Politics in Lebanon

National Security

| Introduction |
| Internal Security and Terrorism |
| Suicide Bombings |
| The Hostage Crisis |


By the late 1980s, Lebanon's national security system had broken down almost completely. To the extent that a state's viability is defined by its government's ability to safeguard its borders against foreign incursions, enforce domestic security, and exert a monopoly on the use of armed force, Lebanon can no longer be considered a state. In 1987 the vestigial Lebanese government proved incapable of providing security to its citizens. Furthermore, most Lebanese do not identify themselves primarily with the state. A heterogeneous collection of population has traditionally pledged its allegiance to sects rather than to the state. The fractious nature of the population was reflected in a weak central government, which maintained only a token national army in an environment where neighboring states supported formidable armed forces.

Lebanon's Civil War, which began in 1975, was the culmination of centuries of strife and conflict over sectarian issues and the resulting struggle for political and economic power. Over a decade of warfare took as many as 130,000 lives and caused an estimated US$100 billion in property damage. As of 1987, the basic issues had not been resolved; intermittent but chronic warfare continued. Because the numerous militias, each representing a sect, were approximately equivalent in strength, the conflict had reached a stalemate, with neither victor nor vanquished, only victims. And the overwhelming majority of victims in Lebanon's warfare have been civilians.

The Civil War has often been depicted as pitting leftist Muslims against rightist Christians. But there was considerable ambiguity as to the issues of contention. Although there were two main sides in the Civil War - the leftist Muslim Lebanese National Movement versus the rightist Christian Lebanese Front - each of these umbrella organizations was an uneasy coalition composed of scores of smaller groups (see Appendix B). Neither side was monolithic, and when fighting between the two sides slackened ephemeral alliances broke down and internecine warfare broke out. The Civil War has always been a multilateral rather than a bilateral conflict, with numerous protagonists.

By 1987 a dozen years of such conflict had fragmented the Lebanese polity. Lebanon has been divided since about 1976 into autonomous cantons and enclaves that function as small states within the matrix of the old state. Nevertheless, Lebanese politicians with near unanimity opposed partition, less from optimism than from conviction that only a unified Lebanon can justify the devastation and decimation the Lebanese people have suffered. To support this conviction, many Lebanese cited the prophetic writing of native poet Khalil Gibran: "Pity the nation divided into fragments, and each fragment deeming itself a nation."

Furthermore, foreign forces have been drawn into the Lebanese vortex by this vacuum of power, further complicating Lebanon's internal balance of power. In the 1960s, Palestinian guerrillas were the first interlopers, and their presence hastened the Civil War. The Syrian armed forces were invited by the Lebanese government as peacekeepers in 1976, but they later came to be regarded by some as a Trojan horse that would bring permanent Syrian occupation or annexation. The Israel Defense Forces invaded in 1978 and 1982 with the ostensible mission of expelling Palestinian guerrillas who had ensconced themselves in Lebanon. The Israelis managed ultimately to evict most Palestinians fighters, but many in Israel believed the moral and material cost of the campaign had been too high, and they cited the Old Testament warning, "The violence you do to Lebanon shall overwhelm you." In the 1980s, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon and also United States and West European contingents of the Multinational Force fought and died in Lebanon as peacekeeping troops invited by the government to enforce truces and cease-fires. Some Middle Eastern countries organized proxy forces or dispatched expeditionary forces into Lebanon for their own reasons. The Iranian Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards), for example, entered Lebanon in 1982 as volunteers invited by Lebanese Shia (see Glossary) Muslims. Lebanon, therefore, became an arena for conflict among foreigners, and these conflicts were superimposed on the domestic conflict.

Searching for scapegoats, many Lebanese tended to attribute the war entirely to these foreign forces. As President Amin Jumayyil (also spelled Gemayel) said, "The current violence, while it is taking place in our country, is essentially a product of the interplay of foreign forces." The Lebanese Chamber of Deputies passed resolutions demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon and insisting that the Civil War would end as foreigners evacuated the country.

Although the Lebanese have tended to look abroad for its cause, the perennial violence appeared to be endemic and indigenous. This admission was a difficult one for the Lebanese, who have regarded themselves as more cosmopolitan and modern than their Arab neighbors. Nevertheless, as one of Lebanon's leading sociologists, Samir Khalaf, explained in 1986, the characteristics that account for the resourcefulness, prosperity, and cultural awakening in Lebanon were the same characteristics that fragmented the society and weakened its civic and national loyalties.

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Internal Security and Terrorism

By the mid-1980s, more than a decade of war had reduced drastically the authority and ability of the central government to enforce law and to implement justice. The unofficial militias and foreign occupying armies that governed much of Lebanon's civilian populace tended to enforce their own version of justice, without regard to the central government or legal norms. Nevertheless, Lebanese law still pertained in some limited venues. In 1987 Lebanon's police forces had been virtually assimilated into the armed forces and worked closely with the Syrian occupation force.

Under Lebanese law, a suspect must be arraigned before a committee composed of three judges and a prosecutor within fortyeight hours of being arrested. Nevertheless, government prosecutors sometimes held suspects for interrogation for indefinite periods of time without notifying judges. Every prisoner had the right to legal counsel, but there was no public defender's office. Bail was permitted in most cases. In practice and custom Lebanese law provided the right to a fair public trial, but many cases remained unadjudicated. Trial delays resulted from the difficulty of conducting investigations when most of the country remained outside government control, from a shortage of judges, and from the general breakdown in security. Courts existed in most parts of the country, but the disposition of criminal cases depended ultimately on the local power group. Militias frequently intervened to protect their members from prosecution and detention.

Common crime, to the extent that it could be distinguished from political violence, was rampant. In 1986 the Lebanese press described a surge in violent crime, including a rash of over eighty well-organized armed bank robberies in a two-year period and numerous kidnappings for ransom.

The definition of terrorism is fraught with controversy, particularly in the Middle Eastern context. But by almost any definition, Lebanon is an epicenter of terrorist activity. Assassination is an occupational hazard for politicians. The slaying of Prime Minister Karami on June 1, 1987, when a bomb exploded aboard his helicopter, was but another in a long string of political murders. Car bombings, known in the Lebanese lexicon as "canned death," were occurring almost on a daily basis. The United States embassy had twice been attacked by suicide truck-bombers. And the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985 was only the most brazen of a long series of airliner hijackings originating in Beirut. Over the years, literally hundreds of groups have claimed responsibility for various acts of terrorism committed against civilian targets. Most of the names, however, were merely code words or noms de guerre meant to conceal the true identity of the organization behind the attack.

In the judgment of most informed observers, a few men or families have been responsible for masterminding the majority of terrorist operations. For example, the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction, a terrorist organization that assassinated United States and Israeli officials in Western Europe in 1982 and 1984 and staged numerous other attacks, was revealed eventually to be run by a single Maronite extended family, the Abdallah clan from the northern Lebanese town of Al Qubayyat. In March 1987, ringleader George Ibrahim Abdallah was sentenced by a French court to life imprisonment. Likewise, virtually all of the Shia terrorist attacks against Western interests in Lebanon since 1982, claimed in the name of the Islamic Jihad Organization and a dozen other groups, have been attributed by intelligence experts to two related Shia families, the Mughniyyahs and the Musawis. Two leaders of these families, Imad Mughniyyah and Husayn al Musawi, were widely believed to be responsible for holding twenty-three Westerners hostage in 1987.

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Suicide Bombings

One of the most spectacular terrorist tactics in the 1980s was a series of suicide vehicle bombings. The first occurred on April 18, 1983, when a pick-up truck driven by a suicide bomber exploded in the driveway of the United States embassy in West Beirut. The explosives detonated with a force equivalent to 2,000 pounds of trinitrotoluene and destroyed the chancery building, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans, and wounding 100, about 40 of whom were Americans. The Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the attack. Informed sources believed that the Islamic Jihad Organization was a nom de guerre for Husayn Musawi's Islamic Amal organization, while others believed that it was a cover name for Hizaballah.

On October 23, 1983, Shia terrorists struck the United States Marines compound and the French MNF headquarters in devastating, near-simultaneous suicide bombing attacks. The attack on the United States Marines compound took 241 lives and wounded over 100. The bombing was carried out by a lone terrorist driving a stakebed truck that penetrated the central lobby of the building and exploded. United States Federal Bureau of Investigation experts announced that the blast, with the force of over 12,000 pounds of trinitrotoluene, was the largest non-nuclear explosion ever detonated. The attack on the French contingent claimed fifty-eight dead. On November 4, 1983, the suicide bombing tactic was used once again. Near Tyre in southern Lebanon, an explosives-laden pickup truck crashed through an Israeli guard post and detonated near an IDF headquarters building, killing twenty-eight Israeli soldiers and thirty-two Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners. On September 20, 1984, a suicide vehicle bomber attacked the new United States embassy building in East Beirut, killing eight and wounding dozens. On March 10, 1985, Israel was struck again when a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into an IDF convoy at the border crossing point, near the Israeli town of Metulla. Twelve Israelis were killed and fourteen wounded. The initial spate of Shia suicide bombings was so successful that it inspired other, secular organizations--particularly the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party- -to adopt the tactic in 1984 and 1985. As the frequency of suicide attacks rose, however, their effectiveness and impact waned. Lebanese groups abandoned the tactic and concentrated on a more effective technique, hostage-taking.

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The Hostage Crisis

On June 14, 1985, American attention was riveted on Lebanon once again. A TWA airliner, Flight 847 en route from Athens to Rome, was hijacked by Shia terrorists of the Hizballah organization who demanded the release of Shia prisoners held in Kuwait, Israel, and Spain. The airliner was forced to fly to Beirut, where nineteen passengers were released, then to Algiers, where twenty-two more were freed. It then returned to Beirut where on June 15 one of the passengers, a United States Navy diver, was murdered. Seven American passengers, who, according to the terrorists, had Jewishsounding surnames, were taken off the jet by Hizballah terrorists and sequestered in Beirut. Then, about a dozen Amal members joined the hijackers on the airplane, and the pilot was forced once again to fly to Algiers, where sixty more passengers were freed. On the following day the airplane returned to Beirut with the thirty-two remaining passengers. Approximately 200 Lebanese Army soldiers withdrew from the vicinity of Beirut International Airport, leaving the area in the control of Amal. In response to suspicions that the United States was planning a military rescue of the hostages, the terrorists moved the passengers off the airplane and sequestered them in various groups dispersed throughout Beirut. Amal and Hizballah members mined the runways at the airport to prevent a rescue attempt.

On June 17, the third day of the crisis, Amal leader and Lebanese minister of justice Nabih Birri agreed to "mediate" and take responsibility for the safety of the hostages. Birri's intervention appeared hypocritical because his men were holding most of the hostages and controlled the hijacked jet. Nevertheless, the Hizballah organization retained control of seven kidnapped Americans, leaving Birri unable to negotiate independently. Accordingly, Birri adopted a hardline stance and refused to release any hostages until Israel released 700 Shia detainees. Indeed, on June 24 Birri actually added another condition for the hostages' release, stipulating that United States warships leave Lebanese waters.

The deadlock was finally broken through a series of complex and controversial political maneuvers. The United States, determined not to concede to the terrorists' demands, refused to request Israel to release its Shia prisoners but acknowledged that it would welcome such a move. Israel, also unwilling as a matter of policy to negotiate with terrorists, refused to release its prisoners unless requested by the United States to do so. The thirty-nine hostages were ultimately freed on June 30. On July 1, Israel announced that it was ready to release the Shia detainees from its prison. Over the next several weeks, Israel released over 700 Shia prisoners, but Israel denied that the prisoners' release was related to the hijacking.

Hostage-taking has become commonplace in Lebanon. By 1987 the International Committee of The Red Cross estimated that 6,000 Lebanese had been kidnapped and or had disappeared since 1975. The systematic kidnapping of Western civilians began a few years after the Civil War. Perhaps the first victim whose case was widely publicized was American University of Beirut president David Dodge, abducted by Shia terrorists in 1981 and freed in 1982. As of September 1987, twenty-three foreigners--most of whom were journalists, diplomats, or teachers--were believed to be held hostage by various terrorist organizations in Lebanon. Of this total, nine were American. Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, had been in captivity the longest. Anderson, seized on March 16, 1985, by the Shia fundamentalist Islamic Jihad Organization, was one of six hostages who had been held for more than two years. American television correspondent Charles Glass was seized on June 17, 1987. A previously unknown group, the "Organization for the Defense of Free People," claimed responsibility. Three hostages were Britons, including Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite, who disappeared January 20, 1986, while on a negotiating mission to free the other kidnap victims. Other hostages included one of two citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) abducted in January 1987 by an organization calling itself "Strugglers for Freedom." The West Germans were seized shortly after the West German government arrested Muhammad Ali Hamadi, a Shia terrorist leader who allegedly masterminded the 1985 TWA hijacking. Six French citizens, two of whom were diplomats, also remained in captivity in late 1987, as did an Indian professor, an Irish professor, an Italian businessman, and a Republic of Korea (South Korea) diplomat.

Little information was available concerning the circumstances of the hostages. In late June 1987, the Lebanese magazine Ash Shira reported that some American hostages had been transferred from Beirut to Iran where they were being put on "trial" and that Imad Mughniyyah and Abdul Hadi Hamadi, security chiefs of the Hizballah organization, had visited Tehran to testify in the "trial."

Since 1982 seven kidnapped foreigners are believed to have been murdered by their captors. On October 3, 1985, the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed to have killed the United States Central Intelligence Agency Beirut chief of station, William Buckley, whom it had abducted on March 16, 1984. The Islamic Jihad Organization later released to a Beirut newspaper a photograph purporting to depict his corpse. Press reports stated that Buckley had been transferred to Iran, where he was tortured and killed. One of four Soviet diplomats kidnapped by the Islamic Liberation Organization on September 30, 1985, was killed by his captors; the other three were released a month later. On February 10, 1986, the Islamic Jihad Organization released a photograph that claimed to show the body of French citizen Michel Seurat, who had been kidnapped earlier. On April 17, 1986, the bodies of three American University of Beirut employees, American citizen Peter Kilburn and Britons John Douglas and Philip Padfield, were discovered near Beirut. The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims claimed to have "executed" the three men in retaliation for the United States air raid on Libya on April 15, 1986. On April 23, 1986, a Beirut newspaper received a videotape film showing a man being hanged. The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims claimed the man was British citizen Alec Collet, who had been kidnapped more than a year earlier.

A few fortunate Western hostages have escaped from their captors. American citizen Frank Regier, engineering professor at the American University of Beirut, was freed after several months in captivity by Amal militiamen, who raided the Beirut hideout of his extremist captors on April 15, 1984. On February 14, 1985, American journalist Jeremy Levin escaped from his captors in the Biqa Valley. On April 11, 1986, French captive Michel Brillant escaped several days after his abduction when his captors were surprised by a party of hunters in the Biqa Valley. On July 16, 1986, a Saudi Arabian diplomat was freed when the Lebanese Army caught his captors. On September 26, 1986, British journalist David Hirst escaped by bolting from his captors' automobile in a Shia neighborhood of Beirut, and several days later French television correspondent Jean-Marc Sroussi escaped from a locked shed days after his capture. American Charles Glass escaped in August 1987, two months after his capture.

Only a few hostages have been released by their captors. On May 20, 1985, Saudi Arabian consul Husayn Farrash was released by Muslim fundamentalists after over a year in captivity. In midSeptember 1985, the Reverend Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian minister held hostage since May 1984, was freed by the Islamic Jihad Organization; on July 26, 1986, the same group released Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, who had been held since January, 1985; and on November 2, 1986, American University of Beirut hospital administrator David Jacobsen was released after more than a year and a half in captivity. Americans Weir, Jenco, and Jacobsen had been held by the same Islamic Jihad Organization cell, as Terry Anderson and Thomas Sutherland, who in September 1987 remained in captivity. Several other hostages have been released by various groups, including a Spanish diplomat, a French journalist, two British women, a West German Siemens employee, and two Cypriot students.

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Source: Federal Research Division - Library of Congress (Edited by Thomas Collelo, December 1987)

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