77. Editorial Note

In the aftermath of the resumption of artillery clashes between Lebanese Christian militias and Syrian forces in the area around the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on September 27, 1978, a new, more intense round of fighting broke out on September 30. That morning, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut reported the shelling of the villages of Bikfayah and Beit Meri by Syrian artillery, the “first time villages in [the] Christian heartland have been subject to bombardment since [the] Syrians came.” (Telegram 5704 from Beirut, September 30; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780399–0898) For Embassy officials, this new round represented a “qualitative change for the worse” and was “the heaviest fighting since the 1975–76 civil war.” This “significant escalation,” they suspected, had been “intentionally provoked” by the Lebanese Christian militias in order to “dissuade” Lebanese President Elias Sarkis from asking for a renewal of the Arab Deterrent Force (ADF), the multi-national Arab peacekeeping force dispatched to Lebanon in the aftermath of the 1975–1976 conflict, which was due to expire. They also speculated that the Lebanese Christians may also have provoked the fighting “as a way of pressuring USG to follow through on [the] idea of [an] international conference on Lebanon.” Despite this, however, the Embassy believed that the Syrian forces were “very seriously over-reacting.” (Telegram 5710 from Beirut, September 30; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780399–1206) Hostilities escalated further early on October 2 as Syrian forces began shelling East Beirut. The Embassy in Beirut cabled regular situation reports to Washington on the continuing artillery duels between the Syrians and the Lebanese Christian militias between October 2 and October 5. The telegrams are in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File.

President Jimmy Carter asked the Department of State to prepare policy recommendations for bringing an end to the crisis in Lebanon. In response, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance prepared for Carter a memorandum outlining twelve possible initiatives the U.S. Government could undertake. At the beginning of the undated memorandum, Vance wrote that any “serious effort, to resolve, rather than simply to [Page 280]contain, the Lebanese crisis will require international support.” “Equally important,” Vance continued, “it will require pressure on Israel to reduce significantly and ultimately to end its military relationship with the Maronites” and “particularly to refrain from employing their presence in Lebanon to alter the political balance. Syria will also have to keep the Palestinians under control.” Vance’s suggested initiatives called for inviting greater United Nations participation, including UN military and police forces, the appointment of a special UN representative to Lebanon, and the expansion of the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) to include the entire country (Options 1–4, 7, 11); organizing a high level international conference under UN auspices with Saudi assistance (Option 5) or a conference of Arab States exclusively (Option 6); imposing an arms embargo and blockade of Lebanon (Option 7); initiating direct U.S. interaction with the Lebanese Government through the establishment of a U.S. military training mission (Option 9) or the formulation of a U.S. proposal to resolve the “domestic political aspects of the crisis” (Option 10); and urging Lebanon to invite a “Wise Man’s Group” of international statesmen “acquainted with Lebanon’s problems” to visit the country (Option 12). In a series of handwritten annotations on the document, Carter indicated his views: United Nations involvement was a “possibility” and an arms embargo and blockade would bring a “probable confrontation w/ Israel.” At the top of the memorandum, Carter wrote: “There don’t seem to be any really good ideas. Saudis and UN best hope.” (Memorandum from Vance to Carter, undated; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Subject Chron File, Box 71, Brzezinski, Chron: 10/1–10/78)

On October 4, French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing wrote to President Carter, suggesting a ceasefire solution. Giscard informed him that he had been in touch with Lebanese President Sarkis who had suggested redeploying ADF forces “in the most exposed sectors of the Beirut metropolitan area in such a way as to avoid contact between the military elements of one side or the other,” with the objective of eventually replacing these forces with Lebanese army units. The French President agreed to support this initiative and to take it to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad for the latter’s approval. Giscard stated to Carter that he had done this “in the most urgent terms.” Carter responded to Giscard on October 5, stating his strong support for the initiative and emphasizing the need for the continuation of U.S.-French cooperation over Lebanon. The texts of Giscard’s October 4 letter and Carter’s October 5 response are in telegram Tosec 110083/253369 to Secretary of State Vance and Damascus, Tel Aviv, Beirut, and USUN, October 5. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840156–2201) Carter also sent a letter to Assad, who was then in Moscow for talks with the Soviets, urging him to accept the ceasefire terms. The text of [Page 281]Carter’s letter, sent in telegram 253368 to Moscow, October 5, is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 88, Syria: 4/78–5/79. Chargé d’Affaires Jack F. Matlock delivered Carter’s letter to Assad at the Kremlin at 9:30 a.m. on October 6. After going through the letter with an interpreter, Assad delivered a preliminary response to Matlock. Assad stated that Syrians also sought to avoid bloodshed, that the “main responsibility for the situation lies on the Israelis,” and that he would study Carter’s letter “carefully” in Damascus and confer with Sarkis. Matlock responded that Vance had made “strong representations to top Israeli officials regarding Israeli military support for the militia” and that the United States was prepared “to go to the Security Council today if the fighting does not stop.” (Telegram 24032 from Moscow, October 6; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780408–1016) A more detailed record of this conversation is in telegram 24033 from Moscow, October 6. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780408–1141)

Vance contacted the Israelis on October 6 through a personal message to Israeli Minister of Defense Ezer Weizman. In the message, Vance stated he was “deeply concerned” about Israeli involvement in Lebanon, including the shelling of the Lebanese coast by Israeli gunboats, and the “threatening language” used by Israeli officials “to suggest that Israeli intervention in northern Lebanon may be desirable in order to provoke UN intervention.” Vance cautioned that Israeli military intervention would be a “historic mistake,” and undermine the “fragile” Camp David Accords. (Telegram Secto 11033 from USDEL Secretary in New York, October 6; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780408–0645) U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis conveyed the substance of the message to Weizman by telephone at 0710Z on October 6. (Telegram 14047 from Tel Aviv, October 6; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780408–1015) Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin responded to Vance’s message on behalf of his government stating that Israel “cannot under any circumstances ignore the cry of men, women, and children being cruelly slaughtered by artillery and tanks.” Begin urged the United States to push for an immediate ceasefire. (Telegram 255417 to Tel Aviv, October 6; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780410–0083)

Carter sought Soviet support for the ceasefire and dispatched another letter to Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev via the hotline on October 5. The letter is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 69, USSR: Brezhnev-Carter Correspondence: 1–12/78. Brezhnev responded on October 6, stating his agreement that “the immediate termination of hostilities by all sides participating in the conflict must be realized.” [Page 282]The text of Brezhnev’s response is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 61, Soviet Exchanges: 1/77–12/78.

The United Nations Security Council made a formal call for a ceasefire in Lebanon on October 6. Syrian armed forces declared a unilateral ceasefire in Lebanon on October 7. (Joe Alex Morris, Jr., “Syrian Forces Declare Beirut Cease-Fire,” Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1978, page A1) Following this, the Department of State issued ceasefire implementation instructions to the Embassies in Beirut, Damascus, Jidda, Kuwait, and Tel Aviv. (Telegram 256088 to multiple posts, October 7; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780411–0704)