This article was published by Alliance (Marxist-Leninist) as part of the publication Alliance, issue #51, “Pan-Arabic or Pan-Islamic ‘Socialism.’”
Previously unpublished notes by W.B. Bland, circa 1987
The small state of Lebanon lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered on the west by the Mediterranean, on the north and east by Syria, and on the south by Israel.
It has an area of 3,600 square miles about half the size of Wales or Albania, and a population of some 3 million about the same as that of Wales and of Albania.
Its principal towns are Beirut (the capital, with a population of 700,000), Tripoli and Sidon.
Ethnically, the people of Lebanon are almost exclusively Arab, and 93% of the population speak Arabic, which is the official language. There are four main religious communities: Maronite Christian (adherents of an Eastern rite church attached to Rome), Sunni Moslem, Shia Moslem and Druze Moslem. 300,000 Palestinian refugees form 10% of the population.
40% of the population are engaged in agriculture, producing fruit, tobacco, and cotton. However, agriculture furnishes only 9% of gross national product. Lebanon’s economy is primarily financial and commercial, popular with the capital of other Middle Eastern countries because of its completely laissez-faire economy and the secrecy of its banking system. There is a small-scale textile industry, and a transit trade in crude oil, Lebanon being the terminal for a pipeline of the British-owned Iraq Petroleum Company (a subsidiary of Shell) which has a refinery at Tripoli, and another of the US-owned Trans-Arabian Pipeline Company (a subsidiary of Aramco), which has a refinery at Sidon.
The main social classes in Lebanon are:
1) a comprador capitalist class, drawn mainly from the Christian community, closely linked with and dependent upon foreign – principally United States — imperialism;
2) a landlord class, drawn mainly from the Sunni Moslem community;
3) a national bourgeoisie, drawn mainly from the various Moslem communities;
4) a peasantry, drawn mainly from the Moslem communities; and
5) a small working class numbering 100,000, drawn mainly from the Moslem communities and involved mainly in the oil-processing and textile industries.
History to 1944
From the 16th century, Lebanon formed part of the Ottoman Empire until the First World War. In 1918 Allied forces seized Lebanon and in 1923 it was made, like the adjoining state of Syria, a French mandate.
During the Second World War, when the French authorities in Lebanon declared in favour of Vichy, British troops occupied the country.
In November 1941 the French Committee of National Liberation declared Lebanon to be an independent state, and the Republic of Lebanon was proclaimed in January 1944. After the war, however, the French government delayed removing its troops, which finally departed only in December 1946.
The Constitution is one of “parliamentary democracy.” The Head of State is a President who is elected by a single-chamber elected National Assembly. However, this body is elected under laws which give the economically dominant Christian community a majority of seats – based on the ratio of Christians to Moslems in the population (6:5) as shown in the (last) Census of 1932.
The domination of the state by the Christian community – in practice by the predominantly Christian comprador capitalist class – is reinforced by an unwritten convention agreed between representatives of the four religious communities in 1943. By this convention it was agreed that the President should always be a Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Moslem and the Speaker of the National Assembly a Shia Moslem.
The interests of the comprador capitalists and landlords are represented politically by the National Liberal Party (a vehicle of the financial groups around the Chamoun family) -and the Phalangist Party (named after Franco’s fascist party and a vehicle of the financial groups around the Gemayel family).
The most progressive of the political parties are – the Progressive Socialist Party, founded in 1947 and now led by Walid Jumblatt (a Druze), and the revisionist Lebanese Communist Party, which represent the interests of the national bourgeoisie.
The officers of the army are drawn predominantly from the politically and economically dominant Christian community, while the rank and file are divided into separate units on a religious basis. This brought about a break-up of the army in the civil war of 1975-6, when masses of soldiers deserted to different private militias. From that time the army, and the central state apparatus, has been almost impotent. The elections due in April 1976 were postponed because of the civil war, and no elections have been able to be held since. Unable to collect taxes over most of the country, the state has become increasingly dependent upon foreign aid – principally from Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United States: in the first half of 1984 alone Lebanon’s balance of payments deficit stood at $700 million. Effective political power is exercised locally by:
1) the foreign occupying forces of Syria in the north and west;
2) rival para-military forces armed and financed by the neighbouring states of Iraq, Israel and Syria;
3) rival para-military forces armed and financed by the political parties of the Lebanese ruling classes – the Tigers of the National Liberal Party and the Lebanese Forces of the Phalangists; and
4) a para-military force of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (the Palestine Liberation Army), armed and financed by certain Arab states (principally Syria,. Libya and Saudi Arabia) and (since July 1972) by the Soviet Union. The PLO contains factions financed and armed by, and subservient to, different states, a number of which are mere small terrorist organisations.
The Formation of Israel
The state of Israel came into being in May 1948 as a result of the desire of the Western imperialist powers to establish a “fifth column” in the heart of the Arab world in the form of a small Jewish racist state which would be dependent for its continued existence on these Powers.
It was proclaimed following a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly of November 1947, which recommended that the British mandated territory of Palestine should be partitioned into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Zionist terrorist gangs drove many Arabs from the territory of the Jewish state, and since then Israel has extended its territory in a number of phoney wars to embrace the whole of Palestine, an area four times that allotted to the Jewish state in the original Partition Plan.
A large proportion of the Arab population of Palestine became homeless, stateless refugees in neighbouring Arab states, mainly Jordan and Lebanon.
The US Military Intervention in Lebanon
In January 1957 US President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed a new American policy, known as the “Eisenhower Doctrine“. This provided for US military aid and the use of US troops to “protect” Middle Eastern states threatened with “aggression.”
By the late 1950s popular dissatisfaction in Lebanon with the corrupt regime of President Camille Chamoun and its policy of subservience to United States imperialism had been reinforced by dissatisfaction with the whole state system, particularly since (although no new census was taken) the Moslem communities now formed a majority of the population.
In May 1958 this dissatisfaction broke out into a mass insurrection against the regime. When, in July, the armed forces of the state proved unable to suppress this and a national-democratic revolution in neighbouring Iraq had toppled the feudal pro-imperialist regime of King Feisal, Chamoun appealed to the United States for military intervention, and 14,000 US troops were landed in Lebanon (British troops being simultaneously landed in Jordan).
Under American pressure, the domination of the state by the Christian comprador capitalist groups was saved by securing the replacement of Chamoun as President in September 1958 by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General Fuad Chehab, who appointed a new government giving Ministerial posts to leaders of the opposition. The American forces withdrew from the country in October.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation
Fatah (Conquest) was formed among these refugees under the leadership of Yassir Arafat with the declared aim of establishing a Palestinian state in traditional Palestinian territory by means of armed struggle.
In May 1964, on the initiative of the United States, a rival Palestinian organisation, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, was set up under the leadership of the demagogic mercenary Ahmad Shuqairi. This served, objectively the interests of the Western imperialists and Israel by putting out statements that its aims were “to drive the Jews into the sea.”
Growing opposition among Palestinians to the policies of the PLO enabled Fatah to join that organisation in February 1969. Becoming by far the largest body in it, Fatah’s policies became the policies of the PLO and its leader, Arafat, became the leader of the PLO.
Arab public opinion forced the rulers of neighbouring Arab states -particularly Jordan and Lebanon – to permit the guerilla units of the PLO to train in and operate from their territory against the Israeli state which occupies Palestine contrary to many UN resolutions. However, their lack of real interest in the formation of an independent Palestinian state, their general subservience to Anglo-American imperialism and their fear of reprisals from the powerful military machine built up by United States imperialism in Israel resulted in efforts by their armed forces to seek to destroy the Palestine Liberation Army within their territories, as was done by Jordan in 1970-71.
The Civil War in Lebanon
By the beginning of the ’70s, the Palestinians in Lebanon were cooperating with the Progressive Socialist Party to mobilise the masses of the Lebanese people for radical political change. Seeing the developing threat to their political and economic power, in April of 1975 the comprador capitalists set their the Phalangist militia to open civil war against the Palestine Liberation Organisation. However, in spite of large-scale aid from Israel, by June of the following year (1976) the position of the Phalangists had become desperate. In these circumstances, 20,000 Syrian troops invaded Lebanon and fought the Palestinian militia alongside the Phalangists.
Despite heroic resistance by the Palestinians, the Phalangists succeeded in smashing their way into the last strongpoint, Beirut, and the civil war, which had lasted a year and seven months and cost 44,000 lives, came to an end in November 1976.
In March 1978, with the aim of destroying the Palestinian bases in south Lebanon, Israeli forces invaded the country and occupied its southern part up to the river Litani.
The Security Council of the United Nations called upon Israel to withdraw its forces, and set up a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to confirm the withdrawal and restore the authority of the Lebanese government in the south. The Israeli forces withdrew back to the frontier in June, but left a Lebanese puppet force, later known as the South Lebanon Army, in occupation of the border area. In April 1979 the leader of this force, Major Sa’ad Haddad, proclaimed the zone an “independent Lebanese state.”
The Effect of Camp David
In September 1978 came the American-sponsored Camp David summit agreement for an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. This agreement was opposed not only by the Palestinians but, as a result of public pressure, by Syria, (now dependent economically and militarily upon the Soviet Union) and this common opposition brought about a reconciliation between the Palestinians and the Syrian occupation forces in Lebanon.
In this new situation and with financial help from Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union, the Palestinian para-military units in Lebanon were able to rebuild themselves into a new well-armed force of 15,000 and in January 1980 Syrian forces withdrew from part of Lebanon, handing over control to the PLO, which established its effective control over most of the country except for those areas, such as East Beirut, controlled by the Phalangists.
“Operation Peace for Galilee”
In June 1982 an attempt was made on the life of the Israeli Ambassador in London. On this pretext Israel invaded Lebanon again in an operation called “Operation Peace in Galilee.” This had the aim of destroying completely the Palestine liberation forces in Lebanon (they had, as has been said, been driven from Jordan in 1970-71).
Although Syria had been informed prior to invasion that the operation was not directed at its forces, some conflict with Syrian forces did occur. On the sixth day of the invasion, by which time its armed forces had lost 650 killed and 500 armoured vehicles, Syria signed a cease-fire with Israel.
By this time the invasion forces were 60 miles into Lebanon, laying siege to the Moslem area of West Beirut (where the remains of the PLO forces were bottled up). In August the Palestine Liberation Organisation agreed to withdraw its forces from Lebanon under the supervision of a Multi-national Peace-keeping Force from Britain, France, Italy and the United States. The evacuation was completed by the end of the month, and 11,000 of the PLO’s fighters were dispersed to other Arab states.
In September the new President-elect of Lebanon, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated at unknown hands. The Israeli forces then permitted Phalangists to enter two Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in West Beirut and massacre more than 800 women, old people and children.
The Reagan Plan
In September 1982 US President Ronald Reagan put forward a new “peace plan” for the Middle East which envisaged the establishment of a “Palestinian homeland” on the West Bank of the Jordan, not as an independent state but as a part, with limited powers of self-government, of the state of Jordan, which had been since its inception a monarchist tool of Anglo-American imperialism.
The Reagan Plan was opposed by the right-wing government of Israel, headed by Menahem Begin, on the grounds that it would involve the surrender of Israeli-occupied territory, and by the PLO on the grounds that it did not provide for an independent Palestine state. It was nominally opposed by most Arab states, except for Egypt and Jordan
The Israeli-Lebanese Agreement
The heavy losses sustained by Israel in its invasion of Lebanon (583 killed) – losses which continued to mount daily as a result of Lebanese and Palestinian guerilla warfare against the occupation forces – combined with the obviously aggressive character of the war, had stimulated the growth of a peace movement in Israel itself.
The atrocity against the Palestinian camps brought to a head public opposition to the Israeli invasion, not only in other countries but in Israel itself .
In these circumstances, in May 1983 the United States, Israeli and Lebanese governments signed an agreement providing for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanese soil, combined with the recognition of a “security zone” in the south to prevent the infiltration into the area of Palestinian fighters.
This agreement, supported by Egypt and Jordan, was opposed by the PLO, Libya and Syria, the last-named declaring that its troops would remain in Lebanon. It was also opposed as a treacherous surrender of Lebanese sovereignty to a foreign power by progressive Lebanese political forces, which formed a National Opposition Front (later called the National Democratic Front) headed by Walid Jumblatt of the Progressive Socialist Party and George Hawi of the Communist Party.
In February 1984 President Amin Gemayel (who had taken the place of his assassinated brother) was forced by this pressure to revoke the agreement.
Opposition at home to Israel’s aggressive war in Lebanon was one of the factors responsible for a change of government in the election of July 1984. The ultra-right Likud Front, headed by Menahem Begin, lost its position as the largest parliamentary group to the Alignment, dominated by the Labour Party, which campaigned on withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and acceptance of the Reagan Plan. Following the withdrawal of the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force, the new government, with a Prime Minister (Shimon Peres) drawn from the Labour Party, unilaterally announced in January 1985 that it would withdraw its troops from Lebanon, and this -was completed-by June – except for the southern zone, where control was handed once again to the puppet South Lebanon Army, headed, since the death of Haddad in January 1984, by Major -General Antoine Lahad.
The Rebellion within the PLO
Although Fatah rejected the Reagan Plan in June 1983, Arafat went to Jordan to discuss its implications with King Hussein and this was used by the Syrian government as a pretext for sponsoring in Lebanon a rebellion of pseudo-left forces within the PLO against its leadership. By December 1983 the rebels had gained control of all PLO bases in Lebanon and the forces loyal to Arafat had been forced to withdraw to other Arab states.
The Syrian Occupation of Beirut
Meanwhile in the capital, Beirut, bloody battles between rival militias, and the siege of the Palestinian refugee camps there, continued and in February 1987 Syria used the pretext of “the need for law and order” to occupy the capital.