77. Special National Intelligence Estimate1
Washington, June 14, 1958.
THE LEBANESE CRISIS
- The position of President Chamoun has substantially deteriorated during the past two weeks and Lebanon is in a state of civil war. Continuation of the crisis has not resulted in consolidation even of the Christian half of the country behind him. General Chehab is not calling on the Army to give the President all the support of which it is capable, partly because he fears a split between the Christian and Moslem elements in the Army, partly because he probably has ambitions of his own for the Presidency. There are reports of an impending Army coup designed to remove Chamoun from office and substitute Chehab. This move might not materialize without the sanction of the Western powers. We believe that Chamoun cannot survive much longer without all-out Army support, and possibly not even with it. In this situation he may call for Western intervention at almost any moment.
- President Chamoun could probably get Cabinet approval for a request to the Western powers to intervene, in view of the recent elimination of several Cabinet members who were opposed to it. It is doubtful that he could get parliamentary approval for such a measure, and it is extremely unlikely that he would try to do so. The request would almost certainly not have wide political or popular support, whether or not it were supported by General Chehab. While General Chehab has not committed himself on the matter, the indications are that he would not favor such a request.
- If the US were to intervene pursuant to a request supported only by Chamoun and his Cabinet, the intervention would almost certainly be regarded with hostility by a majority of Lebanese, including nearly all of the Moslems and perhaps as many as half of the Christians. The adverse reaction of the Lebanese (and of the Arabs) to intervention would be intensified if the UK participated, and very much more so if the French took part.
- We do not believe that the consequences of intervention would be appreciably different if the measure were justified as one to protect US lives and property, unless it were limited to a rapid operation to effect the evacuation of US personnel. Evacuation of all US personnel from Lebanon would, however, have serious consequences, especially for various oil installations and pipeline operations, [3½ lines of source text not declassified].
- In the complex Lebanese situation, one immediate problem confronting the intervening forces would be that they would probably find themselves in hostile contact not only with UAR-controlled subversive elements, but with a wide variety of local elements not presently hostile to the West but acting either in opposition to Chamoun or to foreign intervention in principle. Even if General Chehab were willing to cooperate fully, which, as we have suggested, is doubtful, some of the Moslem elements in the army might desert. The commitment of large Western forces might be required, and it would be extremely difficult to create a stable situation not clearly dependent on them. The US might find itself faced with the onerous choice between a prolonged stay in Lebanon or a withdrawal while the situation was still unstabilized.
- It should also be observed that the sending of UN observers to Lebanon makes it more difficult, pending their report, to justify an intervention on the ground of countering UAR penetrations.
- On the other hand, if President Chamoun were in present circumstances publicly to request US intervention and be refused, conservative and anti-Nasser elements in the Arab world, and the governments of Jordan and Iraq in particular, would probably conclude that they could not rely on US support in the future. It would be widely regarded as a victory for Nasser and a defeat for the West, and [Page 122] would be exploited as such by the USSR. A compromise between Chamoun and the opposition, possibly involving a transfer of the Presidency to General Chehab, would not produce such strong reactions as would either US intervention or US refusal to intervene.
- The governments of Iraq and Jordan would approve US intervention in Lebanon, but would face a considerable increase of popular opposition at home and would be unable to render any substantial assistance in Lebanon. The governments of Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran would probably favor US intervention. Turkey, if the Cyprus situation permitted, might offer assistance. Soviet and UAR propaganda has already been stepped up in anticipation of US intervention and will make the most of opportunities to fix the label of imperialism on the US. Israel would probably avoid direct involvement in the situation as long as the conflict remained confined within Lebanon.
- Source: Department of State, INR–NIE Files. Top Secret. According to a note on the cover sheet, “The following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Joint Staff.” All members of the Intelligence Advisory Committee concurred in the estimate on June 14, except for the Atomic Energy Commission representative and the Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who abstained because the subject was outside of their jurisdiction.↩