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2. 1 Breakdown and War

This chapter will treat the factors that contributed to the collapse of the Lebanese state structures which ended in a civil war.[3] That development, as I see it, can be regarded as a societal function, composed by certain factors, that did not work out. I regard especially three factors as crucial: 1) the political system of Lebanon and its foundation on a political confessionalist concept due to the multitude of the Lebanese demography, 2) the regional events and their actors and impacts on the Lebanese arena, 3) the informal power structures of the country together with its socio-economic disparities.

Concurrently, they forced the Lebanese society to break down, split the country, divide it among domestic and foreign powers, and bring means of violence upon the Lebanese scene. Down below, therefore, I shall try to briefly expose this function, the roles of each actor and how these contributed to the outbreak and - indeed - the preservation of the Lebanese war until the Israeli invasion of 1982. The first half of this invasion will be treated as well.

2.2 Formal structures: the political formula of confessionalism

From constituting a region within the multitude of the Ottoman empire, and later subordinated a French mandatory power after the First World War, Lebanon gained its independence in 1943. The particularity, one can say, of the Lebanese profile was its demographical multitude, comprising a wide spectrum of sects of various confessional belongings: Christian Maronites, Christian Greek Ortodox, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Druze, Armenian etc. In the region however, an ethnical composture of this sort was not that extraordinary. Borders and states in the post-colonial Middle East were rather imposed from above by the former imperialist powers, instead of being developed organically, as in the West, and their citizens had no specific common historical, ethnical or linguistical bonds to unite around. "As a result", Thomas L. Friedman argues, "these states were like lifeboats into which various ethnic and religious communities, each with their own memories and their own rules of the game, were thrown together and in effect told to row in unison, told to become a nation, told to root for the same soccer team and salute the same flag. Instead of the state growing out of a nation, the nation was expected to grow out of the state."[4]

The Lebanese way "to row in unison" became embodied in the National Pact of 1943. This pact, a "gentlemen's agreement" it was called, was established by the ruling elites of the Sunni and the Christian Maronite camps within the country and its main attribute was the idea of confessionalism. Recognizing that the Lebanese demographical landscape constitutes a multitude of confessions, and that the main criteria for communal identification is the religious belonging, the confessional idea forming the National Pact implied that posts within the executive and legislative powers, as well as the civil administration, should be distributed by quotas along the proportionality of each confessional community. A census estimated in 1932 by the French mandatory power which put the Christians as a majority of the Lebanese population laid the foundation of the technical measures of power sharing.[5] Thereby, it was stipulated that the president was to be a Christian Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, the speaker of the parliament a Shia Muslim, and the head of the armed forces a Druze. In parliament, the seats should be distributed according to a 6:5 ratio: for every sixth seat given to Christians, the Muslims should be alloted five. Hence, the idea was that no community should be able to impose its will on the other, and the maintaining of the system was dependant on the shared interests of each community.

Moreover, Hanis A. Faris notes that the National Pact was envisioned by three basic principles: accomodation, representation and co-optation. The two dominating confessional groupings committed themselves not to seeking alliances with any outside power; the identity of Lebanon should be Arabic - to work within the Arab community of the Middle East -without compromising its autonomy. Legislation should be carried out in a manner legitimated by the participants in order to promote cooperation and not polarization.[6]

Hence, the life of the Lebanese identity was a balancing act between the self-perception and interests of various confessional communities. Due to the Muslim demographical domination of the Middle East, the confessionalist system was a guarantee for the Christians, otherwise fearing to be outnumbered by the Muslims. The Muslims leaders at the time accepted the system as the Sunni elites, who stood behind the National Pact, saw the Western connections that it preserved as an advantage for business. The Shia community, represented by feudal landlords, regarded Lebanese autonomy - indeed under Christian political hegemony - as preferable to the wider Sunni domination of the Arab world.

However, this "Lebanese boat", in which the passengers were told to "row in unison", was about to be rocked.

2.3 The Arab-Israeli conflict and prelude to civil war

The creation of the Israeli state in 1948, and the Arab-Israeli wars following it, forced great numbers of Palestinians across the border to Lebanon. In the first phases of exodus, those refugees were civilians, but especially after the "Six-day war" in 1967, many of them were guerillas, armed gunmen, driven from the West Bank and now determined to continue the battle against the Jewish state from Lebanese soil instead of their own lost homeland. As the Arab-Israeli war thus entered the south of Lebanon, with downright battles fought between Israeli forces and Palestinian guerillas, the country itself ended up in jeopardy, military, socially, and politically. Neither did the situation improve as the Israelis made clear that if attacks by armed Palestinians continued against Israel from Lebanese ground, the Lebanese state would be held responsible.[7]

How was the country to respond? Well, firstly, the Lebanese army was too weak in curbing the Palestinians; it tried but without gaining the upper hand. Secondly, even if it had enjoyed the military strength, obstacles would have arisen politically as most Lebanese, initially at least, felt sympathy for the Palestinian cause.[8] Thirdly, even external pressures had their impact as the Arab countries raised strong protests when Lebanese regulars turned against their own expelled Palestinian fellowmen.[9] In 1969 therefore, the political dilemma of the Lebanese authorities was expressed in the "Cairo Agreement", signed by PLO and the Lebanese army. It stipulated that certain areas in the Lebanese south should fall under Palestinian self-rule from where the guerillas had a free hand in executing operations against Israel. In return, the Palestinians would oblige themselves "to maintain disciplin among their troops and not to interfere in Lebanese affairs".[10]

However, as the conflict in the south escalated, the structure and the system of the Lebanese society faced its own internal crisis: grievances against the socio-economic imbalances arose and the political supremacy of the Christian Maronites came into question. Firstly, since the days of regional self-rule and a certain degree of autonomy from the state within the Ottoman empire, each community in the various regions had been ruled by rich and powerful clanleaders, the zu'ama. The formation of Lebanon as a state alongside the confessional formula of the National Pact, rather preserved than eliminated those informal structures of power and influence. The za'im (singularis of zu'ama) was the "organizing principle of social and political life" in the country; he was the protector, the main distributor of jobs and services, and overall the local potentate; the man of power in certain region belonging to a certain community.[11] Without his benevolence, outlooks for social advantages - building contracts, trade licenses, career opportunities etc - were scarce. Likewise, any man (it was always men) aspiring to get into parliament had to be approved of the za'im, if to recieve the necessary support for being elected. In addition, often the za'im himself held such aspirations, and due to his social and financial capacities, he undeniably enjoyed the upper hand.[12] Hence, as the zu'ama ruled their communities and as the Lebanese political system itself was ruled by communities, or at least those representing their communities, the formal and informal structures of rule converged and formed one single political entity.

Secondly, closely linked to those forms of power is the socio-economic imbalances of the country. The policy of the pre-war Lebanese regime was one of laissez-faire, with little state interfering in finance and trade. Lebanon was run like a company on the free market where investments in infrastructure mainly were directed to areas where they served the interests of business. In the rural areas, social services like hospitals, education, housing, sanitation, electricity and water, all suffered.[13] Thus, Lebanon became a country with great discrepancies; with a booming economy centered around Beirut, and with socio-economic misery and decline in areas where the state and the financial elites perceived that investments would not bring any benefits. As a result, the imbalanced socio-economic reality became tied up in the Lebanese model of power structures. From above, it was agreed upon that the formula of confessionalism should determine the decision-making of the state (i.e an inter-action between the confessional communities per se), and from beneath, the communities as such, directly or indirectly, were represented by their local za'im who had a firm grip on his clients due to his monopoly of being the sole distributor of social benefits. Thus, as I see it, the rational of the elite governing in Beirut was to let the economy float in order to make profits, to strengthen their respective financial capabilities, in order to use those when strengthening their influence over their clients in their respective local communities. This patron-clientship, therefore, stretched from the pedestals of power in the flourishing capital to the poorest peasants in the Lebanese countryside for whom there were no other channels to use than the arbitrariness and goodwill of their own za'im.

Thirdly, since the end of the sixties, it was also widely believed that demography change had made the Muslims a majority. New radical left wing forces, mainly Muslim, regarded the whole idea of a Christian political hegemony as outdated and unjustified.[14]

Together those issues constituted the platform from which the Muslim/left wing parties, assailed the system and demanded radical reforms, both socially and politically. However, as those demands were met with ignorance from Beirut, the radical alliance chose to mobilize together with the armed factions of the PLO in order to put force behind their demands.[15] Juxtaposed, the Christian communities - among whom the Maronites dominated - feared that their interests, privileges and security were threatened. By raising militias, those communitites could counter the armed Palestinian/left wing presence in a way the regular army could not. Accordingly, when political scores more and more became settled in the street rather than in the parliament, and as the Lebanese state as such did not embrace or even cooperated with the new mobilizing groupings, the state structure ended up as less relevant. Before long the system deteroriated and broke down. Thus, the balancing act of the Lebanese identity and interests tipped as the principles stipulated in the National Pact - of accomodation, representation and co-optation - could no more enjoy any legitimation among the armed sentiments within the Lebanese society. Various factions seeked alliances with outside powers in the region, the issue of "Arabic identity" became a question mark as Palestinians fought Israelis on Lebanese soil, and as a result, polarization - by no means co-operation - emerged as the new order of the day.[16] In 1975, the boat capsized, and the Lebanese civil war was a fact.

2.4 External actors: the roles of Syria and Israel

No other countries during the years of war in Lebanon had as vast direct and indirect influence over the events as Syria and Israel. Both had their allies in the Lebanese landscape of factions and militias, both fought their own wars on the Lebanese ground, and both still have their own troops stationed on Lebanese soil.

In respect to Syria, the country intervened in Lebanon in 1976 on the request by the Lebanese government and stalled an offensive by the Palestinian/left wing alliance which threatened to overthrow the Beirut regime. The main outcome of this intervention, I argue, was twofold. Firstly, it initiated the Syrian presence and influence over Lebanon which was preserved - more or less - all through the war, and which is still, even these days, most relevant. Secondly, it was made possible through a tacit understanding with Syria's arch-enemy, Israel.

In regard of the first matter, it must be understood that the Syrian intervention kept the status quo of Lebanon intact. That is, no reforms were implemented and neither did Syria make any efforts in restoring the Lebanese state authorities. As the Syrians entered Lebanon, Itamar Rabinovich remarks, "the war had turned the state into an empty shell. The authority of Lebanon's president, government, parliament and central bureaucracy was limited to a small part of Beirut" and the rest of the country was "divided among external forces and local baronies".[17] Hence, by keeping a military presence in this landscape of chaos and instability, never allowing any Lebanese party to enjoy a decisive victory, Syria could uphold its own military supremacy and political influence - and this was to be the Syrian way of "walking the tightrope" in the Lebanese quagmire of civil war.[18]

Moreover, the tacit consent with the Israelis can be interpreted as if neither of the two countries - for their own separate reasons - would have appreciated a Palestinian/left wing take-over in Beirut, the Israelis thus favoring a Damascus obstruction of such a development. A snag however, or condition, was that the Syrians were not to have Lebanon to themselves. The south of the country was to be Israel's "sphere of interest" and north of the Litan river, a "Red Line" was drawn beyond which Syrian troops were not allowed to cross.[19]

Enter Israel. As mentioned, the Jewish state was ever since the sixties busy fighting Palestinian guerillas in the south, and Israeli measures in dealing with this situation were various. Firstly, Avner Yaniv points out how a "retaliation-policy" with heavy bombings and shellings against populated areas in response to every guerilla attack aimed at turning the civilians of the south - primarily the Lebanese - against the Palestinian gunmen.[20] Secondly, Israel looked for allies in Lebanon. In Sa'ad Haddad, a Christian major of the Lebanese army with a strong dislike for the Palestinian presence, the Israelis found a man who was ready to cooperate with the Jewish state and protect Christian settlements alongside the whole southern borderstrip from infiltrations by the PLO. Thus, together with major Haddad, Israel raised a militia, the South Lebanese Army (SLA), which initially, to a large part, was formed by Christian soldiers who deserted from a disintegrating Lebanese regular army in order to defend their home villages in the south.[21] Thirdly, by offering social services like health care, food supplies, and even employment opportunities on the other side of the border - a policy named "the Good Fence" - the Israelis aimed at creating a friendly environment between Israel and those villages in the south which refused to reside Palestinian guerillas.[22] According to the Israeli Minister of Defense at the time, Shimon Peres, the purpose was to help the Lebanese to help themselves because the Israelis were "determined not to get sucked into the quagmire of internal Lebanese strife".[23]

Anyhow, that latter aim was to be abandoned. A rightwing Israeli administration, elected in 1977, chose to invade Lebanon in 1978 as a response to a hijack of a bus in northern Israel by armed Palestinians causing the death of 37 civilian Israelis. In order to "cut off the evil arm of the PLO", Israeli troops bursted their way up to the "Red Line" of the Litani river, emptying the most southern areas from Palestinian gunmen at the price of an estimated number of 1100 dead Lebanese and Palestinians, most of them civilians.[24] International protests, though, forced the Israelis to withdraw: the American president, Jimmy Carter, condemned the invasion as an "overreaction" and the United Nations Security Council ratified Resolution 425 which demanded that Israel immediately should "cease its military action against Lebanese territorial integrity and withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory".[25] Moreover, Resolution 425 also demanded that the southern areas of Lebanon was to be taken over by the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) with the "purpose of confirming the withdrawal of the Israeli forces, restoring international peace and security, and assisting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area".[26]

Problems occured although while implementing the Resolution 425 as the Israelis refused to hand over all occupied territory to UNIFIL and instead let major Haddad and his SLA take control over the most southern parts of it.[27] This area, in large controlled by the SLA, with Israeli support and back-up, was to be the Israeli "security-zone" in south Lebanon.

2.5 Breaking the tide: the Israeli invasion of 1982

In 1979, major Sa'ad Haddad declared the establishment of the Free and Independent Lebanese State in the borderstrip constituting the Israeli "security-zone". Further north, alongside UNIFIL:s area and in between the Syrians and the Israelis/SLA, Palestinian guerillas and their Lebanese allies were reconsolidating positions and bases, moving freely in their own slice of the Lebanese pie. By then, Lebanon had become a "militia land", formed by external and internal forces - often in symbiosis - in a patchwork quilt of sectarian-based enclaves. New elites emerged, embodied by militia leaders and warlords who made good profits on private trade and external sponsorships; elites that pushed the relevance of the central government and the traditional elites far out in the periphery. Every effort to reach a solution was thus bound to fail. Firstly because external sponsors - like Israel and those Arab states states involved - were too distant from a consensus in the Arab-Israel conflict, and secondly because the war had become what Theodor Hanf labels as a "self-perpetuating" phenomen: the new elites running the "militia land" knew fully well that peace would diminish their privilegies. Thus, they refused any solution.[28]

However, in 1982 Israel once again invaded Lebanon, determined to change this context of Lebanese misery into a new scheme more in line with the interests of the Jewish state.[29] By eliminating PLO, both militarily and politically, and by kicking out the Syrians from Lebanon, every Lebanese leftist party or Arabist flank would be weakened. Thereby the Christian community, headed by Bashir Gemayel and his Phalange party, could take control over the Beirut regime, restore law and order across the country and sign a peace treaty with Israel - just as Egypt had done in 1979.[30]

The plan, though, went out of hand. Indeed, the Israelis succeeded in forcing the main bulk of the Palestinian guerillas out of Lebanon, but the price was high. The Israeli army had to fight all the way up to Beirut and siege the capital for 52 days, poundering it with enormous amounts of shells and bombs, before it was decided that a Multi National Force (MNF), containing troops from USA, France and Italy, should supervise the departure of the armed PLO factions to Tunis. Furthermore, to strike at the Syrian troops in Lebanon - as the Israelis did at the start of the invasion - was a bit thick for the American administration. Together with the USSR, therefore, the US managed to broke a cease-fire between Syria and Israel, the Syrians still standing behind on Lebanese soil. Neither did Bashir Gemayel approve of any cooperation with Israelis as soon as the PLO had left Beirut, well aware that holding an Israeli hand in an Arabic environment hardly forms a solid ground for an Arab leader with power ambitions.[31] Moreover, by sieging and shelling the western parts of the capital, the Israeli administration faced stunning critizism, both internationally and domestically. Notwithstanding, the Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, shortly after having been elected president by a splintered and numerically not complete Lebanese parliament. In revenge, his own militia, the Lebanese forces, stormed the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut and massacred mounts of civilians, of whom the bulk were Palestinians.[32] As the Israeli army at the time controlled the area, the Israelis were blamed guilty for carrying an indirect responsibility.[33]

Thus, Israel's administration had a hard time facing the international and domestical outcry following the massacres at Sabra and Chatila and chose to withdraw from Beirut. Successor to Bashir Gemayel as president was to be his brother, Amin Gemayel, at the same time as the MNF regrouped in the capital in order to help the new Lebanese administration to regain its state authority.

Hence, the Lebanese landscape was still packed with militias and foreign actors. The Syrians had redeployed eastwards and northwards, not defeated and carefully observing ongoing events, side by side with some still remnant Palestinian forces, now under Syrian command. In the capital, the MNF assisted the regular Lebanese army in regaining control. Southwards the Israelis entrenched themselves, fully determined not to let any armed Palestinian unit to return to the borderstrip in the south, causing any trouble whatsoever for the Jewish state.

But trouble were on its way. Before long, the MNF and the Israelis had to face a kind of violence and resistance neither of them had believed possible.

[3]True, it might be questioned whether a label as "civil war" is accurate concerning the Lebanese experience as many of its contributing factors to a large extent depend upon foreign actors. However, as the "civil war" label in the literature seems to be rather commonly accepted, I will here use it in order to distinguish this it from the - still on-going - war in the Lebanese south. That, however, does not mean that the two phenomena are isolated from each other.

[4]Friedman (1989) p. 99.

[5] The census, appreciated by the French authorities in 1932, stated that the Christian Maronites constituted 30 per cent of the Lebanese population, the Greek Orthodox 10 per cent, the Sunni Muslims 21 per cent, the Shia Muslims 18 per cent, the Druze 6,5 per cent. In total the Christian communities together constituted 52 per cent and the Muslim communities 45, 5 per cent. Deegan (1993), p. 105. From B. M. Borthwick, Comperative Politics of the Middle East (New jersey, 1980).

[6]Faris (1993) p. 17-29.

[7]Signifying for this policy is the event in 1968 when Israeli commandos blew up 13 civilian aircrafts on Beirut airport as a response to a hijack of an Israeli civilian aircraft in Athens by Palestinian gunmen. The Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan rationalized the raid by declaring that if the "Government of Lebanon allows the [PLO branch] Fatah to train on its territory they must be punished". Yaniv (1987) p. 41. From Dayan, Avnei Derekh (Jerusalem: Yediot Ahronot, 1976) p. 544-45.

[8]Brynen (1993) p. 84.

[9]Hiro (1993) p. 11.

[10]Hanf (1993) p. 166.

[11]Ajami (1986) p. 16.

[12]The Lebanese election process, Richard Norton notes, was a game of give and take, in which the population traded their "acquescient political loyality against the social favors which the zu'ama dispersed much in style of Chicago ward bosses, but perhaps with more asperity". Norton (1987) p. 17.

[13]See for example Sbaiti (1993) p. 164-165.

[14]This demographical transformation was due to higher birth rates among the Muslim communities and a high degree of emigration among the Christian communities. See Abu Hamad (1995) p. 239.

[15]The traditional Muslim leaders had a hard time countering the new radical Muslim forces as the political environment became more hostile and violent, "partly because of their ambivalent attitude but mostly because of their inability to create their own militias". Rabinovich (1983) p. 75.

[16]"While the conflict was largely attributed by political and economic differences", Aziz Abu-Hamad argues, "the communal divide was widening. The leftist alliance relied on Muslim political influence and PLO military power, while the government relied on Maronite political power and militias". Abu Hamad (1995) p. 240.

[17]Rabinovich (1983). p. 57.

[18]See for example Abukhalil (1993)

[19]Indeed, the agreement was never written down and its essence highly controversial and subject for many interpretations. The Israeli prime minister at the time, Yitchak Rabin, said that "any interpretation of the tacit understanding [with Syria] is correct". See Randall (1989) p. 195.

[20]Yaniv (1987) p. 39-40. In addition, Ahmad Beydon, a Professor of Sociology at the Lebanese University of Beirut who grew up in the south during this period of time, asserts that the Israelis "carried out operations with no other purpose than to terrorize the civilian population and make them understand the price of tolerating the Palestinian presence". Beydon (1992) p. 39.

[21]Those soldier was fertile ground for Israel and Major Haddad, Richard Norton argues, as among them, hatred of "the PLO, and hatred of the Lebanese Muslims, who were viewed as PLO supporters, was widely expressed, so Israel seemed a natural ally". Norton (1993) p. 64.

[22]Beydon (1992) p. 41.

[23]Peres (1994) p. 225.

[24]Norton (1993) p. 65.

[25]For the written statement of the whole Resolution 425, see Hiro (1993) p. 228.


[27]See for example Norton (1993) p. 65-67.

[28]Hanf (1993) p. 562.

[29]For Israeli aims with 1982 invasion, see for example Rabinovich, (1983), p. 122. In addition, the Israeli scholar Yair Evron argues that the this plan was a part of a greater vision of the Israeli administration which envisaged that a pro-Israeli governent in Beirut would open up the possibility for an "Axis-Pact" in the Middle East with a Cairo-Jerusalem-Beirut connection, in which Israel would have a leading role. Evron (1989) p. 115-116.

[30]At the eve of the 1982 invasion, the Maronite leader,Bashir Gemayel, more or less headed the Christian community within Lebanon. Firstly, because the "sectarian character of the war" made the other minor Christian communities "to accept the hegemony of the Maronites and their militias as the effective protectors of a larger Christian community". Rabinovich (1983) p. 58. And secondly because Bashir Geamyel himself and his well-armed militia, the Lebanese forces, had out manouvered all other Maronite militias in a violent and merciless campaign, killing and neutralizing those challenging his power.

[31]For the fate of Bashir Gemayel and his cooperation with Israel, see for example Randall (1983) or Shiff and Ya'ari (1983).

[32]For an eyewitness report and comprehensive analyse of the massacres, see Fisk, (1991), p. 357-400, or, Schiff and Ya'ari (1983), p. 250-285.No exact number of death tolls have been established due to the turmoil under which those killings were conducted. Howere, estimations varies from 500 up to 2000.

[33]Ibid. According to Israeli sources, the driving motive behind the decision to let the Christian militia enter Sabra and Chatila was that the Israelis figured that 2000 PLO guerillas still remained entrenched in the camps. See Rabinovich (1983), p. 144-145.

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