Israel's militia in Lebanon hit by mutiny

Click to follow
After desertion comes mutiny. At least, it does in the so-called "South Lebanon Army", which is trained, uniformed and paid by Israel. At least 30 and perhaps as many as 100 of the pro-Israeli militiamen in the Israeli occupation zone in the south of Lebanon have been disarmed after a local officer decided to set up his own political party, and then withdrew his men from artillery positions opposite the pro- Iranian Hizbollah.

At the same time, Canadian sources have told the Independent that about 40 SLA gunmen, without their weapons but with El Al airline tickets issued in Israel, are arriving from Tel Aviv every year to claim political asylum. Morale in the SLA, whose warriors are supposed to be defending Galilee from what the Israelis call "international terrorism", has now reached such depths that some of its members have turned up in Beirut to seek sanctuary after being forcibly pressed into the militia.

One of their officers told the Independent that family members are being threatened by the Israelis with imprisonment in the old French mandate jail at Khiam if they do not provide one young man from each family for the SLA.

The same officer complained that one third of his men's salaries were being paid by the Israelis in fake $100 bills.

Israel has denied involvement in the forgery of dollar bills. The notes emerging from the Israeli occupation zone are state-of-the-art counterfeits. So many are now circulating in southern Lebanon that United Nations forces in the area have long been forbidden to use any $100 bills there.

It was at the isolated hilltop village of Khiam that the SLA mutiny began last week. The local militia commander, Riad Abdullah, demanded the right to form a political party and to organise his own "political assembly", ordering several of his men to distribute political pamphlets around the district advertising his intention. When they were arrested, he ordered the withdrawal of at least 30 of his subordinates, although as many as 100 may have been involved, from Israeli artillery batteries in southern Lebanon, whose gunpits are regularly attacked by the Hizbollah.

Israeli officers immediately ordered the disarming of the mutinous men and Mr Abdullah has been placed under house arrest.

Local Lebanese journalists have been threatened with expulsion from their homes, along with their families, if they continue to send reports about the rebellion to their newspapers in Beirut. The Hizbollah have repeatedly warned over the past six months that, whatever the terms of any future Israeli-Lebanese peace agreement, they will execute any Lebanese militiamen who have worked for Israel in southern Lebanon.

Their plan to break the SLA's morale appears to be working, not least because Israel abandoned many of its proxy Lebanese allies during an earlier withdrawal in 1985, most of whom were murdered within days of the Israelis' departure.

For the 2,000 SLA members who are still under arms, however, there appears to be no prohibition on the purchase of El Al tickets abroad; which is one reason why the Canadians are trying to discover just how dangerous life is for Israel's proxy army in southern Lebanon.