311. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State 1

1431. During visit which Admiral Holloway and I paid on General Chehab this afternoon certain aspects of which are covered by a separate telegram2 following additional points emerge.

General Chehab confirmed reports which had reached me of concentric plots both in and out of army designed primarily to frustrate his administration and secondarily to prepare way for an eventual federation of Lebanon with UAR. Chehab strongly inferred but did not directly say that there were certain intransigent elements in loyalist circles who were lending themselves to these conspiracies (although how such partisans would wish to federate Lebanon with Syria he did not explain).
Chehab said he had taken necessary preventative measures to forestall coup d’etat and had his eye on “three officers” who were involved in plot. He also said, somewhat to my unease, that his G–2 was in direct contact with Syrian G–2 with apparently a very free exchange of information. I plan to follow up on this item [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].

General said he had undertaken conversations with a view to forming a government immediately upon his assumption of power. At first he had favored naming Haj Hussein Oueini a moderate opposition leader as Prime Minister, but later Oueini himself led a delegation suggesting that Rashid Karame should receive this nomination on grounds that Tripoli was a critical area and this post had better be [Page 552] given to a Tripolitanian Moslem leader. It later developed, however, that Christian loyalists and in particular entourage of Chamoun were working violently against a government which would contain members of opposition. According to Chehab plan of more fanatic loyalists is to insist on a so-called “neutral” government which will be incapable of doing its job. Ultimate purpose according to General would be prolongation of crisis in Lebanon with goal of creating such a continuing state of insecurity that US forces could not be withdrawn.

Comment: This hypothesis coincides with statements Chamoun made to me last week and again this morning that he thought US military presence should remain indefinitely in Lebanon.

Chehab said it would be difficult to see clearly with regard to a phased withdrawal of all US forces until he had taken office and nature of his new government was known. However, as reported separately, he feels a very urgent political necessity of having at least one Marine battalion commence its withdrawal toward middle September.
I told Chehab that I had informal indications that Hammarskjold would be here on September 10 and that Galo Plaza was preparing a suggested agenda for talks between General and SYG. We agreed that early next week, especially if Department and DOD concur in our recommendations re withdrawal of a Marine battalion, I might see Chehab before his talks with Hammarskjold.
Re economic situation General was increasingly optimistic. He said his Chief of Staff had met today with syndicate of truckers to work out arrangements for greater security of vital highway commercial route to Damascus; and he had taken steps to remove certain interference from PPS (aided by Lebanese Sûreté) at checkpoint at Zahile. Queried as to chances of reopening standard gauge railroad from Beirut through Tripoli to Horns and Damascus, General said one bridge was blown up north of Tripoli but he was supplying security forces to protect workmen who he hoped would presently reopen line by rebuilding bridge. General said secretly he was tomorrow sending an emissary to Cairo to negotiate for resumption of important apple trade with Egypt. In gradual reopening of Basta and restoration of commercial life in Beirut Chehab thought worst was over so far as Lebanese economy was concerned.
Admiral Holloway and I asked General his views on collection of arms with which Lebanon is saturated. He said he would propose increasing penalties for holding unlicensed weapons and hoped to institute a system of arms purchase at fairly moderate prices. Here, however, money was the rub. He felt it might take up to 3 million pounds for an effective program to be made complete. He likewise intended to demand of rebels immediate handing over from day of his inauguration all heavy weapons such as bazookas and thought they [Page 553] would comply with this request. Collection of arms from both sides loyalist and opposition would be done on a phased basis so that neither faction would have an advantage.

Comment: I believe it would be sound investment in our own security to say nothing of that of Lebanon if Department and ICA would authorize a special grant of $1 million to be given directly to new President for sole purpose of re-purchase of arms and I so recommend.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/9–558. Secret. Repeated to Amman, Cairo, Damascus, London, Paris, and USUN.
  2. In telegram 1434 from Beirut, September 5, McClintock elaborated on the recommendation which grew out of his meeting with Chehab that an additional Marine battalion be withdrawn from Lebanon by September 15. McClintock noted that such a withdrawal would be important to Chehab in his negotiations with the opposition, and would take some of the wind out of the sails of a hard-core loyalist group which was maneuvering to make it difficult for the U.S. forces to leave Lebanon for the foreseeable future. McClintock strongly recommended that such a withdrawal be authorized, and that the announcement of the contemplated withdrawal be timed to coincide with Hammarskjöld’s visit to Beirut on September 10. (Ibid., 783A.5411/9–558) In a separate message to the JCS on September 6, Admiral Holloway also supported the recommendation to withdraw a Marine battalion by September 15. He indicated that he had established to his own satisfaction “the military feasibility and desirability in executing the next phase of the withdrawal in Lebanon by the retraction of BLT 1/8 of 15 Sep and its return to CONUS.” (CINCSPECOMME telegram 0634 to CNO, 060746Z Sep 58; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Files) Both telegrams are included in the microfiche supplement.