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

9257. Subject: Lebanese-Israeli border tension. Ref: State 163324.2

Summary: President Helou deeply disturbed over implications for Lebanon’s future of Israeli attack on Houle May 12. Given present tension in Lebanon connected with delicate internal political situation following Parliamentary election, pressures by Lebanese radicals in support of Arab commandos, and Syrian machinations for infiltration terrorists through Lebanese territory, Helou considers situation very serious and is contemplating request for formal UNSC action against “unprovoked” Israeli attack on Houle in order gain international support for Lebanon. Helou made clear he will do everything possible to prevent terrorist infiltration through Lebanese territory. He asked for US support Lebanese position.

During my meeting with President Helou May 14, Helou expressed deep concern over deteriorating situation on Lebanese-Israeli borders. Very existence of Lebanon as independent state was in jeopardy as result latest Israeli military reprisal against Lebanese village of Houle. Helou claimed Israeli attack was unprovoked and there was no infiltration of Arab commandos from Lebanese territory into Israel.
Helou fears Israelis bent on deliberate campaign to provoke incidents on Lebanese-Israeli border in order to alter border to their advantage and possibly gain control Litani River waters. He referred to Israeli public statements after June war by MinDef Dayan (Israel has ideal borders with Arab neighbors except for Lebanon), PriMin Eshkol (re unproductive use Litani River waters), and FonMin Eban (Lebanon declared war on Israel “in good old fashioned way”). Helou stated Houle incident proof that Israel not satisfied with present Lebanese-Israeli border.
Helou explained that delicate political balance exists in Lebanon in wake of Parliamentary elections, and he doing everything possible to maintain national unity on political and confessional planes. Border [Page 342] troubles with Israel aggravate current political tension in Lebanon and allow (in an obvious reference to Syria) interested foreign powers to intrude into Lebanese internal affairs. Helou dismayed by Israeli action which he said permits Syrian radical regime “pushed by its Russian sponsors” to promote political instability in Lebanon by encouraging Arab extremist groups to pressure GOL to adopt more militant stance against Israel. He convinced Syrians will attempt dispatch commandos through Lebanese territory to (A) open another commando front with Israel, (B) create instability in Lebanon, and (C) indirectly attack Lebanon’s pro-Western orientation and attempt break Lebanon away from ties to US.
Helou commented that border incident has already caused serious political pressures on GOL, political leaders in South Lebanon demanding GOL arm villagers in South Lebanon and there are reported demands for unrestricted passage Arab commandos through Lebanese territory. At same time, leftists and progressives taking advantage of GOL’s vulnerable position and urging badly needed social reforms in South Lebanon (Beirut 9218).3 Helou admitted GOL’s weakness in face such demands, since government does not have financial means to institute such reforms immediately; and of course he realized implication of providing arms to the population quite apart from financial aspects.
Given serious implications situation, Helou states he determined to do everything possible as chief of state to prevent infiltration Arab terrorists and commandos across Lebanese borders.
Helou asked me US position concerning Israeli raids against Lebanon, I told Helou US policy opposed to any military actions which increase tension in ME, and as example US doing everything possible to restrain Israelis from retaliation along Israel-Jordan cease-fire line. I stressed GOL should continue to do everything possible to prevent use Lebanese territory by Arab commandos, even though such government action unpopular with large segment public opinion. Informed Helou per reftel that our Embassy in Tel Aviv already instructed inform GOI of serious Lebanese concern over Lebanese-Israeli border, and Israeli intentions re integrity of border. Stated we will also make clear our view to GOI that despite politically motivated statements by some GOL leaders, GOL has no interest in allowing Lebanon be used as base for terrorism against Israel, and that GOL doing everything possible to limit such activities. I told Helou we would seek reassurances from GOI that it would not be in anyone’s interest to create instability and conflict along only peaceful Arab-Israeli border since June [Page 343] war. I mentioned PriMin Yafi’s public statement in support of Palestinian terrorist organizations and stressed Israeli sensitivities to such statements. Helou assured me Yafi was misquoted but reluctantly agreed that Yafi’s statement reflected temper of times.
Helou urged US keep close watch on Lebanese-Israeli border developments and asked that US support Lebanese position, especially if situation arises where, despite all efforts by GOL to prevent infiltration, another border incident breaks out. He also specifically asked that USG make statement citing Houle incident and opposing policy of reprisal raids as it has done in past. I responded US would closely watch border situation. However, I made clear situation could change radically if there were a series of border incidents resulting from terrorist activities launched from Lebanon. We will try exercise element of control insofar as isolated incidents are concerned such as Houle, but if situation got out of hand, US policy against Israeli retaliatory raids would have to be considered in light of increased tempo of terrorist incidents.
Comment: Even though Helou’s view may have been presented in exaggerated form, Embassy basically supports Helou’s analysis of situation. Helou made clear that he can be placed in the same dilemma as that of King Hussein concerning efforts to prevent terrorist acts when, at same time, there is strong public pressure on GOL to permit infiltration. We must recognize that Arab radical states such as Syria are exploiting commando activity to create instability in moderate Arab states of Lebanon and Jordan. It would seem neither in our interest nor in Israel’s to create internal instability in these countries. Israel should, therefore, be discouraged from taking action which would force Lebanon into a militant stand permitting use of Lebanese territory [garble—by?] commandos. We [garble—also?] recommend USG urge Israel to respond affirmatively to Lebanon’s request of last October for reactivation of ILMAC. (See septel re possible Lebanese approach to UNSC.)
If pressures mentioned by Helous continue to mount, and Israel continues disregard complex implications for [of?] Israeli retaliatory raids, political situation in Lebanon will be undermined and we would see further erosion of US position in Lebanon. We also think that USG statement citing Houle incident and expressing US opposition to such retaliatory measures would facilitate Helou’s efforts to handle situation.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Amman, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, USUN, CINCSTRIKE, and DIA.
  2. Telegram 163324 to Beirut, May 13, reported that Lebanese Charge Farah called at the Department to express Lebanese concern over recent incidents along the Israel-Lebanon border. Farah emphasized that Lebanon was doing everything possible to prevent illegal crossings into Israel and expressed his government’s concern that Israel had designs on Lebanese territory. Acting under instructions, Farah requested the United States to take steps to show disapproval of Israeli actions along the border. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 9218 from Beirut, May 14, the Embassy reported on uneasiness in the Jewish community in Lebanon over mounting tension between Israel and Lebanon. Social reforms were viewed as a means of alleviating some of the tension. (Ibid.)
  4. The Department instructed Porter to weigh in strongly with the Lebanese Government against a resort to the Security Council concerning the border incident. The Department noted that the facts of the incident did not establish that the Israeli action was unprovoked and stressed that an appeal to the Security Council would come at a very unfortunate time with respect to the Jarring Mission. Lebanon could be assured of U.S. interest in the border situation. (Telegram 165812 to Beirut, May 17; ibid.)