside Lebanon.
Yehuda Ben-Meir said at a news conference that the "realignment" might include moving Lebanese army units and troops from the multinational peace-keeping force in Beirut into zones vacated by Israeli soldiers.
He said Israel would make no such move without conferring with the United States and Lebanon, and that any decision on filling the vacuum would be a subject for discussion between the Lebanese and the countries contributing to the peace-keeping force.
Ben-Meir will meet with officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department during a two-day visit.
Ben-Meir insisted that Israel "remains committed to the withdrawal agreement with Lebanon," dismissing a claim by Syrian President Hafez Assad that it is "in its death throes." Ben-Meir said Israel "will continue to stand behind it until the Syrians realize they have no choice" but to withdraw their troops from Lebanon.
Israeli officials have indicated for more than a month that they might consider a pullback to the Awali River, about 28 miles north of the Israeli border and about halfway down the Lebanese coast from the Israelis' current occupation zone.
The purpose would be to ease tensions with Syrian forces and to remove Israeli units from vulnerable positions in the mountains around Beirut.
Israeli casualties have increased recently because of artillery fire and guerrilla attacks, allegedly from behind Syrian lines.
But Israeli strategists have indicated a reluctance to redeploy troops unless they are sure that Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization units will not fill the vacuum.