11. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
3127. I saw Chamoun last night and coupled démarche authorized Deptel 36262 with information set out Deptel 3629,3 as latter afforded impressive reassurances continuing interest US in maintenance integrity and independence of Lebanon, irrespective of its internal political management. I read out numbered paragraphs Deptel 3626 textually and had no doubt Chamoun comprehended their meaning. He made no comment except to nod his head when I read paragraph 4. [3 lines of source text not declassified]
I asked Chamoun his estimate of situation which had led to such a request. He said re assurances authorized Deptel 3629 danger to Lebanon was less external than internal. He had proof arms were being smuggled by agents of UAR to Lebanon through mountain defiles from Syrian border and by small boats to Tripoli and Sidon. He felt Christians would increasingly demand arms of their own to meet threat from Moslem population. However, from this point on Chamoun for first time in my acquaintance showed confusion of thought as revealed in following anomalies:
- Although he claimed Syrian-Egyptian agents were smuggling in rifles, Chamoun admitted Moslems to whom these guns were given were in turn selling them to Christians for between 600 and 700 pounds. This does not add up to a very convincing UAR inspired threat by Moslem element against Christian Lebanese.
- Chamoun said he thought he would increase penalties (30 days to 3 years in jail) for unlawful possession of firearms to 3 years in jail as minimum, and in general would tighten up security measures against arms smuggling. At same time he smiled blandly at my question how arms he requested [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] would be brought in, replying there were “ways and means" for clandestine introduction. In other words, while denouncing smuggling of arms for Moslem element, President of a supposedly united country seeks to connive at smuggling arms for Christian elements.
- Asked for his estimate of degree of danger of civil war, Chamoun hastily insisted a coup d’etat was “impossible”. He said, “I control most of Shiite Moslems and some of Sunnis in Beirut. Main danger is in Tripoli”.
- I observed if things went wrong arbiter of Lebanon’s fate in case of civil war would be General Chehab. President made wry face and said Chehab was irresolute and weak. Yet, at same time he confessed Chehab had such a hold over loyalties of armed forces that if he were removed Army might break in two along Moslem-Christian lines of division. In other words, by Chamoun’s own estimate Chehab is far stronger leader than he would like to admit. President lamented further anomaly that defense forces for which greater part of budget was spent could not in last analysis be relied on for defense against internal subversion.
All of this adds up to confused picture and not edifying portrait of Chamoun in a quandary. In consequence, I believe fairly cool assurances contained Deptel 3626 will have salutary influence. On request for arms [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] I do not believe we should accede. In fact, I told Chamoun candidly my judgment that to arm rival factions in manner he suggested might conduce to an irreparable split in Lebanon between Moslems and Christians, with heightened danger UAR might truly take advantage of pretext to intervene on behalf of Moslem brethren. In my opinion a Lebanon which did not take into full account need for cooperation with Moslem population would become, so far as Arab world was concerned, a sort of Christian Israel beleaguered by its neighbors and incapable of sustaining itself except under guns of foreign warships.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/3–2058. Top Secret.↩
- In telegram 3629 to Beirut, March 18, McClintock was instructed to tell Malik that it would be difficult for the United States to spell out specific actions it might take in connection with hypothetical situations. (Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/3–1558)↩