80. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
4746. Eyes only for Secretary from McClintock. I appreciate discretion allowed me last paragraph Deptel 4779.2 Because of our previous conversations on contingency of allied military intervention I decided[Page 125]
to see General Chehab. Typically, he was at home some miles north of Beirut dressed in mufti, and greeted me with remark that the Sabbath was a day of rest.
General said he thought military situation in Beirut and elsewhere was under control. However he envisages a continuing downward spiral as he says Moslem insurgents have been worked to such a pitch of frenzy and hatred for Chamoun and Prime Minister Solh that they cannot be called off. Chehab minimizes extent of foreign participation. He says according to his intelligence there are not more than 300 Syrians operating with insurgents plus perhaps 500 Druzes from across the border who are assisting Jumblat not so much as Syrians but as Druze tribesmen. Chehab never heard of the 500 Palestinian-Egyptian commandos referred to by Chamoun (Deptel 4773).3 He fixes number of Syrian officers and non-coms who might be operating inside Lebanon as not more than a dozen.
I told General I had last night (Embtel 4726)4 received direct intimation from Chamoun US military intervention might be called for; and an even more urgent demand from Prime Minister. Under these circumstances we had to talk plainly as to capability of Lebanese Army to deal with situation and to have General’s military opinion on degree to which friendly forces, if landed, could enable Lebanese Army to go on with its job of putting down insurrection.
General said his army was still doggedly doing its duty but he frankly did not see a successful outcome. He thought situation would continue to deteriorate to point of hand-to-hand fighting but offered no conjecture as to how by his own military means he could quell what was in fact a civil war.
At same time General looked with obvious distaste on prospect of allied intervention. He repeated his previous prediction that army might commence to disintegrate if foreign forces were landed. He said in any case in that event he would resign as commander in chief. When I inquired as to assurances of cooperation on part of Lebanese military if our forces were debarked, General said of course his staff would cooperate—"If there still is a General Staff”. He said in making this estimate he was “speaking anonymously”.
On brass tacks of degree to which foreign intervention would relieve Lebanon Army for more effective operations, General said we could of course occupy Beirut for protection of American lives and property but this would have very slight effect upon his dispositions as army only has in Beirut a rag tail of artillerists, muleteers and drivers. He does not have even a company of infantry in capital at present[Page 126]
although he expects in next day or so to bring back one company presently engaged in Chouf against Jumblat. Where main effect of relief for Lebanese forces would be felt would be at Tripoli where Chehab has three infantry battalions. General said if Americans or British were landed north and south of Tripoli more or less sealing off that town he could probably pull out two battalions for use against insurgents in the Bekaa and elsewhere.
To sum up these are my conclusions:
- Commander in chief sees no prospect of quelling insurrection by his own means although he is willing to continue to fight in a defensive manner. In fact he said explicitly Lebanese armed forces were on defensive, initiative having passed to rebels.
- Our own military experts do not concur with Chehab’s conclusion expressed preceding paragraph as they feel Lebanese armed forces if led with initiative and conviction could most certainly put down civil war although at a fairly high cost in casualties. This estimate is of course conditioned on no further increase outside intervention. Nevertheless fact remains that so long as Chehab is commander in chief Lebanese Army will probably not bring a military conclusion to hostilities.
- Chehab does not welcome prospect of allied military intervention but appears to believe it inevitable since he is convinced Chamoun and Solh will presently ask for our intervention.
- Lebanese armed forces will not oppose allied landings and will probably cooperate in a lukewarm way. Extent and vigor of Lebanese armed forces’ resistance would then depend upon new command of Lebanese Army and degree to which rank and file would remain loyal. Our estimate is less gloomy on this point than that of General Chehab.
- All this adds up in my opinion to need to get a new general before inexorable logic of events calls for allied landings in Lebanon. This I intend to urge upon Chamoun.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/6–1558. Top Secret; Niact. Received at 10:10 a.m.↩
- Document 75.↩
- Telegram 4773 to Beirut, June 14, summarized the telephone conversation between Rountree and Malik outlined in Document 72. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/6–1458)↩
- Document 76.↩