27. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
3826. Rome for RLG and COMSIXTHFLT. As indicated Embtel 3820,2Chamoun saw three Ambassadors this morning. He said situation was “very grave” although not yet desperate. President said General Chehab had told him this morning he could make a determination within next 24 hours to 48 hours on Army’s capability of maintaining upper hand. According to Chehab’s run-down of military situation, Tripoli, Beirut and Saida are in complete Army control, but there is little other control elsewhere. A pitched battle continues at presidential summer palace of Beit Eddine between Junblat Druzes and gendarmes. President said, quoting Chehab, General fears a movement originating in Bekaa which will descend upon Beirut within 24 hours, but he is at present unable to assess magnitude of this development.
President recounted clash at border post of Massna, leaving five Lebanese customs guards dead after a spirited resistance (cf. Damascus 2917 sent Department).3 President said aerial reconnaissance of Beit Eddine revealed attackers were using automatic weapons and grenade [Page 42]throwers. Plane was hit by automatic fire but returned safely. He cited these incidents as further proof of an attack against Lebanon’s integrity by UAR.
Chamoun said he wished three Ambassadors separately to send following oral message to his chief of state:
Situation in Lebanon is very grave and he wishes Chief of State to recall guarantees given to Lebanon through diplomatic channel for maintenance its integrity and independence. President wishes each Chief of State to consider possibility of landing armed forces in Lebanon within 24 hours after an appeal for such intervention by President of Lebanon or GOL.
In response to questions, Chamoun said he had not yet made up his mind to ask for foreign troops but would probably make a decision within next 24 hours. If he did ask for friendly forces, this would mean their arrival in Lebanon not later than Thursday.
I said, speaking purely personally and in no sense even implying US would send forces, that I was certain any US contingent would not place itself under orders of General Chehab. I wanted no doubt on this point, even in this very early stage. All Ambassadors agreed with Chamoun that if a request were made and affirmatively answered there would, of course, be complete coordination between the government, military authorities and friendly forces.
I asked Prime Minister, who was present at meeting, re report set out Embtel 3820 saying that at this critical juncture we must know exactly where we stood with respect to loyalty of Lebanese armed forces. Sami Solh confirmed in part message sent through intermediary [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. He had received visit from Colonels Salem and Chehab, but said they had not asked for Chamoun’s resignation. They had however, he said, by inference implied that this was necessary. Contrary to report in Embtel 3820, Chehab is not absent at Junieh but is at his headquarters in Beirut. French Ambassador saw General this morning and was told Army would stand loyal and do its utmost “so long as its endurance continues,” which he thought by implication meant that when troops were tired they might cease activity. Although French Ambassador would not say this to Chamoun, he told Middleton and me privately that Chehab had said he thought a “political solution” was necessary within next 24 hours. Three Ambassadors concur Chehab is vacillating and evidence from Army headquarters indicates high command has no stomach for going on much longer.
We queried Chamoun in event an airlift of troops should materialize if there were a safe drop zone at Khalde airport in Beirut and he said this area was under close military guard. He did not know if airport at Tripoli was in safe hands, although he had been told Lebanese Army was posted there.[Page 43]
All three Ambassadors suggested to President immediate need of making Lebanese case known to world press and for lifting of military censorship, which has thus far hampered filing of accurate reports.
Three Ambassadors concurred in suggesting that, if President does ask for tripartite military intervention, a simultaneous appeal be made to Security Council to forestall charges from Communist side of “imperialist intervention”. I pointed out that under Article 52 of UN Charter right of collective measures in self-defense was preserved pending effective SC action.
Three Ambassadors likewise urged that crisis of Lebanon transcends issue of presidential election. What is now at stake is national existence of Lebanon and not of any particular person. Chamoun said he thoroughly concurred in this appraisal.
Request immediate instructions as to readiness US provide emergency forces in event (as I think he will) Chamoun requests them. His response to my question re estimate of forces needed was “a very large division”.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/5–1358. Top Secret; Niact. Repeated to London, Paris, and Rome.↩
- In telegram 3820 from Beirut, May 13, the Embassy reported Prime Minister Solh’s concern about an apparent change of disposition on the part of the army. Solh stated that he had received that morning a demand for the immediate resignation of President Chamoun from the Army Chief of Staff, who was a cousin of General Chehab. Solh felt that the implication was that the army could not be relied upon to maintain order unless the government complied with the ultimatum. McClintock noted that he considered the situation to be “most ominous,” and added that he planned to discuss it with Chamoun and with his British and French counterparts. (Ibid.; included in the microfiche supplement)↩
- Dated May 13. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/5–1358)↩