305. Airgram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1


We are now midway in uneasy interim period between election and actual takeover of Chehab. It continues difficult assess fluid situation which obtains here, particularly with respect degree govt control of country and overall security picture. Info available on conditions outside Beirut still fragmentary and not completely reliable. One prominent political figure estimates 80 percent Lebanon and over half towns outside govt authority. Emb believes 60 percent more realistic estimate. Following represents attempt by Emb to present as clear a picture as possible subject foregoing qualifications.


Outside Beirut: Govt or govt sympathizers generally control seacoast from Tripoli south to Israeli border. EmbOff recently in Tripoli told by local Leb army commander there were still several hundred Syrians in or about Tripoli; there are strong armed bands of PPS and Phalangists as well, and govt has made no attempt disarm them. Tripoli itself calm but with serious unemployment problem. Same informant estimated a thousand Syrians still in Akkar.

Area south of Tripoli and east to Bekaa (traditional Christian Mount Lebanon) under nominal govt control, largely because in hands Christian feudal families. These families not all pro-Chamoun; they carry on traditional family feuds which cut across political lines and make it difficult judge events in terms loyalists and opposition. However, [Page 540] area definitely not in Moslem opposition orbit, although one faction Zghorta area irreconcilably anti-Chamoun and cooperating with opposition.

In south Lebanon govt appears in loose control of area bounded by line Sidon–Marjayoun on north and Leb-Israeli border on south. This does not exclude feuding such as ancient quarrel between Shi’a factions in Tyre area. Sidon and Tyre open except for old cities, which are restricted areas of Basta type. South Bekaa and area east to Syrian border no-man’s land occasionally penetrated by govt patrols in daylight. Central Bekaa north of Beirut–Damascus road to Rayak apparently under govt control. North Bekaa situation one of lawlessness, brigandage and spotty control by local elements strong enough exercise own authority.

Beirut–Damascus road open to border but probably not hundred percent safe. Railroad to Damascus has on several occasions been reported ready resume; now appears in operation but could easily be interrupted again.

In sum, may be said seacoast from Tripoli south to Israeli border plus corresponding territory inland to crest Lebanon range is either in nominal govt control or at least not in hands active opposition. One exception is Upper Chouf area held by Kamal Jumblat and his Druze followers. Should also be noted that in some cases control by local leaders who, although violently anti-Chamoun, are not for opposition, extends over Lebanon range to edge Bekaa. Kairouz clan, Bcharre, best example this situation. Worst area is Akkar.


Beirut: Security conditions still unsettled. Confessional kidnappings and brutality have shown increase in past week. Leb army action against insurgents August 22 inconclusive (Embtel 1250).2 August 24 Lebanese destruction insurgent barricades near public gardens following shooting U.S. soldier in area not challenged by opposition and no exchange of fire occurred. However, barricade re-erected in evening.

According press reports Beirut town commander, Colonel Jamil Lahoud, ordered town garrison take more active measures terminate violence in city. Press also reported arrest of defected gendarme who placed bomb in post office. During past week number of guards and patrols on streets have been noticeably increased. All this may represent attempt gradually tighten security measures. Phalange and Najjade continuing negotiations end kidnappings and terrorism. Results meeting opposition leaders August 25 negative on ending strike despite optimistic predictions last few days. Details separate telegram.


UNGA developments: Recent developments UNGA adopting Arab States resolution—SYG Hammarskjold return Mideast—Arab League meeting Sept 6—viewed as clearing stage external problems permitting President-elect Chehab when he assumes office Sept 23 concentrate internal problems.

Though details behind doors debate NYC where unanimous Arab agreement reached still not known here, many view UAR acceptance adopted resolution as evidence: (A) UAR realization there was no other way effect evacuation US and UK forces, (B) Reaffirmation to Arab League possible because with Nuri Said gone UAR returns unchalleged position dominance Arab League affairs; (C) UAR wants consolidate gains Iraqi revolution and willing ride time because believe time in their favor, particularly in Jordan but elsewhere Arab world as well.

Only major Leb party dissent UN resolution is PPS which in its party organ stated “Arab League failed because it stood on wrong foundations. In effect, it was nothing more than tool in hands Egyptian authorities. We believe in establishment Arab bloc which unlike Arab League would decide on collective Arab interest on basis equality.”

Internal political: Despite recurring rumors, seems unlikely “neutral” or “caretaker” Cabinet will be constituted. Chamoun seems determined round out term on laissez-faire basis and turn over problems to Chehab at proper time. Chehab has seemed just as determined not play active role until he takes over, although many elements attempting persuade him conditions may deteriorate beyond easy repair if he does nothing during what amounts to interregnum. Many reports indicate growing disillusionment with Chehab among Christian elements, although some action his part to reduce tension could still save reputation.

If kidnappings, shootings, hoodlumism come to end, however, Chehab may well turn out to have been better judge of own people than many give him credit for. Also, he may benefit from easing tension through Arab States proposal at UNGA, through no effort of his own.

Certain amount bombings and grudge killings expected continue even after Chehab inaugurated but on decreasing scale. No army move against rebels likely which could possibly be misinterpreted as action against organized opposition. If conclusion effective political understanding between Chehab and moderate opposition leaders reached opposition would presumably discontinue violence and perpetrators of terror would be limited to communists and lunatic fringe, possibly including Baathists. Army might then take more firm stand improve security. PPS and Phalange not expected undertake campaign of terror or instigate widespread violence after Chehab’s inauguration, [Page 542] although they will remain armed and watchful. Violence eventually expected to arrive at negligible level but not cease completely for indefinite future.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/8–2958. Confidential. Also sent to Ankara, Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Jidda, London, Paris, Tel Aviv, USUN, CINCSPECOMME, and COMLANFOR.
  2. Dated August 22. (Ibid., 783A.00/8–2258)