100. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1

1989. Ref: State 35651.2

1. Last fall during the Lebanese-fedayeen war3 this Embassy was asked to suggest possible measures for assisting Lebanon. Today, almost five months later, the U.S. has done nothing except to approve in principle a small P.L.–480 program. The Lebanese request for arms assistance and the similar recommendations of this Embassy have either been turned down or are in bureaucratic limbo. Perhaps there are [Page 335] valid legal or practical reasons for this inactivity, but the result is the same—inactivity.

2. There is either a serious misunderstanding between the Dept and myself on the urgency of the situation in Lebanon or perhaps we have failed to make the point with enough clarity. May I now state as clearly as I can that I think we are in for real trouble in Lebanon within the next few months, if not sooner.

I think it is almost inevitable that there will be a serious confrontation between the Palestinians and the Lebanese. The alternative will be that the Lebanese will cave in to the fedayeen. Equally predictable result will then be a severe Israeli response. American interests will suffer generally and specifically in this process, and we cannot rule out violent action against our presence here.

3. The only instrument which might bring a measure of stability to the internal situation in Lebanon is a strengthened army. The Lebanese took a long time to make up their minds to tell us what kind of arms they wanted. They were without a government and, when they formed one,4 Pres Helou had to get rid of his incompetent CIC.5 The new CIC, Noujaim,6 after carefully reviewing his needs and his country’s finances, approached us on Feb 19 with a modest requirement for some WWII tanks and AA machine guns—used equipment which the Lebanese hoped would be on our surplus list, and therefore available for little or nothing. The Lebanese, with an empty treasury, were forced to beg, but their request was indeed modest, considering the threat which they are trying urgently to meet.

4. To recapitulate from our earlier messages: (A) Helou wants to strengthen his army now—for a fedayeen challenge which he thinks may occur no later than May; (B) GOL cannot pay going prices, even for reconditioned equipment; (C) GOL cannot at moment legally accept USG credits, even if we have them to offer; (D) Lebanon has no chance to get subsidies from other Arab states; (E) Helou desperately wants to continue to get arms in West, to avoid accepting proferred Soviet “gift.”

5. On March 12, we received USG’s first response to GOL’s request. It said: (A) 18 months delivery time for U.S.-owned M–41’s; (B) No other tanks available from U.S. sources; (C) Lebanese might wish try buy their M–41’s on open market from “Levy Bros”; (D) If they do, USG will tell them later whether or not we will veto the purchase. There is no hope in this reply which I can use to buck up Helou’s and Noujaim’s morale.

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6. I am led to conclude that the USG cannot respond either to the urgent nature of the Lebanese request for arms, or to the request for concessional prices. If this is the case, I believe it is essential that I so frankly inform Pres Helou. At this point Helou is relying on the hope that a friendly USG, whose interests he feels are identical with his, will respond to his urgent pleas for help. (He indeed has nowhere else to turn, unless he accepts the recent Soviet offers.) We cannot, in all fairness, allow him to plan on false premises. He must know where he stands and what his assets are or may be, and make his decisions accordingly.

7. I do not want to appear to be tilting my lance in this message, but I see no ray of hope in any of Dept’s messages that USG is considering any course of action that responds to Helou’s requests or to the realities of the problem. If I am wrong, please tell me.

8. Also, valid as the facts may be, I cannot satisfy Helou, provide him solace, or assist in easing the situation here by repeating the history of our past efforts to help Lebanon (para 2, State 36213).7 Helou is just as aware as I of the inadequacies and mistakes of his former CIC—the man who helped create this sorry history. It was, after all, Helou who fired him, and perhaps above all because he was aware of the facts which the Dept has enumerated, and which he and I have often discussed in the past.8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 621, Country Files, Middle East, Lebanon, Vol. II. Secret; Exdis. At the top of the page a handwritten notation in an unknown hand reads: “A strong but valid message. I hope that Al Haig and Hal Saunders see this.” Attached is a note from Haig to Kissinger, March 16, that reads: “Henry, The attached cable dealing with the Lebanese situation suggests that we may have some problems which are minimal to remedy.”
  2. In telegram 35651 to Beirut, March 11, the Department informed the Embassy that it was “looking into availability of M–41 tanks pursuant to General Noujaim’s request” but asked that the Embassy “point out to Lebanese that this tank was phased out of US Army approximately 15 years ago.” “Thus,” the Department wrote, “all M–41s in US stocks are in used condition and would need rehabilitation before they could be sold,” which meant that delivery could take up to 18 months. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 12–5 LEB)
  3. See Document 61.
  4. See footnote 6, Document 26.
  5. Commander in Chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Emil Boustany.
  6. General Jean Noujaim replaced Boustany on January 7.
  7. See Document 98.
  8. On April 6, Nixon sent a letter to Helou in which he wrote: “It remains a matter of deep concern to me and my government that Lebanon’s stability and independence be preserved and that Lebanon be enabled to pursue its democratic way of life without outside interference. My government will continue to do what it can to facilitate this objective. Many of the problems facing Lebanon today are a direct result of the Arab Israel confrontation. Recognizing this, we are vigorously pursuing our efforts to find a way of achieving lasting peace in the Middle East.” (Telegram 49939 to Beirut, April 6; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 621, Country Files, Middle East, Lebanon, Vol. II)