A group of reserve officers who served in top positions during Israel's occupation of south Lebanon warned yesterday that hundreds of former South Lebanese Army soldiers in Israel are being discriminated against by the state and security establishment, compared to ex-officers of the SLA also in Israel. That discrimination is creating unrest among the lower-ranking officers and soldiers, who feel they have been mistreated.

The organization of ex-IDF officers who served in Lebanon includes former top liaison officers brigadier generals Ze'ev Zachrin and Micha Tamir. Significantly, the head of the new group is retired major general Meir Dagan, picked by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to head Israel's negotiating team with U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni. So far, however, Dagan has only met with Zinni once, during the American's first trip to Israel before Christmas.

In both a letter and in an oral presentation to Sharon, Dagan warned that Israel's handling of the former SLA troopers here was faulty and misguided. The Shin Bet takes care of former members of the SLA's security service and other Lebanese who helped Israeli intelligence, as well as SLA officers from the rank of company commander and up.

That accounts for about half the 2,900 SLA troopers who streamed into Israel in the final days of Israel's occupation in May 2000. The other half are lower-ranking officers and rank and file troops. Sharon gave deputy minister Yuri Stern, a member of the National Union party, responsibility for handling the lower-ranking troops, and according to Dagan's report, Stern has failed at the job.

Dagan warns that it would be a tragic mistake to make the Immigrant Absorption Ministry responsible for dealing with the lower-ranking SLA troops and their families. As for claims that Israel has provided tens of thousands of dollars to SLA troops and their families who returned to Lebanon, Dagan's group says that most of that money was used to pay for lenient sentences imposed on the returning SLA soldiers, and for "buying forgiveness" from the Hezbollah.