The War in Lebanon

by Joe Stork , James Paul
published in MER108

On Sunday morning, June 6, 1982, 40,000 Israeli troops, with hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers, rolled across the 33-mile border with southern Lebanon. Israeli seaborne troops landed on the Lebanese coast at Sidon and near the mouth of the Zahrani River, while the Israeli air force continued the intense bombing of Palestinian camps in the south and around Beirut begun two days earlier.

The assault across the border was three-pronged. In the east, one armored group moved toward the Bekaa Valley, where Syria’s troops and antiaircraft missiles in Lebanon were concentrated. The middle force moved through the area patrolled by the UN peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, to Beaufort Castle. The largest force moved along the coastal road to Tyre, 13 miles north of the border.

The first prong was largely a feint. The Israelis lulled the Syrians into inaction for two days and then hit them hard in a lightning attack from the coast. In the central and eastern sectors, the joint Palestinian and Lebanese forces adopted classic guerrilla tactics of retreat and harass. Along the coast, with its heavy concentrations of Palestinians and Lebanese in the camps and cities, the Joint Forces, organized in small units, stood their ground and fought against overwhelming odds. [1] The steadfastness of the guerrillas moved one Israeli military correspondent to write that their motivation “must stir within us uneasy feelings.” “The PLO fighters whom we had treated as rejects,” he continued, “showed in this war a tenacity and intelligence which should not be underestimated. Israeli soldiers, who have shown contempt for the fedayeen for years, have tasted this bitter truth in the most painful way.” [2]

In the camps around Tyre and Sidon, pockets of resistance continued for many days despite intensive bombardment from land, sea and air. The Israelis did not pause at these points, but swiftly leapfrogged along the coast, bringing up additional forces to crush the resistance. By June 7, the IDF was north of Sidon; by June 8, at the outskirts of Damour; by June 9, the Israelis were entering the southern approaches of Beirut. In four days of very heavy fighting, the IDF had seized the southern quarter of Lebanon.

From June 9-11, the Joint Fores put up a major defense of Beirut, and virtually halted the Israeli advance. On June 11, US mediator Philip Habib arranged a ceasefire between Israeli and Syrian forces. The Israeli air force used the war as an occasion to wipe out Syrian antiaircraft missile emplacements in the Bekaa, and destroyed more than 60 Syrian jet fighters in just two days. The Israelis did not otherwise challenge Syrian control of the valley, but the vulnerability of Damascus to Israeli attack was all too apparent. The Syrians, in turn, did not commit themselves to blocking the advance on Beirut. The ceasefire formalized this understanding.

With the Israelis at the gates of Beirut, and the Syrians out of the battle, the pressure on the Palestinian-Lebanese Joint Forces grew more intense. Habib arranged the first of many ceasefires between the Israelis and the Joint Forces on June 12. [3] Israel took advantage of this and subsequent ceasefires to bring up reinforcements, and complete its encirclement of the city by moving into Phalangist controlled areas. By the end of the second week of the war, Beirut was cut off by land and Israeli warships and warplanes controlled the seacoast and the skies. The long siege of the capital began.

The Israeli military machine overwhelmed the Palestinian and Lebanese fighters in the south with its incomparable superiority in numbers and weapons. In its massive, preemptive character, this assault resembled the June war of 1967. The important difference was that this time the IDF, now the fourth most powerful military force in the world, was able to concentrate on this single front. “Behind the victory in Lebanon,” asserted former Israeli military intelligence chief Shlomo Gazit, “there is the peace treaty with Egypt.” [4] According to the Financial Times, Israel’s invading force by late June included nine armored divisions, equivalent to at least 90,000 troops; 1,300 tanks and an equal number of APCs; 12,000 troop and supply trucks; 3,500 ambulances; 300 buses. In addition, there were hundreds of 107 and 155 millimeter cannons, rocket-firing warships, and the most advanced warplanes in the world.

Stark Imbalance

Against this force, the Palestinian and Lebanese fighters in the south numbered around 10,000. The Israeli government claimed it had captured PLO stores of heavy weaponry so enormous that they must have been “prepositioned” for other -- Arab or Soviet -- armies. But military correspondent Zeev Schiff wrote that “perhaps there is enough equipment to equip one division, with new light weapons, and probably no more than this.... The only weapons found in large quantities were different types of rifles.” [5] Knesset member Yossi Sarid also disputed the government’s assertions. The number of PLO tanks captured, he said, was 90, not 500. These were old T-34s, “most of which could shoot but not move.” [6]

Given this stark imbalance of forces, the military outcome in the south was never in any serious doubt. Claiming security reasons, the Israelis clamped “unparalleled secrecy” on the entire operation in the south. A small group of selected photographers whom the Israelis brought in reported vast devastation. Tyre, they said, “was a bombed-out shell.” The New York Times reporter on the Israeli side concluded that the secrecy was “partly out of embarrassment at the immense suffering that appears to have been inflicted on the Lebanese population.” [7] Ellen Cantarow, an American journalist, traveled up the coastal road in late June under Israeli military escort:

What had gotten to me first was the dust. Under the wheels of our cars the very earth had been savaged, ground to a powder by the millions of tons of steel rolling over it daily. It coated the windshield, gritted our teeth, stiffened our hair, and blotted our clothes. In the intense heat, getting out of the car and stripped of my press corps immunity, I discovered briefly what it might be like to be a refugee. Trudging by the roadside in the rubble and the dust that lay inches thick underfoot, I was reduced to human flotsam, dwarfed by the tanks, trucks and jeeps, while the dust lay everywhere -- on the military arsenal moving north, on the refugees fleeing south, on ravaged buildings, the heaps of debris -- a ghostly pall of war. The destruction was so pervasive it defied comparison. Throughout the streets of Tyre, and in much of Sidon, lay the rubble -- ragged masses of broken cement, twisted metal, shattered glass, garbage. Corpses lay still under these piles. You knew them by their smell -- unmistakable, as powerful as the gasses from some putrefying swamp. As our reporters’ convoy drove up the Lebanese coast one day, the ghastly odor of rotting flesh suddenly enveloped our car. “You smelled much more of that last week,” said one reporter. “They’ve been clearing the cadavers away since then.” [8]

“Tomorrow I Will Be in Beirut”

Israel’s decision to invade Lebanon came well before Ambassador Shlomo Argov was shot in London on June 3. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon has said that Israel had been preparing this assault “since his nomination as minister of defense” in August 1981. [9] According to Sharon’s aides, the intent goes back to the invasion of March 1978. Moshe Arens, Israel’s ambassador in Washington, declared in February that such an invasion was “only a matter of time.” [10] Prime Minister Begin vetoed Sharon’s proposals to launch the attack in February and again in April, prior to the completion of the Sinai withdrawal.

Rarely in history has a war been so openly planned and discussed. Politicians and commentators debated the merits of an invasion for months. Israel launched unprovoked heavy air attacks against Palestinian camps and Lebanese towns on April 21 and again on May 9. IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan declared bluntly on May 14 that “having built up a military machine costing billions, I must put it to use.... Tomorrow, perhaps, I will be in Beirut.” Davar reported that in early May Sharon and Eitan were putting “heavy pressure” on the leaders of Israel’s northern settlements to agree to “a large-scale Israeli military action at a date and in a form to be determined by the IDF, which want no opposition from those northern settlement leaders.” Eitan and most of the IDF generals met the settlement heads on May 11 in an atmosphere described by one participant as “warlike.” According to Davar, “The defense minister is trying to create a situation in which the settlement inhabitants would help him put pressure on his [cabinet] colleagues for a military action.” [11]

Sharon and Eitan had to manipulate support from the northern settlement heads because the ceasefire between Israel and the PLO negotiated nearly a year earlier, in July 1981, had proved extraordinarily effective. Sharon’s stated objective of pushing Palestinian artillery 25 miles north of the border was, from the outset, a pretext rather than a reason for the invasion. On June 16, Sharon provided a more general but more accurate list of Israeli objectives: to crush the PLO, to get the Syrians out of Lebanon, and to facilitate a strong central Lebanese government with which Israel could sign a peace treaty. The unstated corollary of crushing the PLO included imposing the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza on the chastened and weakened Palestinian inhabitants. “The bigger the blow is and the more we damage the PLO infrastructure, the more the Arabs in [the West Bank] and Gaza will be ready to negotiate with us,” Sharon declared. “I am convinced that the echo of this campaign is reaching into the house of every Arab family in [the West Bank] and Gaza.” [12] The implications of a peace treaty with Lebanon included Israeli economic penetration of the country, and a claim to “share” the water resources of southern Lebanon.

The PLO’s Diplomatic Offensive

The ability of the PLO leadership to maintain an effective ceasefire after July 1981 in the face of repeated Israeli provocations proved far more threatening to the Begin government than the military capabilities of the Palestinian fighters in south Lebanon. The timing of the invasion coincided with renewed backstage diplomatic maneuvers aimed at reviving the “autonomy” phase of the Camp David accords. US officials have confirmed that they were in touch indirectly with Palestinian officials immediately prior to the invasion concerning Palestinian representation in this process. According to one report, a State Department team had been in Jerusalem the very weekend of the invasion to consult West Bank leaders. The prospect of more explicit PLO endorsement of a “mutual recognition” process, and a US “tilt” toward the Egyptian interpretation of “autonomy,” appears to have motivated the Israeli decision to use the Argov shooting as the excuse for a massive invasion. [13]

The invasion was indeed, in Eitan’s words, “a war for Eretz Israel,” a war to consolidate the Israeli hold on “Judea and Samaria,” a war to destroy any organized, cohesive expression of Palestinian nationalism. In this all-important political dimension, Israel’s assault only gave impetus and prominence to the Palestinian “moderation” which the Begin government feared most. The invasion imposed on the Palestinians an unprecedented degree of unity at the military and political levels, and full support for the range of diplomatic initiatives pursued by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian political offensive took several major lines. Arafat first sought to draw as many states as possible into the negotiations, notably France and the United States, in order to stave off the Israeli assault on Beirut. Second, by prolonging the military-political struggle, he increased the economic and political cost of the operation to Israel, and encouraged internal Israeli opposition to the invasion. Third, he accelerated contacts and negotiations with prominent figures in the world Zionist movement and progressive opposition figures in Israel in order to isolate the Begin government still further. Finally, and most problematically, he endeavored to use the Arab states closest to the US, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to break up the tacit US-Israeli alliance.

It is clear that the Palestinians, perhaps in desperation, overestimated the potential solidarity of their formal allies, the Arab states and the Soviet Union. “How long can the Arab states and the Soviet Union hold back?” Arafat asked rhetorically in the first month of the war. Support from those critical quarters never came. On June 14, Moscow warned that “the Soviet Union takes the Arab’s side not in words but in deeds and is pressing to get the aggressor out of Lebanon.” [14] But deeds were limited to resupplying Syrian weapons lost in the fierce air battles with Israel. Official Soviet statements blamed the Palestinian dilemma on Egypt, and suggested that the Arab governments unsheath their “oil weapon.” When PLO foreign affairs spokesman Farouq Qaddoumi headed an Arab League delegation to Moscow in early July, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko made clear that the USSR was not prepared to take further steps or adopt a tougher line. [15]

Soviet diplomacy is inclined to function through state-to-state alliances, and the disarray of the Arab states was one factor behind Soviet reticence. None of the Arab governments, individually or collectively, went beyond purely verbal interventions. This decisive collapse of the myth of Arab unity and the pretensions of Arab nationalism may be one of the most far-reaching consequences of this war. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi summed up the impotent rage of the Arab nationalists when he proposed on July 4 that the Palestinians “ commit suicide” to “immortalize the Palestinian cause for future generations.” [16] Arafat gently reproached the Libyan leader: “I must remind you, brother Muammar, of our numerous discussions which, had they led to action on our agreements, the enemy would not have dared to do what he has.” [17]

In early July, while Palestinian initiatives towards the Arab states and the Soviet Union were falling apart, approaches to Zionist opponents of Begin and Sharon, in Israel and among world Zionism, met with much greater success. On July 2, after lengthy secret negotiations with PLO officials, three internationally prominent Zionist leaders issued a statement in Paris calling for a political settlement based on direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO. The signatories were Nahum Goldmann, founder and former president of the World Jewish Congress, Philip Klutznik, president-emeritus of the WJC and honorary president of the B’nai Brith International, and Pierre Mendes-France, a former French prime minister. Arafat’s major emissary to Europe, ‘Isam Sartawi, immediately endorsed this proclamation and stated that the PLO was prepared to enter negotiations for a settlement along these lines. Arafat himself commented favorably on the statement of the three Zionist leaders on July 4.

Also on July 2, Arafat responded positively to a request for an interview by Israeli journalist and political maverick Uri Avneri. The interview, the first with an Israeli journalist, lasted many hours in besieged west Beirut. The PLO leader restated PLO support for a settlement including security guarantees for Israel. On July 13, Sartawi told the prestigious French Institute of International Relations that “the PLO has formally conceded to Israel in the most unequivocal manner the right to exist on a reciprocal basis,” and called on the US government to enter into direct discussions with the PLO. On July 20, Sartawi issued a joint statement with Mattityahu Peled, the retired Israeli general, affirming the same principles.

In August, Arafat spoke with another Israeli journalist, Amnon Kapeliouk of Le Monde. “We accept all of the UN resolutions concerning the Palestinian question,” Arafat stated. “We do not forget that Israel was created by a UN resolution.” He further observed that “among the Palestinians, there exists a clear evolution of understanding of the unexpected changes that occurred during the course of these past years. We are not frozen in these unalterable positions: It’s Begin who is completely unyielding.” [18]

“We Have Not Surprised the Americans”

At this same time, the PLO took its decision in principle to withdraw from Beirut. On July 3, Arafat delivered to US mediator Philip Habib, via Lebanese Prime Minister Shafiq al-Wazzan, the PLO command’s decision that “the PLO does not wish to remain in Lebanon.” [19] The diplomatic initiatives gained time, and brought additional public and governmental support, especially in Europe, but world opinion was not to change the course of events. The United States steadfastly refused to respond to the initiatives, and only escalated its conditions for direct discussions with the PLO.

Over the past year, according to the Economist, the Begin government had been “attempting to persuade President Reagan’s administration that there could be no real sequel to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty unless the Palestinians’ base in Lebanon was eliminated.” [20] The administration, by June, had clearly been persuaded. It supported the Israeli campaign consistently and openly, despite the considerable risk involved. Defense Minister Sharon had been in Washington just a week before the invasion. “I would say we have not surprised the Americans,” Sharon told Jerusalem television on June 16. “There were many meetings on this issue.” His discussions with top US officials concerning the Iran-Iraq war and Israeli supply of arms to Iran, Sharon declared, were “a side issue” to the question of “Palestinian terror.”

I made it clear to [US officials] -- this was one of the major objectives of my mission there -- that Israel had reached the end of the road and that we would take action since we had no choice. And they understood that there was no choice.... In my opinion, this accounts for their relatively restrained reaction. [21]

New York Times columnist William Safire, who reflects Ariel Sharon’s thinking on most questions involving Israel, met with the Israeli defense minister during this May visit. When the subject of Israeli arms to Iran came up, according to Safire, Sharon blurted out: “Saddam Hussein is a murderer; Iraq is under deep Soviet influence. I said to Weinberger, ‘Can it be possible that we, representatives of two of the greatest democracies, are sitting here talking about ways to save a murderer?’”

When Ambassador Arens was asked in an IDF radio interview from Washington if he was “surprised” by the “moderate US reaction,” he replied that “it would have been difficult for us to have been surprised because after all for many months a lot of work was being done here.” [22]

Begin and Sharon had found more than “understanding” in Washington as they laid the political groundwork for the invasion. Data recently released by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Assistance Agency “show that in the first quarter of 1982 Israel took delivery of $217,695,000 worth of military equipment from the United States” -- nearly ten times the value delivered in the same period of 1980 and 40 percent more than in 1981. Deliveries included ten F-15 warplanes, 14 tank recovery vehicles and 19 155mm self-propelled howitzers. Shipments of bombs and ammunition alone were worth $6 million, compared to $1 million for the same period in 1981, including “guided bombs” identical to those used in the siege of Beirut. [23] Figures for the April-June quarter are not yet available, but the Pentagon acknowledges that 40 M-60 tanks were handed over in this period, including 15 delivered after the invasion began. [24]

The Pentagon also deployed US naval forces into the eastern Mediterranean well in advance of the outbreak of hostilities, presumably to counter potential Soviet intervention. The carrier USS Ranger sailed from San Diego to the Indian Ocean in May, relieving the USS Kennedy, which sailed through the Suez Canal and took up a position off Lebanon just as the Israelis began their invasion. The carrier USS Eisenhower and its escorts steamed out of Naples on June 1 to take up a position off Crete. A task force of US Marines and landing equipment was trained and assembled in the Spanish port of Rota and sailed east on June 6, the day the invasion began. When the Marines finally went ashore, many disembarked from the helicopter carrier USS Guam, which left Norfolk on May 24 and reached Rota on June 3. Two more US carriers and their escorts joined this armada in late June. This fleet of more than 50 warships included the largest number of carriers ever assembled in the Mediterranean. The Pentagon provided a cover for the buildup with a “readiness exercise,” announced June 18, to “demonstrate an ability to reinforce carrier battle groups in the Mediterranean, to project power ashore in support of land battles and to demonstrate that NATO in the southern region has the flexibility to take advantage of major short-notice training opportunities.” (These details are reported by Claudia Wright in the September 8 In These Times.)

US Navy Secretary John Lehman, interviewed by US News & World Report on August 2, was asked: “Mr. Secretary, with wars in Lebanon and the Persian Gulf threatening vital US interests, why does this country -- with all its military power -- seem incapable of influencing the conflicts?” Lehman responded: “Nothing could be further from the truth. The simple fact is that we already are playing a very large military role. There may be the appearance that the US is not a major player in either war, but it is the capability and credibility of US military power in the Mideast that set the stage for negotiated peace. The fact that all the combatants are showing a certain amount of restraint results from the overall military and diplomatic environment. To a significant degree, we create that environment. The perception of US power and our willingness to use it when our interests are involved limit everyone’s actions.”

The United States, virtually alone among the nations of the world, did not issue a single statement deploring or criticizing the invasion. Secretary of State Haig inadvertently referred to Israeli warplanes downed in the first weeks’ fighting as losses “we” suffered, appropriately capturing the identity of views in Washington and Jerusalem. [25] With the single exception of a full Israeli military conquest of Beirut, the administration supported each and every Israeli goal as it was proclaimed. The US issued a call for a ceasefire well after Sharon’s troops had reached the outskirts of Beirut. When Begin rejected a “firm” Reagan request to withdraw from Lebanon, officials decided to “welcome” the first ceasefire and not make an issue of Israel’s rejection of UN Security Council Resolution 509 calling on Israel to “withdraw its military forces forthwith and unconditionally.” In fact, Haig quickly recanted Washington’s support for that resolution as “no longer adequate to the needs of the situation.” [26] According to unnamed officials, “despite Washington’s unhappiness with Israel’s use of overwhelming force, the US shared Israel’s view that there could not and should not be a return to the situation that existed before the invasion.” [27]

The US position on the withdrawal of the PLO likewise shifted in tandem with Israel’s. On June 14, the State Department took the position that Syria should pull out of Lebanon and Palestinians submit to Lebanese government authority. On June 27, the Israeli cabinet issued its terms for a settlement in Lebanon, stipulating for the first time the demand that all PLO forces, and not only the leadership, must leave Lebanon. The US released its own four-point plan the next day, which called for an end to the armed Palestinian presence in and around Beirut, and withdrawal of Israeli forces from around Beirut. Officials described the token Israeli withdrawal as a “logical concession” for disarming the PLO. The following day, June 29, President Reagan declared in a press conference that one US goal was “to get all foreign forces -- Syrians, Israelis and the armed PLO -- out of Lebanon.” This was the first US official backing for the position Israel used to justify its protracted siege and bombardment of the Lebanese capital.

US policy continued in the direction of more explicit support for Israel’s war aims, despite the resignation of Alexander Haig on June 25 and the nomination of George Shultz to replace him. Philip Habib’s mission remained exactly the same: to supervise and facilitate diplomatically Israel’s expanded war aims. The exchange of Haig, the unabashed enthusiast of Israeli militarism, for Shultz, with his close ties to Arab leaders as president of Bechtel Corporation, coincided with a period of several weeks in which the US tried to coax the PLO to leave Beirut with vague hints (eagerly exaggerated by the Saudis) of “productive discussions” regarding the larger Palestinian issues once the immediate crisis was resolved. When the PLO intensified its diplomatic offensive, pressing for direct and immediate negotiations with the US, Washington stepped up pressures, through its Arab contacts, to force an unconditional withdrawal. In the second week in July, Reagan wrote King Fahd that the “impasse” in the Beirut negotiations “is strengthening the hands of those in Israel who doubt our ability to achieve a peaceful solution to the crisis and who argue in favor of an immediate military solution. We may be but a few days away from the time when they will gain the upper hand.” [28]

Given the capacity of the United States to influence considerably, if not decisively, which political forces in Israel “will gain the upper hand,” the Reagan letter represented a thinly veiled threat. Despite the bluster of Begin and Sharon that US sanctions could not affect their policies, it is clear that the US can and does exercise appreciable leverage. A month before the invasion, a leading Israeli economist wrote that “by means of its aid and credit, the US has the power to determine whether or not there will be an economic crisis in Israel, as well as to specify its timing and scope.” [29] There is evidence that when the administration did signal for tactical Israeli restraint, they got it. In early July, Reagan wrote Begin that an assault on Beirut would “grievously affect our bilateral relations.” Communications Minister Mordechai Tzipori acknowledged that Israel had to consider “not only the military price, but also the price of antagonizing the US.... This price is much higher than several weeks ago.” [30]

Among the many illusions shattered by this war is the notion that domestic political support for Israel, in the form of “the Jewish vote” or “the Zionist lobby,” determine US policy. The problem for the Reagan administration has been just the opposite: how to ward off political pressures to restrict or diminish the US military supply relationship with Israel. Before the end of the first week of the invasion, officials were “concerned about what is perceived as a growing sense that Israel has overreached itself in a clearly aggressive and duplicitous manner. The fear is that this will translate into eroded support for Israel.” [31]

As the war continued, the problem grew more acute. “Presidential advisers worried that the American public might get the impression that Israel was leading the US around by the nose in Lebanon. That’s why aides carefully leaked word that Reagan sent emphatic messages urging Israeli Prime Minister Begin to make every possible concession to restore peace in the Middle East.” [32] The most elaborate charade occurred when Israeli Foreign Minister Shamir came to Washington in early August. “The White House does not like the look of the Israeli attacks around the city,” wrote Joseph Kraft, who had warmly welcomed the Israeli assault. “Those scenes play badly on American television.... So Reagan is taking himself out of the line of fire from public opinion in this country and the rest of the world.” [33] To exhibit his proclaimed displeasure with Israel’s massive bombardment of Beirut, the president staged a photo opportunity: “This time the president himself decided to arrange the picture [of the meeting with Shamir].... Mr. Reagan went out of his way to appear grim and serious.” [34] He decidedly did not go out of his way to halt the Israeli slaughter: According to Israelis accompanying Shamir, “The Begin government has gotten the impression, not just from the Shamir visit but consistently in a series of encounters, that Ronald Reagan doesn’t care all that much about the things he professes to want.... For all the theater, Reagan said nothing to Shamir that could be read in Jerusalem as a threat of some US action.” [35] An account of Begin’s meeting with the president in the June 25 edition of Maariv suggests that Reagan’s grasp of the issues was sometimes as profound as his outrage. “[Reagan] had before him working papers drawn up by his aides,” the journalist wrote. "The moment the conversation went to things beyond what was stated in the working papers, the president sounded and looked as though he was fumbling, while talking, and he seemed not always to find himself out of the maze. Sometimes, when he could not formulate a clear position when faced with the counterarguments voiced by his interlocutors, he would come out with a non-statement such as ‘Yes, but we must make progress.’”

The one “sanction” which the administration did impose -- halting the shipment of 4,000 artillery-fired cluster shells in mid-July -- was taken in the same spirit: not to “punish” Israel but to deflect Congressional and public demands for more stringent measures. The administration has declared it will not determine whether or not Israel violated the 1978 agreement restricting cluster bomb use, in spite of one US defense official’s view that the agreements were “crystal-clear...and it is equally clear they violated both the spirit and the letter of the agreements.” [36] In the words of one Senate supporter of Israel, Christopher Dodd, the halt “provides a good vehicle for a reprimand. That would satisfy those who are critical of Israel without significantly altering our basic relationship.” [37]

Even the well-publicized criticisms of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger must be measured against the continuing close relationship between the US and Israeli military establishments. Some US officials, particularly in the air force, were “eager for firsthand information from the Israelis” and planned to send a team to Israel in early July. The administration, fearing this haste would appear unseemly, postponed the mission. [38] An Israeli military delegation visited the Pentagon in the last week of July “to give defense officials their first detailed accounts of the battles.” [39] In addition to information about Israel’s devastation of Syrian radar and missile sites, the US army and Hughes Corporation were reported to be “intensely interested” in Israel Military Industries’ development of an armor-piercing warhead for US-supplied TOW antitank missiles. [40] The Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai Brith sponsored a tour to south Lebanon of several high-ranking retired US military officers to counter charges of IDF indiscriminate destruction of civilian targets. The officers complied, and took note that “Israel has accumulated a wealth of technological and tactical information that will be of use to US military strategists.” [41] The Israelis have since suggested that further detailed exchange of war lessons hinges on US readiness to supply an additional 75 F-16 fighter-bombers over the next three years. In early September, Pentagon “after-action teams” were awaiting clearance to proceed to Israel. [42]

Aftermath: The “Reagan Plan”

The opening lines of the president’s televised address of September 1 were vintage Reagan. At the end of a campaign in which more than 17,000 people were killed and nearly twice that many wounded, [43] he declared that “today has been a day that should make us proud.” He described the evacuation as “a peaceful step” that “could never have been taken without the good offices of the United States.” He declined to mention that the entire war could never have taken place without US backing, and what former President Jimmy Carter recently called “a green light from Washington.” Carter was responding to questions about the briefing he received after the June 6 invasion from national security adviser William Clark: “The only thing I can say is that the word I got from very knowledgeable people in Israel is that ‘we have a green light from Washington.’” Secretary of State Shultz, when asked about Carter’s statement, said, “My understanding is that the US government was not informed and the US government was and is on the record as having opposed that invasion.” The State Department press office, when asked by MERIP, was unable to cite a single official US statement opposing the Israeli invasion, as contrasted to general remarks “deploring the rising cycle of violence” and the like. The closest thing to the official position of opposition that the press officer could cite was US support, very temporary as it turned out, for UN Security Council Resolution 509 calling for an immediate Israeli withdrawal.

The content of President Reagan’s speech, however, differed in many important respects from most of his previous statements on the subject of Palestine and Israel. It abandoned his customary simple identification with the perspectives of the Begin government, expressed as recently as his press conference of August 13. According to the Washington Post account of August 14, “When a reporter noted that Israel was the invader of Lebanon, Reagan shot back, ‘Are they the invaders or are the PLO the invaders? The PLO was literally a government and an armed force in another nation and beholden in no way to that other nation, which was one of the reasons why you didn’t hear more protest from the Lebanese government about the Israeli presence.’” On September 1, Reagan was in fact reading a script prepared by Secretary of State Shultz, in close consultation with Henry Kissinger and other former government and private corporate officials. (“We have consulted with many of the officials who were historically involved in the process, with members of the Congress, and with individuals from the private sector,” Reagan noted.) In this speech, the president for the first time characterized the Palestine problem as “more than a question of refugees.” It also marked his first expression of opposition to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, which he had previously sanctioned as “not illegal.” It was, furthermore, Reagan’s first public adherence to the consensus position of formal US policy since 1967, that a peaceful resolution must involve “an exchange of [occupied] territory for peace.”

What represents a “fresh start” for Reagan is, in its essence, simply a restatement of the traditional US policy of the last decade and a half, of which George Shultz is now the custodian. The question is whether the US really intends to press for such a settlement now that the PLO has been militarily dispersed. The speech might be no more than a gesture to the Saudi, Egyptian and other friendly Arab regimes who cooperated in getting the PLO out of Beirut. Like the Rogers’ Plan of 1970, Shultz and Kissinger may be merely providing the appearance of purposeful diplomatic effort while an American-backed Israeli annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, and now southern Lebanon, continues. Even if, this time around, US policymakers are determined to push hard for a final settlement, conditions of domestic and global political disarray and economic crisis may create obstacles.

Though the speech might be little more than a political smokescreen, there are several factors that suggest it is a serious plan of action. US policy and opinion makers agree that Israel’s invasion served US interests in weakening the political power of the PLO and promoting “a strong central government” in Lebanon. Even the most squeamish among them appear to share the view of the Washington Post editors, that “Israel [is] doing a nasty job that almost every other nation, including the United States, wanted done, but did not have the heart to do itself.” [44] This service, however, was not cost-free. It required prolonged and overt US support that exposes the collaboration and weakness of Arab regimes friendly to the US. By sharply reducing the material strength of the PLO, Israel has provided the US with the opportunity to push for a settlement that can satisfy the minimal demands of the Arab states, reestablish Jordanian sovereignty over the Palestinians and secure official Arab recognition of Israel.

While the US has no desire to alter its military strategic relationship with Israel, it also has no emotional or strategic stake in continued Israeli rule over all of the Occupied Territories. Potential US leverage over Israel, in terms of military and economic aid, is now at an unprecedented level, and will only increase as Israel seeks additional assistance to cover the billions of dollars spent on this war. The ferocity and scope of the war have paradoxically weakened the Likud government, both in Israel and internationally. Israel’s continued entanglement in Lebanon will pose a further drain on Begin’s political strength.

Post-war Lebanon may also turn out to be another point of conflict between the US and Israel. The Israelis have already begun to penetrate the country economically. Their exports to Lebanon were $4 million in July, and jumped to $7 million in the first two weeks of August. [45] This could easily bring them into direct competition with Lebanese merchants and bankers, many of whom are important supporters of the Phalange Party. Bashir Gemayel, the militia leader of the fascist organization, was elected president on August 23 by a small majority of an unrepresentative parliament whose term had long expired. Gemayel used his gunmen to round up enough Parliament members to meet -- just barely -- the necessary quorum. If Phalangist rule is to rebuild the Lebanese state and revive its commercial and financial ties with the conservative Arab states, Gemayel will have to distance himself from the Israelis, strengthen economically his social base, and reach some accord with the Muslim communities. This might be very difficult to arrange with Bank Leumi and El Al offices in Beirut and Sidon, and with the sort of “peace treaty” that Begin and Sharon are insisting upon. Secretary of State Shultz has indicated that the US would not support “a peace treaty that is signed at the point of a gun.” [46]

The most important feature of the US plan is that it articulates the shared interests and perceptions of government and corporate leaders in this country and among its Western allies. Unlike other administration policies, such as the Soviet gas pipeline or military strategy in the Persian Gulf, this plan represents a powerful consensus. Its kind reception even by some major Jewish organizations in the US, and its potential constitutency within Israel itself, indicate that the Begin government will have a difficult time derailing it.

The Israeli government’s fierce rejection of the plan has obscured the extent to which this plan represents pressure on the Arab states, and particularly Jordan. They are assigned the role of enforcing a resolution of the conflict with Israel, with Jordan taking direct responsibility for governing the Palestinians, without meeting the minimal Palestinian demand for self-determination. The US plan, in other words, calls on the Arab states to restore permanently their relationship with the Palestinians as it existed prior to 1967, notwithstanding the enormous political, economic and social changes that have occured over those 15 years. The first step in this process, aligning all the Arab states (except Libya) behind a proposed peace agreement with Israel, occured at the Arab summit in Fez, Morrocco, in early September. PLO political leverage in the Arab arena, a consequence of the contract between Palestinian resistance and Arab collusion, forced the Arab states at Fez to maintain the demand for a Palestinian state and reassert the position of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The next step will likely involve joint Arab state pressure on the PLO to designate King Hussein as a representative of Palestinian interests in negotiations with Washington.

Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, and its immediate aftermath, marks an important watershed in the long struggle for Palestinian rights. It is a setback of grave proportions to the Palestinian and Lebanese people in its immediate physical consequences. The potential shifts and realignments among various political and social forces in the region as a result of the war are impossible to estimate at this juncture. What is important is that in Lebanon and the occupied territories these struggles will continue at an intense level, and will have a sharp impact on developments throughout the region in this next period.

Endnotes

[1] Abu Jihad, Liberation, July 20, 1982.
[2] Yediot Aharonot, June 18, 1982, cited in Amnon Kapeliouk, “Eliminating the Palestinian Roadblock,” Le Monde Diplomatique (July 1982), translated in Journal of Palestine Studies 44 (Summer-Fall 1982).
[3] New York Times, June 13, 1982.
[4] Yediot Aharonot, June 18, 1982, cited in Kapeliouk. The ranking of Israel’s military power is according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
[5] Haaretz, July 18, 1982, translated in Israleft 209 (July 29, 1982).
[6] Jerusalem Post, June 13, 1982, in ibid.
[7] New York Times, June 10, 1982.
[8] Village Voice, July 20, 1982.
[9] Yediot Aharonot, June 18, 1982, cited in Kapeliouk.
[10] Washington Post, February 26, 1982.
[11] FBIS, May 14, 1982.
[12] Time, June 21, 1982.
[13] Boston Globe, July 2, 1982; Washington Post, July 3, 1982; New York Times, July 8, 1982.
[14] Washington Post, June 15, 1982.
[15] Washington Post, July 6, 1982.
[16] Washington Post, July 5, 1982.
[17] Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1982.
[18] Interview in English in Washington Post, August 15, 1982. A good account of the exchanges between Palestinian and Israeli or Zionist leaders is Diana Johnstone’s report in In These Times.
[19] New York Times, August 20, 1982.
[20] Economist, June 12, 1982.
[21] FBIS, June 17, 1982.
[22] FBIS, June 14, 1982.
[23] Pacific News Service, August 19, 1982.
[24] Ibid., and Philadelphia Inquirer reports 50, June 8, 1982; Jerusalem radio reports unspecified numbers of APCs and 155 mm artillery pieces, July 21, 1982.
[25] New York Times, June 13, 1982.
[26] Washington Post, June 15, 1982.
[27] New York Times, June 12, 1982.
[28] Washington Post, July 16, 1982.
[29] Israel Economist, May 2, 1982, cited in Wall Street Journal, July 8, 1982.
[30] Washington Post, July 16, 1982.
[31] Washington Post, June 11, 1982.
[32] US News & World Report, July 19, 1982.
[33] Washington Post, August 5, 1982; see Kraft’s enthusiastic prediction of the invasion in Washington Post, March 29, 1982.
[34] New York Times, August 3, 1982.
[35] Washington Post, August 6, 1982.
[36] Washington Post, July 20, 1982.
[37] New York Times, July 21, 1982.
[38] Baltimore Sun, July 1, 1982.
[39] Wall Street Journal, August 5, 1982.
[40] Aerospace Daily, August 9, 1982.
[41] Washington Post, August 9, 1982.
[42] New York Times, September 6, 1982.
[43] An al-Nahar investigation cited in Washington Post, September 3, 1982.
[44] Cited by Claudia Wright in The New Statesman, July 18, 1982.
[45] Jerusalem radio, August 28, 1982; FBIS, September 1, 1982.
[46] New York Times, September 10, 1982.

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