An Article I wrote last year for Renegade Eye's Blog
Tomorrow, the painful memory of the beginning of the civil war began. I will try to put a summary of a summary on why the war broke. Someone tell Lahoud to stop thinking he is not legitimate President in a non-technical sense.
There are several factors that tackle the events that led to the break-out of the Lebanese Civil War. Theodor Hanf (in his book Irrevocable Covenant) and others discuss different reasons that become entangled in the end, and trigger the Lebanese Civil war in 1975.
The first reason according to Hanf that the war broke out is due to the nature of Lebanon and its political structure. Lebanon is a state composed of communities whereby one community can never dominate the rest. This balance of power forced into Lebanon democracy as the best solution between the different communities. The second factor would be the class-income distribution between the sects to be involved in the 1975 clash. All the communities got their elites as well as their lower income wage earners. The 1960s witnessed class inequality on the rise among the different communities which made the major Sect leaders aim to mobilize the masses easier against the others. A third factor is the perception of the Muslims and Christians of Lebanese Nationalism. To the Christians, Lebanese Nationalism is strictly Lebanese and nothing else (as long as they were in power) while the Muslims regarded Lebanese Nationalism as complementary to Arab Nationalism and didn’t mind having both. This would play a major role in the different factions who would ally with the Palestinians. These double standards of Nationalism would threaten the Christians’ sense of Lebanese independence.
Another dimension to Theoder Hanf was the Palestinians’ activities in Lebanon starting from the late 1960s and the arrival of large quantity of combatants in 1970 after Black September in Jordan. This tipped the balance of power among the Lebanese communities as the Left-Wing considered that the Lebanese army was already biased for the Lebanese Christian Leaders and the PLO’s mass arrival can balance the power against the “isolationist” Christian Leaders. The Palestinians used Lebanon since the late 1967 as a base to launch operations on Israel. This spread fear among the Christians that Lebanon’s independence was marginalized and they became a minority in Lebanon as the PLO learnt their errors from the Jordan 1970 experience and armed its allied parties in Lebanon. They further established networks, since the PLO got no place else to go and Lebanon was the only country allowing them to launch their military operations. Solidarity to the Palestinians was expressed through the Muslims (mostly the Sunni) but with the aim to change the system in a limited manner while the left-wing Lebanese National Movement aimed to demolish the sect-based system. The PLO eventually transformed the Western Part of Beirut into its stronghold.
A third dimension to several authors is the Army and its incapability to dominate or control the PLO. The Lebanese Army was always a weak army compared to the neighboring armies’ strength of Jordan, Syria, Israel, and Egypt. The purpose of the army, as advocated by head of the Phalange Party, Pierre Gemayel, that the nation’s strength would be its weakness. Having a weaker army means discouragement for other nations to feel threatened. Nevertheless, despite its weakness compared to other institutions, the army has been the core balancer of power between the Christian Militias and the rest of the communities. The Army from 1967 till 1969 entered several confrontations with the Palestinian Commandos in order push away the PLO from the borders, primary allies of Kamal Junblatt and the Left-wing, till the Cairo agreement was signed. After 1970, with the PLO still expanding their networks and continuing with their operations on Israel, the Christian Parties decided to transform their parties into militias. The Left-wing leaders organized mass demonstrations against the Army’s crackdown attempts on the PLO.
The Regional Situation also played a role into contributing factors that would eventually lead to the break out of the Lebanese Civil War. Ever since the end of the Six Days War, the PLO received massive support from the gulf nations in compensation to the great humiliating Arab Defeat. The Cairo agreement was drafted between the PLO and the Head of the Lebanese Army, which was approved by the Lebanese Parliament, gave the PLO legitimacy over the camps, safe influx of arms from Syria, and made West Beirut the safe-haven for the PLO warriors. The Cairo Agreement’s aftermath also made the Christian Leaders, after the influx of more PLO warriors from Jordan, to focus on their own strengths. According to Dr. Moubarak, the Arab states blocked PLO operations from their borders but encouraged the PLO’s use of arms and support in Lebanon. (Walid Moubarak, Position of A Weak State In An Unstable Region: Case of Lebanon (The Emirates Center For Strategic studies & Research ,2002), P. 3) Syria on the other hand, had its own Palestinian Militias active in Lebanon, the Sa’iqa. They were always a support to the PLO’s activism specially if the Lebanese Army pressured the PLO in a military sense. What aggravated the situation more was the fact Kamal Junblatt was the Minister of Interior, who was the PLO’s primary ally, to this, the Christian Leaders never liked it.
The International Arena also played a role into negotiations. Kissinger never struck deals with the PLO, rather with Egypt and Syria after 1973 war. The PLO were regarded as Refugees with no rights whatsoever which forced its leadership to bomb its away to attain recognition and a bargaining card via Lebanon after they changed policy and have a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza (which will happen in the Oslo agreement). Israel’s policy was also dramatic which increased the tension between the Christian Leaders and the PLO. Whenever the PLO launched an operation, Israel responded mainly on the South and the refugee camps. When Israel bombed in 1968 the 12 Middle East Airlines, Israel signaled a message to all leaders of Lebanon to control their half of the borders and cripple the PLO. The development of the Peace Treaties between Egypt and Israel via Henry Kissinger got al-Assad to develop the three nation (Syria, Jordan and Lebanon) – four people unity strategy (Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, and Jordanians).
The US administration, under Kissinger’s dominion, was bothered with the turn of events inside Lebanon. With the escalation of the Lebanese situation, Kissinger was worried that Israel would be dragged to war with Lebanon, which in turn would trigger another regional war in less than a year. Furthermore, Kissinger didn’t want to see Israel entering a war because finally an Arab nation (supposedly the strongest military then), Egypt, decided to follow the Step-By-Step with the Zionist State. Nevertheless, PLO operations threatened a regional war. Syria already took a positive step with the States after the 1973 war, and agreed to follow the disengagement plan. The problem was Syria always supported the PLO from cross-border artillery, or its Palestinian made militias: the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA). This did not stop Syria from establishing good contacts with the Christian Militias, in case, according to Syrian calculations, the other side dominated. To the Syrians, they wanted intervention into Lebanon, but not a left-wing Lebanese Party establishing a socialist government that would shake the whole region. Worse, they wanted to dominate the PLO politically in order to become the sole spearheads for the “Arab Cause”. This clicked with Kissinger on a latter stage to cripple the PLO.
The Division of Lebanon into Two Camps intensified matters. The Leaders of the “Lebanese Front” declined to lose one bit of their political advantage and public sector recruitment benefits (6:5). Imam el-Sadre radicalized his Shiite base and moved closer to President Suleiman Frangieh’s coalition hence forth isolating the Sunni Sect and the Left-Wing (who were attempting to link their demands with the crisis of the South). Junblatt became the recognized Muslim leader in the Arab world, as he got the support of Syria and Egypt as well as the presence of the PLO armed groups broke the hegemony of the Christian domination. His bargaining would be narrowed down to reform the system in return of limited strikes of the PLO against Israel. Pierre Gemayel and Camille Shamoun wouldn’t want to lose any privileges for their parties stressed and accompanied the army in their clashes with the PLO. Should the Christian leaders accept any declines, the warring Lebanese factions probably would have been avoided with a new Status Quo (Fawwaz Traboulsi, A History of Modern Lebanon, Pluto Press (2007), P. 180)
The state, due to the interests of both camps, has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the left-wing camp. The erosion of the State started when Israeli Commandos entered West Beirut and assassinated three PLO figures in 1973. The Army was present and didn’t do anything as Ehud Barak stated he remained for one hour in the Verdun area disguised as a blond woman in a skirt. Escalations occurred from the soon to be Lebanese Front Alliance and the Lebanese National Movement leaders. Since 1970, the future LNM leaders called for demonstrations every time the Army (usually backed with Phalange supporters) attacked the PLO.
Two incidents will trigger the Lebanese civil war in 1975 despite the fact some confrontations occurred between Junblatt’s socialists and the Phalange militia earlier to the zero hour. The first is the demonstration led my MP Ma’ruf Sa’ad against Protein Corp. in Saida. The corporation itself has the Ahhrar’s Camille Shamo’un as one of its primary shareholders. The army shoots on the demonstrators, and the Pro-Nasserite MP Sa’ad is killed among others. Riots break up between the Army and the Nasserite, leftist, and Palestinian supporters. President Frangieh refutes to hold the army accountable while the Phalange supporters did several counter – demonstrations in solidarity with the army. After a month Frangieh transfers two officers from Saida while its governor was placed on probation. Eventually Pierre Gemayel objects on the rotation of the Army’s officer transfer. A month later, the Project of establishing Protein in Saida was abandoned and the government decides to compensate the fishermen. The Next day, April 13,1975, a shoot out takes place in Ain el-Remaini at the Phalange (which is assumed an operation on Pierre Gemayel) while the Phalanges retaliate by shooting a bus going to Tel el-Zaatar camp. The war would break and would last for a decade and a half. (Fawwaz Traboulsi, A History of Modern Lebanon, Pluto Press (2007), P. 183).
Different factors boiled down to trigger the Civil War in Lebanon. Whether it was class inequality among the sects which allowed the “Sect-Defenders” to mobilize their supporters against the “other”, or the newly balance of power between the Leftists and the Christian militias has triggered down the civil war. The presence of two armies, the PLO guerilla warfare organized commandos and the Lebanese Army, definitely shoved the direction of Lebanon towards a new civil war. Philip Habib once compared Lebanon to a vacuum that sucked in the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Israelis, the United States, and others into its whirlpool.
Keep in mind that this is just a summary of a summary for the causes why the Civil War broke, I didn’t tackle the events of the war. All are to be blamed. Just to make a remark, the causes which triggered the war on Lebanese level, the Christians and the Left, changed as the civil war, accompanied with different foreign interventions, progressed till 1990. The war is divided into different reasons, which changed as the turn of events progressed. This reflects also the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland triggered a chain reaction that reflected badly on Lebanon. In the end, the Proletariat suffered the greed of the elites.