SUBJECT AREA - Topical Issues
Title: Why Lebanon
Author: Major D. O. Comer
Thesis: The Reagan Administration misread the political situation in the Middle East subsequent
to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Background: Beginning in late September 1982, with the United States still engaged in the
"Cold War" with the Soviet Union, US Marines assigned to Landing Force Sixth Fleet took up
residence at Beirut International Airport. Their mission, ambiguous at best, was to assist the
Lebanese Government attain stability by keeping the peace in the wake of the Israeli invasion of
southern Lebanon known as Operation Peace for Galilee. The Reagan Administration's
misinterpretation of the existing Middle East political situation provided the impetus for the
introduction of the Marines. The primary focus of this paper is on the political situation that
existed in the Middle East from the beginning of the Reagan Administration in 1981 up until the
eve of invasion. The paper will reveal a clear US misinterpretation of the political situation and
the result of a flawed foreign policy known as "strategic consensus."
Recommendation: Prior to engaging in peace keeping operations of any type, the US must
determine what its interests in the region are and whether or not those interests are survival
interest, vital interests, etc. Moreover, the US must also determine the interest of the other
parties involved, and the nature of their interests. Finally, regardless of the nature of US interest,
the US must not take sides with any of the parties involved unless we are prepared to engage in
Why did the US intervene in Lebanon in 1982? Most scholars agree that the
United States intervened in Lebanon for regional and international considerations, not
because of Lebanon's importance as claimed by the United States government.1 The US
responded to the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon (Operation Peace for Galilee) and
the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in order to contain communism in the
Middle East, support Israel, and promote stability in the region. The war in Vietnam and
the Iran hostage crisis had badly damaged US prestige. The situation in Lebanon placed
US prestige in further jeopardy. Israel, a US surrogate armed with US weapons and
firing US ammunition, had invaded an Arab country. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF)
had confronted the PLO, drove them into a corner in Beirut, laid siege to an Arab capital
in the process, and defeated the Soviet backed Syrian Armed Forces occupying the
The siege of West Beirut had a central impact on the political imaginations of
people throughout the world. It was the first war televised on a day-by-day basis with
live coverage of the siege of a modern capital city as part of the nightly news.2 As news
media from all over the world covered the gradual destruction of the city and the
suffering of the citizens of West Beirut caught in the Israeli-PLO cross-fire, the
international community placed enormous pressure on the Reagan Administration.3 The
governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan blamed the US for failing to prevent the
Israeli invasion. Even the United States' European allies condemned the attack and
threatened economic sanctions against Israel. There was also the worry over Soviet
reaction given their friendship treaty with Syria of October 1980.4
Ambassador Morris Draper, assistant to Special Presidential Emissary, Philip
Habib, in 1982, while speaking at a symposium on Lebanon at Quantico, Virginia on
May 3, 1993, provided the following comment on the Reagan Administration's decision
to intervene in Lebanon:
We got into the Lebanon mess when Israel attacked Lebanon and
drove up towards Beirut mainly because we had no choice. In the
situation in the Middle East, there is always a risk that a fight will
start out between Israel and an Arab country--in this case,
Syria--and it will escalate from there, because as history has
shown, the Soviet Union has Syria as a set trappie [client state]
and would back it, and we were backing Israel, although we
certainly didn't back its invasion of Lebanon.5
In response to intense international and growing domestic political pressure,
President Reagan sent Habib to Beirut. Over time, Habib negotiated a plan--to evacuate
the PLO and Syrians from Beirut--which was acceptable to all parties. When executed, it
went so smoothly that the US Marines were only in Beirut for 16 days. But the
assassination of Gemayel and the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, which occurred within
days of the Marine's departure, led to a sense of embarrassment and guilt in the White
House. The administration felt compelled to do something more than merely expressing
moral outrage. "If we show ourselves unable to respond to this [new] situation, what can
the Middle East parties expect of US in the Arab-Israeli peace process."6 The Reagan
Administration had to act to regain US credibility among the moderate Arab states and to
show that the US could still influence Israeli military action. Bold action was necessary
to give the president's new Middle East peace plan--announced only two weeks before,
on September 1, 1982--time to work. The Marines, therefore, returned to Beirut on 29
September as part of the reformed Multi-National National Force (MNF).7
The Return of the Globalist Approach: US-Israeli Relations
President Reagan, as did Johnson, Nixon and Ford before him, based his foreign
policy on a globalist approach (i.e., everything was considered in the context of the
US-USSR 'global' confrontation).8 This return to a more traditional US policy position
represented a move away from Mr. Carter's focus on regional issues and a renewed
commitment to the security and qualitative military superiority of Israel.9 George Ball,
in Error and Betrayal in Lebanon, contends that the reason for the US intervention in
Lebanon lay in a Middle East policy in lock-step with the policies of Israel:
Since the Reagan Administration lacked any coherent Middle East
policy of its own it supported, without critical sensitivity, the
policies, decisions and actions of the Israeli government,
apparently unaware of the fact that Israel's objectives in Lebanon
diverged sharply from America's. By failing to assert our nation's
rights, enforce its laws and protect its interests, the Administration
encouraged Israel in an adventure that was ill-conceived and
disastrous for both countries.10
Ball thus implies that it was Reagan's policy alone, which encouraged the Israelis to
invade Lebanon, without due acknowledgment of the evolution of US-Israeli relations
during the previous 16 years. A history of strong US-Israeli relations, coupled with the
election of the most pro-Israeli US president ever, had a significant impact upon the US
decision to intervene in Lebanon. But we must consider the decision in the context of a
US-Israeli bond that had evolved before the Reagan years.
The Early Years: 1948-1958
The US supported the creation of Israel in 1948 in part because of intense
political action by the Israeli lobby applied vis-a-vis the Democratic Party. American
support for the Israel intensified to the point where, by 1958, Americans saw Israel as a
barrier or deterrent to Soviet expansion in the Middle East. This point of view gained
even greater support in the "Cold War" years, with the Israeli lobby gaining increasing
influence with Congress.11
During this period US Middle East policy reflected neutrality as the US tried to
act as an impartial referee between combatants in the Middle East arena, exercising
political and economic persuasion to try to promote reconciliation, maintain peace, and
balance diverse interests in the region.12 Mr. Ball summed up US Middle East policy in
the context of tide Western Big Three (the United States, Britain and France) 1950
agreement on arms sales in the region:
In 1950 the United States refused Israel's request to sell it arms;
instead, to avoid encouraging an arms race, our government sought
to coordinate arms sales with Britain and France through the
Tripartite Declaration of May 25, 1950. Thereafter, until the end
of the Kennedy Administration, the Declaration remained a central
tenant of American Middle Eastern policy, with our government
earnestly seeking to maintain some degree of objectivity in
formulating Middle East policy. America sought, so far as
practicable, to be even-handed on the assumption that peace could
be best assured by maintaining a rough arms balance in the area.13
After the Suez Crisis, President Eisenhower forced the Israelis--and Britain and
France as well--to withdraw from the Sinai, returning that area to Egypt. He enunciated,
and then supported, a policy stating that the US would not allow aggressors to keep lands
conquered by force or impose conditions on the restoration of those lands. Because
President Eisenhower's policy galvanized American Jewish leaders, it thereby became a
precursor to a fundamental policy shift.
The Evolulion of the US-Israeli Partnership: 1959-1976
Between the Suez Crisis and the end of the Kennedy Administration in 1963, the
Israeli lobby grew strong enough to cause a major shift in US-Israeli relations,
culminating in a literal US partnership with Israel during the Johnson Administration.
After the 1967 Six Day War, America became Israel's primary arms supplier, economic
benefactor, and political supporter, as a torrent of US money and military material began
flowing to Israel.14 Most importantly, the US moved away from the Eisenhower policy
by not pressuring Israel to abide by UN Resolution 242, which stipulated the negotiated
return of Arab territories seized during the "Six Day War" in exchange for peace in the
region.15 President Reagan confirmed US departure from this policy when announcing
his Middle East peace initiative by stating the following:
That the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were not
illegal [but he did suggest an immediate freeze on further
settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank], that they were
allowed by a provision of UN Resolution 242, and that Jerusalem
should remain an undivided city, contrary to Arab insistence that
eastern part of the city should be ... returned to the Palestinians.16
Failure to pressure the Israelis to accept Resolution 242 provided the impetus for
the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In that year the Arabs attacked Israel on several fronts.
American support kept Israel in the war and eventually swung the tide of battle in her
favor.17 Then, with the Israelis preparing to launch a punishing counter-offensive against
the Egyptian Army, the US redirected its involvement in favor of Egypt. One can argue
whether the threat of Soviet intervention influenced US actions or whether the US acted
solely to preserve US-Arab relations.18 Regardless of the impetus for US actions, the
widely accepted opinion is that this event helped set the stage for the Camp David
Accords of the Carter Administration.19
The Carter Years: 1977-1980
President Carter's foreign policy focused on regional issues vice the globalist
approach of previous administrations. This change provided the impetus for the Camp
David accords which were designed to promote peace in the Middle East by fostering
peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Israelis.20 The accords successfully neutralized
Egypt and thereby should have signaled a reduction in Israel's military requirements.
The strongest of the Arab states, Egypt, possessed the greatest military capability and the
largest population base. Removing her from the equation removed the threat of another
multi-front war reminiscent of the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars.
However, Israel viewed the new found peace with Egypt as nothing more than a
"cold peace."21 Moreover, from the Israeli perspective the Camp David Accords failed to
address the massive PLO arms buildup and the development of a virtual PLO parastate
within Lebanon.22 The Palestinians were adamantly against either joining the peace
process or recognizing explicitly Israel's right to live in peace. The Syrian military
presence in Lebanon and its challenge to Maronite control of Lebanon also coincided
with the growing Palestinian armed presence that threatened Israel's security along its
Lebanese border.23 Finally, with the other Arab states opposing the Camp David accords
and Egypt's "peace" with Israel, Israel continued to act as though she were in a perpetual
state of war with her Arab neighbors--hence her continued build-up of military power.24
Therefore, the amount of US aid to Israel continued to increase despite the Camp
David Accords.25 Israel, convinced that no amount of military power could provide
absolute security, became an "over-armed"26 camp, superior militarily to any combination
of the remaining Arab states, absent Egypt, and increasingly resistant to peace efforts in
Reagan's Policy: 1981-1982
The debacle of the Vietnam War and the events in Iran in the late 1970s badly
affected US prestige and morale --a phenomenon President Reagan was determined to
reverse. Agnes Korbani, in US Interventions in Lebanon, 1958 and 1982, described the
significance of his election:
The election of Ronald Reagan as president of the United States
symbolized a spirit of resurgent power and confidence and brought
with it not so much new policies as an unprecedented reliance on
force and the threat of force to achieve US goals. In other words,
the 'Cold War' perspective of the 1950s was resurrected....27
The Reagan Administration set out to distinguish its foreign policy from that of
the Carter Administration by advancing the concept of "strategic consensus." This new
approach moved away from the strong emphasis on regional issues of the previous
Administration. US foreign policy now shifted toward a globalist concept of foreign
policy decisionmaking, one premised on a "grand theory" or "strategic design" for
international relations.28 The new administration imbued their theory, or design, in the
trappings of the "Cold War", and predicated it upon the belief that a consensus of
concern with respect to Soviet threats existed among the so-called moderate Arab states.
Under the rubric of "strategic consensus," the US sought a network of bilateral and
multilateral arrangements with the Arab moderates to enhance security and to counter
Soviet encroachment and activities of Soviet proxies in the region.29
According to Francis Boyle, Associate Professor of Law, University of Illinois,
the framework devised for the concept of "strategic consensus" developed by Reagan's
Secretary of State, Alexander Haig and his mentor, Henry Kissinger, was nothing more
sophisticated than a somewhat refined and superficially rationalized theory of
"Machiavellian" power politics.30 This framework caused the Reagan Administration to
view the Middle East from a very narrow perspective. Professor Boyle provided the
following analysis of "strategic consensus":
Haig quite myopically viewed the myriad of problems in the
Middle East and the Persian gulf primarily within the context of a
supposed struggle for control over the entire world between the
United States and the Soviet Union. Haig erroneously concluded
that this global confrontation required the United States to forge a
'strategic consensus' between itself and Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and
Saudi Arabia ... to resist anticipated Soviet aggression in the
Haig's vision of founding a US-centered 'strategic consensus'in
the Middle East was simply a reincarnated version of Kissinger's
'Nixon Doctrine'... Israel would become America's new
'policeman' for stability in the Middle East... 31
The hope was that regional issues, such as the Palestinian problem and the internal
quarrels within Lebanon, would move to the background in favor of a stronger
anti-Soviet position in the Middle East.32
According to Professor Boyle, the US emphasis on Soviet containment in the
Middle East and the idea that Israel would be America's policeman in the region provided
for a special US-Israeli relationship:
One apparent corollary to Haig's thesis was that the United States
must more fully support the Begin Government even during the
pursuit of its patently illegal policies in Lebanon and in the
territories occupied [in] 1967 ... over any Arab state of
combination thereof, absent Egypt, which had been effectively
neutralized by the 1979 peace treaty.
Furthermore, according to Ambassador Draper, the concept of "strategic consensus"
completely discounted the Palestinian issue as contributing to the problem in the Middle
The Reagan administration basically abandoned the idea that the
Palestinian issue was central to the Middle East problem. General
Haig as Secretary of State pursued other objectives, with the
Palestinian issue relegated to the deep background. The United
States, in contrast to previous years, was inactive in what we call
the "general peace process," and of course, the process was rotting.
There was no dialog to speak of. The Egyptians and Israelis, while
they had made peace, had what the Israelis called a "cold peace,"
and the dialog was intermittent. Sadat had died; he had been
assassinated in that first year. And this put a tremendous pall over
all efforts to resuscitate the peace process.33
Thus in Mr. Boyle's view, the US was making serious mistakes under the spell of
strategic consensus," which, as it related to the moderate Arab states, was a
fundamentally flawed concept from the beginning:
Haig totally disregarded the fundamental realities of Middle
Eastern international politics, where traditionally all regional
actors have been far more exclusively concerned about
relationships with their immediate neighbors than about some
evanescent threat of Soviet aggression.34
The Resurrection of the Israeli, Maronite Plan
One can trace the Israeli-Maronite relationship back to the beginning of the
Zionist movement when Zionist politicians envisaged a Jewish-Maronite alliance to
counterbalance Muslim regional dominance. After gaining independence in 1948, some
Israeli leaders advocated extending the northern border to encompass southern Lebanon
up to the Litani river and to assimilate the Christian population living there.35 Seven
years later, in 1955, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and General Moshe Dayan
conceived a plan to "buy a Maronite officer who would then 'invite' Israeli intervention in
Lebanese affairs and enable Israel to establish control over Lebanon."36 Opposition from
Israel's foreign minister, Moshe Sharett, and resistance from the patriarchs of Lebanon's
Christian community, particularly Pierre Gemayel and Camille Shamun, forestalled that
In 1976, with the fortunes of the Lebanese Civil War turning against them, a new
breed of Christian leaders turned to Israel for support, but the Maronite-Israeli
relationship waned after Syria intervened on behalf of the Christians. The relationship
changed yet again when the Syrian army turned from Christian ally to an army of
occupation, and fear of Syrian domination replaced the Christian fear of Muslim
domination. Bashir Gemayel--recognizing that Israel was the only power in the Middle
East with the capability and the inclination to expel Syria from Lebanon--continued to
cultivate the nascent Israeli connection.38
Gemayel's overtures to Israel coincided with the Likud Party's rise to power in
1977 and growing Israeli concern over improving ties between Syria and the PLO. The
new Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, supported the Christians, labeling them an
embattled religious minority and promising to prevent their genocide. He also viewed
them as an ally against the PLO. In Bashir Gemayel the Israelis had found their
Maronite for president of Lebanon. Twenty-two years later, the Israelis resurrected their
1955 plan for Lebanon at the behest of the Christians.39
The Missile Crisis
Between 1978 and 1980, Gemayel moved to consolidate his position with Israel
and within the Maronite community and to carry out his first test of Israeli resolve to
support the Maronites. By employing the Phalange militia in surprise attacks, he
systematically eliminated the opposition Christian militias and provoked the Syrians with
direct attacks. Of primary significance was the 1980 elimination of the Marada Brigade,
the pro-Syrian Christian militia. During the attack the Phalange militia killed Tony
Franjiyah, leader of the Marada Brigade and son of former President Sulayman
Gemayel further consolidated his position with Israel through political
maneuvering. With the Phalangists emerging as the dominate Christian military force,
coupled with the departure of the more moderate members of Begin's first cabinet, in late
1980, Gemayel was able to secure Begin's pledge to provide Israeli air support against a
potential Syrian air attack. At that point Israel firmly committed itself to supporting
Gemayel in his effort to expel Syrian forces from Lebanon. According to Schiff and
Ya'ari, this "virtually committed" Israel to fight Syria at Gemayel's behest.41 The Reagan
Administration gave further credibility to Gemayel's claim as the ascendant leader of the
Maronite Christians and the Lebanese forces against Syria. According to Itamar
Rabinovich, in The War for Lebanon: 1970 - 1985:
The new president and his first secretary of state, Alexander Haig,
saw the Middle East primarily through the prism of
Soviet-American rivalries. From this angle, Syria and the
Palestinians were seen in a negative light, in Lebanon and
elsewhere, while the militias of the Lebanese Front, a pro-Western
force, were viewed more favorably than they had been by the
previous administration. Accordingly, the new administration
agreed early in 1981 to receive Gemayel Jumayyil [sic] for a visit
Gemayel soon put Begin to the test. In April of 1981, Syria initiated its
"Program of National Reconciliation." This initiative intended to install a pro-Sryian
Maronite, Sulayman Franjiyah, as president of Lebanon. Unable to oppose the initiative
politically, Gemayel engineered a clash between Phalangist and Syrian forces in Zahle,
capital city of the Beka'a Valley, sure to erupt into an Israeli-Syrian confrontation.43 His
scheme would not only test Begin's resolve but would also provide the Reagan
Administration with its first foreign policy crisis and the first test of the October 1980
Soviet-Syrian Friendship treaty.44
Coinciding with Gemayel's venture in Zahle, Secretary Haig arrived in the Middle
East to pitch the idea of "strategic consensus" to US friends in the region. In their book,
Israel's Lebanon War, authors Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari describe the first meeting
between Haig and Begin:
Begin's people took to Haig from the start. He espoused,
practically embodied, a tough minded, trenchant approach that
struck them as a refreshing change from the Carter
Administration's wobbly line on the Middle East. In terms of
Israel's immediate neighbors, Haig spoke of President Assad's
regime in biting language and left his hosts with the distinctive
impression that America intended to take a hard line toward Syria
as the Soviet Union's chief client state in the region. By the time
the secretary left Israel, there was no doubt in many minds that
with a man of Haig's bent running the State Department, Israel
could definitely allow itself to adopt a militant posture vis-a-vis
Damascus. Begin held one closed session with the secretary ... in
sharing his impressions of this talk with colleagues he dropped a
telling remark: 'Ben-Gurion used to say that if you're pursuing a
policy that may lead to war, it's vital to have a great power behind
As Gemayel intended, Phalangist forces in Zahle came under siege by the
Syrians. Forecasting the fall of the entire Maronite mountain "fortress," Gemayel
urgently requested Israeli support. "What he failed to tell the Israelis was that Assad had
offered a compromise on Zahle: the siege would be lifted if the Phalangists left the
city."46 The ranking members of both the Mossad and Israeli Military Intelligence
advised against responding to Gemayel's pleas warning that the siege of Zahle was a
Maronite ploy to embroil Israel in a war with Syria. Begin, over the objections of his
intelligence chiefs, responded to Gemayel's entreaties for air support with an air attack
that downed two Syrian transport helicopters. Syria responded by constructing a layered
surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. The Syrians introduced SAM-6 missiles in the
Beka'a Valley and stationed more sophisticated SAMs along the Syrian border with
The presence of Syrian missiles in the Beka'a limited Israel's ability to conduct
surveillance missions in the area. Even more important, the presence of more
sophisticated, longer range weapons inside the Syrian border signaled Syria's intention to
interdict Israeli air operations against the PLO as far west of the Beka'a as Beirut. Israel
publicly threatened to attack the missile sites.47
Begin fully intended to carry out his threat. It was only bad weather that
prevented the Israeli Air Force from attacking the missiles before the US Ambassador to
Israel, Samuel Lewis, could relay the planned arrival of Presidential Special Emissary,
Philip Habib, to discuss the matter with Assad. Begin jumped at the chance to use a
diplomatic out; this would allow him to proceed through the June elections without
resorting to military action against Syria and to avoid drawing attention to Israel prior to
her attack on the Iraq nuclear reactor planned for June of 1981.48
During this first mission to the Middle East, Habib's goals were to restrain Israel
in order to allow diplomacy to work, negotiate with Syria for the removal of its missiles
from the Beka'a, induce the Christians to open a dialogue with Syria and help the official
Lebanese Government extend central authority throughout the country. If the Lebanese
and the Syrians could strike a political compromise, there would be less need for the
Lebanese to have military air support from Israel and thereby reduce the need for Syria
to station surface to air missiles in the Beka'a.49
Habib failed; the missiles remained in the Beka'a. The one certain consequence
of Gemayel's venture in Zahle was the firm establishment of Syrian missiles on Lebanese
soil.50 Israel, because of the political and strategic situation, had to tolerate this situation
in the short run, but still regarded the missile deployment as an unacceptable shift in the
balance of power that it could not endure. Therefore, Israel had reason for a future attack
on the Syrians in Lebanon.51
The PLO Artillery Crisis: July, 1981
With the missile crisis lingering in the background, his reelection campaign in
full swing, and the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor only eleven days away, on 28
May, Begin approved a request to renew attacks against PLO targets in southern
Lebanon. According to Schiff and Ya'ari, "The immediate purpose of the attacks was
political; the long range goal was to effect a controlled escalation of tension and
ultimately trigger the war that [Chief of Staff, General] Eitan believed was destined to be
fought within a half a year, at most."52 These attacks continued until 3 June with little
response from the PLO. Then suddenly, six weeks later, on 10 July, the IDF renewed its
attacks. The PLO's response was fierce and deadly. Determined to respond in kind, on
15 July the PLO launched a sustained 12 day artillery and rocket attack against towns in
northern Galilee, killing six Israelis. And for 12 days, without success, the IDF
attempted to locate and destroy the PLO artillery positions. The artillery and rocket
attacks drove the citizens of northern Galilee underground into bomb shelters where they
remained throughout the 12 day period. The PLO had created Israeli refugees within
The capability of the PLO to sustain fierce artillery and rocket attacks on the
settlements of northern Galilee, in the face of determined IDF efforts to eliminate their
firing positions shocked and stunned many Israelis. According to Schiff and Ya'ari, that
was undoubtedly why Philip Habib found Begin greatly sobered and ripe for a truce
when he arrived at the prime minister's office on Friday, 24 July. Begin's
accommodating attitude surprised Habib and his aides, who had expected the give and
take with Begin to be tough.53
Avner Yaniv, an Israeli political scientist and author of, Deterrence Without the
Bomb, discuses the impact of the PLO artillery attack and its influence upon the Israeli
decision to invade Lebanon in 1982:
Thus in late July 1981, unable to deter PLO attacks against its
citizens, Israel accepted the terms of a cease fire negotiated by the
American Ambassador, Philip Habib. The Israeli decision to
invade Lebanon in June 1982 was thus rooted in an acknowledged
failure to deter the PLO. Massive retaliation and counter city
bombing and shelling had failed to solve the problem. Though
incomparably weaker from the purely military point of view, the
PLO had succeeded in turning the threat of hitting the vulnerable
part of the Israeli population of the Galilee into a formidable club
with which to deter Israel from punitive actions against the
Palestinians. Israel's immediate response was the acceptance of a
cease-fire under adverse conditions. When Menachem Begin
ordered the IDF to respect this humiliating outcome, however, he
was already resolved to order an initiated, first-strike invasion of
Looking for the Green Light for the Invasion
The July cease fire did not solve the problem created by the PLO artillery crisis, it
merely froze it. In short, the cease-fire agreement was a patently harmful one, for it
contained the seeds of war. This shaky accord fostered the grim feeling within Israel
that, more than ever before, the sixty-eight settlements of the Galilee were at the mercy
of vengeful and capricious terrorists, notwithstanding the fact that Israel had provided the
impetus for the crisis.55 Unconstrained by the terms of the cease-fire agreement, the PLO
improved its positions in southern Lebanon, increased its supply of arms, and took steps
to transform the Palatine Liberation Army from a decentralized collection of terrorist and
guerrilla bands into a standing and disciplined army.56 The PLO remained capable of
shelling the towns of northern Galilee and the Israelis remained determined to stop them.
Begin reorganized his cabinet and surrounded himself with men ready to employ
military power for objectives well beyond Israel's security needs. With Ariel Sharon and
Yitzhak Shamir in the key positions of Minister of Defense and Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Begin had created the most hawkish cabinet in the history of Israel. By the end
of 1981 a military solution for the situation in southern Lebanon was a topic of open
discussion. In December Israel confirmed to the Reagan Administration its intention to
seek a military solution in Lebanon, and to the astonishment of Ambassadors Habib and
Draper, Sharon outlined, in detail, the Israeli plan to invade southern Lebanon.57
Raymond Tanter, a member of the National Security Council staff during the
Reagan Administration in, Who's at the Helm?: Lessons of Lebanon, contends that the
debate over giving a green light to Israel for military action in Lebanon began in May of
1981 when a State Department executive committee known as the Lebanon Task Force
met to consider the topic of Israeli military action in Lebanon:
One of the first activities of the Lebanon Task Force was a
meeting on May 8, 1981. ... According to the recollection of a
high ranking officials who participated in the May 8 meeting, a
high-ranking State Department official with undisputed authority
to speak for the secretary suggested that the political neutrality of
Lebanon ought to be the overall American objective. And to
achieve that goal, U.S. policy had to help bring about the
'neutralization' of the Palestinian resistance movement in
The May 8, Task Force meeting also was important because it
considered the idea that the United States provide Israel with a
green light to stamp out the PLO. Although the regional
representative implied that destroying the PLO may have been a
prerequisite for an ultimate US objective of bringing neutrality to
Lebanon, the exchange emphasized prospective Israeli military
action in Lebanon aimed at removing Syria's Missiles. As a result,
the future of the PLO merited only secondary consideration. In a
year's time and after a PLO military buildup, the priorities would
The question of whether Washington gave a go-ahead signal to Jerusalem was
significant in May 1981 because newspapers in Israel began to adopt the line that the
Habib mission was going to fail and that the United Sates expected Israel to attack.
When Israel did invade Lebanon in June of 1982, events such as these brought charges
that Washington had authorized the invasion. But Secretary Haig has denied giving
Israel such a go-ahead. He insists that he had repeatedly stated that the United States
would consider an Israeli attack justified only in strictly proportional response to "an
internationally recognized provocation."59 Haig's denial notwithstanding, US approval
the Israeli invasion is still a topic of debate. On the other hand, it is clear that the US
failed to take steps to preclude the invasion. Tanter contends that "Neglecting to make
explicit American call for restraint constituted an ambiguous message that Israel
exploited."60 The ambiguities in the US communications to Israel created a loophole
through which the Israeli armed forces could roll into Lebanon.61
The reason for the 1982 US intervention into Lebanon was not the result of a
single administration's foreign policy. Nor was it solely the result of humanitarian
concern on the part of the Reagan Administration for the plight of the Lebanese people
during the siege of West Beirut or a sense of guilt after the massacres of Sabra and
Shatilla. Instead, it is the result of several factors:
-a long term policy of US-Israeli partnership formed over the course of several
-a resurgence of the "Cold War" attitude attendant to the election of President
-a shift away from a foreign policy focused on regional issues to an ill-conceived
globalist approach to foreign relations known as "strategic consensus,"
- an abandonment of the idea that the Palestinian issue was central to the Middle
East peace process,
- one sided support for Israel in general and for her policies in Lebanon and the
occupied territories (since 1967) in particular,
- a desire to avoid a superpower confrontation,
- a need for the Reagan Administration to regain credibility among the moderate
Arab states after the Sabra and Shatilla massacres in order to allow time for the Reagan
Middle East peace plan to work.
- a need to demonstrate that the US could still influence Israeli military action in
the Middle East and reduce international political pressure on Israel as well as the US.
In this manner, the acts, goals, and consequences of Israel's 1982 invasion of
Lebanon as perceived by the Reagan Administration literally predestined the decision to
intervene in Lebanon.
Ball, George W. Error and Betrayal in Lebanon: An Analysis of Israel's Invasion of
Lebanon and the Implications for US-Israeli Relations. Washington DC:
Foundation For Middle East Peace, 1984.
Haig, Alexander. Caveat. New York: McMillan Publishing Company, 1984.
Haig, Alexander. "Peace and Security in the Middle East." Current Policy, No.
395. State Department Bureau of Public Affairs, May 26, 1982.
Hall, David K. Lebanon Revisited. National Security Decision Making
Department: The United States Naval War College, 1988.
Hallenbeck, Ralph A. Military Force as an Instrument of US Policy: Intervention In
Lebanon, August 1982--February 1984. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991.
Korbani, Agnes G. US Intervention in Lebanon, 1958 and 1982: Presidential
Decision Making. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991.
Lebanon: A Country Study. 3d ed. Ed. by Thomas Collelo. Federal Research
Division, Library of Congress. DA Pam No. 550-24 (Washington DC:
The Liber Group on the Laws of War. "The Illegality of the Invasion: A Discussion
of the Problems of Law of Armed Conflict in Lebanon." Unpublished
research paper presented by Francis Boyle, Assistant Professor of Law,
University of Illinois, April, 1983.
The Marine Corps University. "Marines in Lebanon: A Ten Year Retrospective."
Unpublished transcript of a symposium sponsored by the Marine Corps
Command and Staff College Foundation, held on 3 May 1993 at the Marine
Corps Research Center, The Marine Corps University, Quantico, Va.
O'Ballance, Edgar. No Victor, No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur War. San Rafael,
Ca: Presidio Press, 1978.
Quandt, William B. "Reagan's Lebanon Policy: Trial and Error." The Middle East
Journal, Vol. 38, No. 2 Spring, 1984.
Rabinovich, Itamar. The War for Lebanon, 1970-1985. Ithaca, New York: Cornell
University Press, 1985.
Schiff, Ze'ev and Ehud Ya'ari. Israel's Lebanon War. New York: Simon &
Shultz, George P. Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State.
New York: McMillan Publishing Company, 1993.
Tanter, Raymond. Who's at the Helm?: Lessons of Lebanon. Boulder, Colorado:
Westview Press, Inc., 1991
Yaniv, Avner. Deterrence without the Bomb. Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books,
1 Agnes G. Korbani, US Intervention in Lebanon, 1958 and 1982: Presidential Decision Making
(New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991), 19-20.
2 Francis Boyle, "The Illegality of the Invasion: A discussion of the Problems of Law of Armed
Conflict in Lebanon," unpublished research paper presented to the Liber Group on the Laws of War,
April, 1983. The Liber Group on the Laws of War met on April 15, 1983, to discuss the Problems of the
law of armed conflict in Lebanon. The discussion centered on the legal right of Israel to invade Lebanon
for the expressed purpose of expelling the PLO without internationally recognized provocation and
exceeding the common rules of proportionality.
3 David K. Hall, Lebanon Revisited (National Security Decision Making Department: The United
States Naval War College, 1988), 4.
5 Ambassador Morris Draper, "Marines in Lebanon: A Ten Year Retrospective," unpublished
transcript of a symposium sponsored by the Marine Corps Command and Staff College Foundation, held
on 3 May 1993 at the Marine Corps Research Center, The Marine Corps University, Quantico. Va., 10.
6 George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (New York: McMillan
Publishing Company, 1993), 106-108. Secretary Shultz is quoting President Reagan's statement
regarding the impact of the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla upon the recently announced Reagan Peace
8 Raymond Tanter, Who's at the Helm?: Lessons of Lebanon (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press,
Inc., 1991), 20. By Tanater's definition, Globalists view an issue from a worldwide (e.g., an East(West or
""Cold War"") perspective; Regionalist view an issues from the perspective of the local actors and tend not
to combine diplomacy with force.
9 Secretary of State Alexander Haig, "Peace and Security in the Middle East," Current Policy, No.
395, State Department Bureau of Public Affairs, May 26, 1982, 44.
10 George W. Ball, Error and Betrayal in Lebanon: An Analysis of Israel's Invasion of Lebanon and
the Implications for US-Israeli Relations (Washington DC: Foundation For Middle East Peace, 1984), 21.
12 Ball, 93.
13 Ibid. Prior to May 25, 1950, the US had maintained an arms embargo against Israel. Britain had
refused several request to sell arms to Israel while providing arms to the Arab states. Israel sought other
sources of supply. A conventional arms race began to develop. In order to maintain a balance of power,
put an end to the conventional arms race in the region and preclude further Soviet encroachment in the
Middle East as a result of increased arms sales, on May 25, 1950, the Western Big Three (the US, Britain,
and France) announce a unified policy regarding arms sales to Israel and its Arab rivals. President
Truman declared that the agreement should help maintain peace in the region and put an end to the arms
race between Israel and the Arabs. All the states in the region were assured of adequate arms for defense.
The British stated that the new policy was set to help the Middle Eastern states arm themselves against
Communist penetrations. A brief account of the May 25, 1950 announcement can be found in Facts on
File, May 19-May 25, 1950,161.
14 Ball, 93-94.
17 Edgar O'Ballance, No Victor, No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur War (San Rafael, Ca: Presidio
Press, 1978), 180-181. The Israelis began requesting large quantities of arms and ammunition early in
the war. The requested material was not provided until the October 10, 1973, four days after the war
began, largely because of diplomatic maneuvering by Nixon's Secreacy of State, Henry Kissinger.
18 Dr. Norton's lecture, March 15, 1995, at the Marine Corps University, Command and Staff
College, Quantico, Virginia. During the lecture, Dr. Norton explained that Henry Kissinger recognize
Egyptian President Sadat's limited objective attack in the Sinai for its diplomatic objectives and worked to
delay the American air bridge to Israel the showing US support for the Arab cause in the Middle East.
Dr. Norton also explained that the Soviets were prepared for direct intervention in support of the Arab
19 Ralph A. Hallenbeck, Military Force as an Instrument of US Policy: Intervention In Lebanon,
August 1982-February 1984 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991),1.
20 Tanter, 20.
21 Ambassador Draper from the Quantico symposium of 3 May 1993, 10.
22 Tanter, 12.
23 Tanter, 14. The Ford Administration sanctioned the Syrian military presence in Lebanon. The
Maronites, with the fortunes of war turning against them, requested the Syrian intervention during the
1975-1976 Lebanese Civil War. For a detailed discussion consult Itanar Rabinovinch, The War for
Lebanon, 1970-1985 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 20.
24 Secretary of State Alexander Haig, "Peace and Security in the Middle East," Current Policy, No.
395, State Department Bureau of Public Affairs, May 26, 1982, 44.
25 Ball, 97.
26 Ibid., 98.
28 William B. Quandt, "Reagan's Lebanon Policy: Trial and Error," The Middle East Journal,
Vol.38, No.2 Spring, 1984, 237-252.
30 Francis Boyle from the presentation to the Liber Group on the Laws of War, April 14, 1983.
31 Francis Boyle from the presentation to the Liber Group on the Laws of War, April 14, 1983.
33 Ambassador Morris Draper from the Quantico symposium, May 3, 1993, 10.
34 Francis Boyle from the presentation to the Liber Group on the Laws of War, April 14, 1983.
35 Lebanon: A Country Study, 3d ed., ed. by Thomas Collelo. Federal Research Division, Library
of Congress, DA Pam No. 550-24 (Washington DC: GPO, 1989), 194.
36 Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari, Israel's Lebanon War, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984),
37 Lebanon: A Country Study, 195. For a detailed discussion of Moshe Sharett's misgivings
regarding the plan to buy a Maronite Officer, refer to Schiff and Ya'ari, chapter one.
39 Ibid. 200.
41 Ibid., 199.
42 Rabinovich, 9l.
43 Ibid., 116-118.
44 Tanter, 14.
45 Schiff and Ya'ari, 31.
46 Ibid., 33.
47 Ibid., 35.
49 Tanter, 20.
50 Schiff and Ya'ari, 38.
51 Lebanon, A Country Study, 200.
52 Schiff and Ya'ari, 35.
53 Ibid., 36.
54 Avner Yaniv, Deterrence Without the Bomb (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1986), 234.
55 Schiff and Ya'ari, 37.
56 Lebanon: A Country Study, 201.
57 Ambassador Draper from the Quantico symposium, May 3, 1993, 10.
58 Tanter, 35-37.
59 Alexander Haig, Caveat (New York: McMillan Publishing Company, 1984), 85.
60 Tanter, 37.
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