85. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
4756. Re last sentence Embtel 47462 I saw Chamoun this afternoon. Although our conversation was punctuated by near-by sniper fire, President was calm and resolute. Before I had opportunity to describe my views on General Chehab, President told me he had reached conclusion it was clearly impossible for Lebanese armed forces to re-establish security under Chehab’s command. He said “I know our army can do it, but not with a General like that”.
I then reported impressions derived from my interview with Chehab this morning and asked if it might not be possible to get a new General under whose leadership Lebanese armed forces could put down revolt.
President said this might be possible but he feared army would be demoralized for first 24 hours after dismissal of Chehab. In that 24 hours mob might gain ascendancy in Beirut and elsewhere.
On balance, although he was determined to remove General, it seemed safer for this to be done after an allied landing as Chehab could be counted upon at least not to oppose and perhaps to assist UK and US contingents to establish themselves in Lebanon while if he were removed before landing, our forces might find themselves coming ashore to confront a state of anarchy.
I asked President if we might not take a limited chance by having friendly forces within very few hours hailing of Beirut. Then, when Chehab and his top officers were dismissed, there would be some assurance of ready support if things would commence to go wrong; while it was just possible army would be able maintain order for that vital 24 hours and then go ahead under new leadership against the insurrectionists. I told President I still hoped against hope Lebanon could settle its problem without western military intervention.
For first time Chamoun asked me straight out how many forces we contemplated using. I gave him figure authorized Deptel 4401.3 He [Page 139] thought 5, 000 might be too few. I said in view of modern fire power and air strength in Sixth Fleet, I had every reason to be confident our forces would be sufficient to do the job.
Turning to political aspects of intervention, I said we had to think of reaction elsewhere in world to allied forces landing in Lebanon. Our enemies would instantly portray such action as armed intervention by “imperialists” to maintain regime of Camille Chamoun “against will of people”.
Given this situation I asked President if it might not put a better face on things if he should convene Parliament in extraordinary session. Government could point to undoubted outside intervention in Lebanese internal affairs from UAR; cite SC decision to send observers to prevent infiltration of illegal arms and partisans; and call upon opposition in name of National Union and need to preserve independence of Lebanon at once to stop fighting. Question of domestic political differences could be dealt with very simply by stating President and government commended call by Speaker of Parliament for session July 24th to elect a new president other than Chamoun. If, as was probable, opposition failed to respond or its deputies boycotted Parliamentary session, government could then declare that since active infiltration of arms and men from UAR was continuing and tempo of fighting was increasing throughout Lebanon, it had no recourse but to ask friendly powers for assistance in maintaining independence of the state. A vote of confidence could then be taken (I assumed Chamoun still had a working majority) and it would be against this background that government’s appeal for US–UK assistance would be presented to the world.
President said he would “wrinkle his brow” tonight on these suggestions which he thought had merit.
- Chamoun is determined to liquidate Chehab.
- President feels this operation cannot be carried out without prior allied intervention but has still not made up his mind to call for that intervention.
- He will probably give some consideration to casting best political light on appeal for intervention since he recognizes we are dealing with a case of civil war.
- I believe we should take risk of changing Chehab before allied intervention but that we should be prepared for instant action if army commences to disintegrate.
Action requested: Prompt indication of how soon ready forces can land in Lebanon after President has indicated timing of his decision to remove General Chehab, or request by GOL for allied intervention.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/6–1558. Top Secret; Niact. Repeated to London. Received at 6:24 p.m.↩
- Document 80.↩
- Telegram 4401 to Beirut, May 19, authorized McClintock to convey to Chamoun, if he asked, information concerning the size of the U.S.–U.K. force which could be made available in the event of a decision to provide military assistance to the Lebanese Government. The force contemplated was 5, 000 troops, broken down as 3, 000 U.S. troops and 2, 000 U.K. troops. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/5–1958; included in the microfiche supplement)↩