23. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
3772. Rome for RLG and Sixth Fleet. London also pass CINCNELM. Crisis in Lebanon is rapidly reaching very serious state.2 Contrary to reassuring report set out Embtel 37693 I have just received telephone call from American missionaries in Tripoli that situation is “very, very bad” and no guards have yet been posted at mission hospital. I got into immediate touch with Malik, who was with President and General Chehab. Latter sent instant orders to his forces in Tripoli to protect US property and citizens there.
Raymond and Pierre Edde are exerting utmost effort as intermediaries between opposition and Chamoun. They gave me following sequence of events:
- Opposition got wind of Chamoun’s decision to amend constitution this week, apparently on Monday. Under leadership of Rashid Karami, Saeb Salaam and Abdullah Yafi, with acquiescence of third force and Henri Pharaon, Moslem leaders decided use pretext of assassination editor Telegraph to foment rioting and forestall Chamoun’s parliamentary play for reelection.
- Opposition met last night and formulated demand for Chamoun’s instant resignation. They appointed Raymond Edde as a Maronite to carry this decision to Chamoun, which he did this morning. [Page 36]However, Edde made clear to opposition and Chamoun he and his national bloc would not support demand for resignation but would insist Chamoun continue constitutionally in office until end of his term.
- As was to be expected, Chamoun flatly turned down opposition demand for his resignation. He refused to be drawn out by Edde on question of reelection.
- Saeb Salaam, Henri Pharaon and Raymond Edde then called on General Chehab. Edde brothers are urging formula whereby present Sami Solh Government would resign and be replaced by a government of national coalition, headed by General Chehab himself. Despite unwritten agreement Prime Minister must always be a Sunni Moslem, he does say in this crisis Moslem leaders would accept a Maronite Prime Minister if it were Chehab, as they would believe Chehab’s assumption of government responsibility would effectually spike any hope of Chamoun for reelection.
- In response to direct question Chehab told Edde, Salaam and Pharaon this morning sole cause of present revolutionary crisis in Lebanon is Chamoun’s selfish determination to succeed himself in office. General explicitly disavowed any connection between foreign policies of Chamoun and his personal ambition again to be President. In other words, so far as Chehab is concerned issue is a straight personal one drawn between country and Chamoun.
- General gave his interlocutories a very gloomy picture of security situation, pointing out country is now saturated with clandestine arms and threatened with imminent civil war. According to his latest intelligence, number of armed Druzes who have crossed from Syria is not 200, as reported Embtel 3769, but 300. He expects sabotage and guerrilla activity in the Chouf this afternoon.
- General Chehab could not make up his mind on proposition of Raymond Edde that he take Prime Ministership, but showed strong reluctance to assume this responsibility which was clearly political and not military.
- Edde brothers are now attempting to see Chamoun to persuade him to accept their formula. They say that if Chamoun and Chehab agree country will return to a state of calm, all legal requirements, both constitutionally and otherwise, will be served; Chamoun will remain as President and Parliament can deal with issue of elections some time in July. (Practically, however, they feel issue of reelection of Chamoun would be killed.)
- According to Eddes (and in this estimate we are prone to concur) time is exceedingly short. One ominous sign is Pharaon’s cancelling of afternoon races which will release a turbulent crowd in Beirut today with nothing to do but seek excitement. Edde brothers predict Moslem general strike in Beirut for certain tomorrow and are [Page 37]undecided what attitude they and Phalangist Party should take on Christian shops remaining open. If Christians close, it will be taken as protestation against Chamoun, but if shops stay open Moslems may start to riot against Christians and an out and out religious war may ensue.
- In judgment of Raymond Edde, fighting will almost certainly commence in Beirut this evening unless a compromise solution is found. Beirut will probably be in full crisis tomorrow in that event, with perhaps open civil war to be expected on Tuesday4 when inflammatory press (now silenced by self-imposed strike) will start beating the torn toms.
- I am endeavoring to consult with British and French Ambassadors this afternoon and shall use my own judgment on seeing Chamoun and Chehab this evening. One may need suasion and the other needs stiffening.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/5–1158. Secret; Niact. Repeated to Paris, Rome, and London.↩
- On May 8, Nasib Matni, publisher of the opposition newspaper Telegraph, was assassinated in Beirut. The assassination led to a call on the part of opposition political leaders for a general strike in the country. Antigovernment rioting broke out in Tripoli on May 9, and the USIS Library in Tripoli was burned on May 10. Lebanese army forces controlled the rioting, but 15 were killed and 150 wounded. (Telegram TDCS 3, 354, 891 from Beirut, May 10; ibid.,INR Files: Lot 59 D 600, A)↩
- In telegram 3769 from Beirut, May 11, the Embassy reported that the situation in Beirut and in Tripoli was quiet. (Ibid., Central Files, 783A.00/5–1158)↩
- May 13.↩