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46. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon1


  • Actions to Encourage Lebanon to Move Against Black September and Other Terrorist Groups

As you know, the Black September Organization’s operation in Khartoum was planned and directed from headquarters which that group has in Lebanon.2 Since the murder of Ambassador Noel and Counselor Moore, we have been studying steps we might take that would encourage the Lebanese Government to arrest or expel from its territory all known Black September personnel and crack down on other Palestinian organizations which engage in terrorism.

The problem is a complex one, for Lebanon is a country with which we have many ties of friendship and many common interests. Lebanon’s Christian leadership would like nothing better than to see the Arab terrorists and guerrilla organizations removed altogether from Lebanese soil; this feeling is shared even by some Lebanese Moslems, although they do not express it openly. However, the Lebanese Government feels it must move cautiously, owing to the large number of Palestinian refugees on its territory (some 300,000) and the small size of Lebanon’s Army (about 15,000 men). Lebanese leaders also fear that Lebanese Moslem extremists and leftists would join the Palestinian guerrilla organizations in opposing moves which might seriously weaken them, and that this could lead to civil war.

For all their very real apprehensions, Lebanon’s leaders have been able to take some steps to limit the freedom of action of the guerrilla organizations. Last fall, after a major Israeli raid deep into Lebanon in September, the Lebanese Army moved to clear the guerrillas from the immediate area of the border with Israel. This accounts for the quiet which has prevailed along the Lebanese-Israeli border these past months. The April 9 Israeli raids3 have pushed the Lebanese Govern[Page 139]ment further in the direction of a showdown with the terrorists. We believe that if the Lebanese Government is made to feel that it can count on the support of the United States in case of trouble it will be more readily inclined to arrest or expel the terrorists.

We are already taking steps to demonstrate our support for Lebanon. Your agreement to invite President Frangie to this country next year is a very important step. We have just informed the Lebanese that we will airlift for immediate delivery some small quantities of military materiel which they need urgently, and we are asking the Defense Department to make available right away communications equipment which the Lebanese Army needs for use against the guerrilla organizations.

Closer coordination with the Lebanese in regard to what we would do to help them in the event of a showdown with the Palestinians is another very important step we could take. Foreign Minister Abouhamad spoke to us last fall, when he was in this country for the UN General Assembly, about his concern over what would happen if Syria should intervene during a confrontation between the Lebanese Army and the Palestinian guerrilla organizations. The Foreign Minister, and Lebanese Army Commander-in-Chief Iskandar Ghanem, later told U.S. officials in Beirut that the Army could handle the guerrillas but feared being overwhelmed by an invasion from Syria. They asked what assistance Lebanon could expect from the United States in such a situation.

Unless we are prepared to respond to Foreign Minister Abouhamad, it will be difficult for us to press the Lebanese Government to move vigorously on terrorism. I believe that a sympathetic response, coupled with a reiteration of our own concern over the freedom of action which Lebanon allows the Black September and other terrorist groups, would now be especially timely and would encourage the Lebanese to act more firmly. The attached telegram,4 which I plan to send unless you perceive objections, gives Ambassador Buffum instructions for discussion of both these issues with Foreign Minister Abouhamad. You will note that while we seek to be sympathetic and forthcoming with Foreign Minister Abouhamad, the operative portion of the in[Page 140]struction has been couched in terms which carefully avoid any new or unusual commitments on our part.

William P. Rogers
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 621, Country Files, Middle East, Lebanon, Vol. III, Jan. 71–Oct. 73. Secret; Nodis.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 41.
  3. On April 9, following a Palestinian commando attack on an Israeli El Al aircraft at the Nicosia airport in Cyprus and a bomb explosion at the home of the Israeli Ambassador in Nicosia, Israeli commandos attacked Arab guerrilla bases in Beirut and the coastal city of Saida in Lebanon, killing three top Fatah and PLO leaders along with several members of other Palestinian organizations. In response to the Israeli attacks, Lebanese Ambassador Kabbani told Sisco that his government intended to call for a UN Security Council meeting to deal with the “repeated Israeli incursions” against targets in Lebanon, which constituted a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, and gave Israel the “assumed right” to invade Lebanon whenever it desired. (Memorandum from Rogers to Nixon, April 10; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 51, President’s Daily Briefings, President’s Daily Briefs, April 2–14, 1973) On April 21, by a vote of 11–0–4, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 332 (1973) condemning Israel’s repeated military attacks on Lebanon and calling upon it to “desist forthwith.” Although the resolution condemned “all acts of violence which endanger or take innocent lives,” the United States abstained on the grounds that it was not evenhanded.
  4. Attached, but not printed.