141. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
401. Although my original appointment with General Chehab had been fixed for noon (Embtel 390),2 at request of President Chamoun I put it off until 1:30. Obviously President did not wish to give time for Chehab to stage an Army coup before landing of US Marines. It later developed from my conversation with General that Chamoun had given evasive information to Chehab this morning. It was not until I saw General that it clearly understood we contemplated landing a battalion of Marines. As I was speaking to Chehab, his Chief of Staff announced seven vessels were standing to, six miles off airport. This was 13:45 local.
With an air of infinite sadness General said only thing which had saved Lebanon during these recent months was its Army. With arrival of US forces he could no longer be sure as to future conduct of that Army. He gravely feared Army would disintegrate on confessional lines. As for future of Lebanon he predicted it would either become a Christian Israel or would be inundated in the sea of Islam.
When I said we fully expected complete cooperation from Lebanese military and further expected Lebanese Army would continue to do its duty in opposing rebellion, Chehab shrugged his shoulders in a tired way. He did however say he would continue to do his best to keep Army together.
Stressing this was a purely military opinion unrelated to politics, General asked me urgently to prevent actual disembarkation of troops. He said “We are on the brink of catastrophe. There is a very thin chance we can avoid going over that brink provided your soldiers stay on board their ships.”
I said I would ask our Army Attaché who was present to convey this professional opinion to commanding officer of expeditionary force. My own recommendation would be that, if compatible with his orders, he keep his force on board, ships be docked in Beirut port ready for immediate deployment. Chehab said he would have no objection if such small detachments of Marines as I might wish to protect US Embassy installations went ashore for that purpose.[Page 248]
Subsequent to this interview, I am informed by Naval Attaché that his messages suggesting coming alongside in port did not reach task force which is at 1430 disembarking troops in landing craft off airport. At 1500 five hundred men had been deployed at airport.3
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/7–1558. Secret; Niact. Repeated to London, Paris, and USUN. Received at 12:05 p.m. and passed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force at 2 p.m.↩
- Document 136.↩
- Between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. Beirut time, approximately 1, 800 Marines of the Second Battalion, Second Marines landed in the vicinity of the Beirut airport and secured the airport. An additional 1, 800 Marines of the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines went ashore at the airport on the morning of July 16. (USARMA telegram CX 241 to the Department of the Army, July 16; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Files: CCS 381 Lebanon (5–13–58) Sec. 3)↩