Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 5   No. 2 Table of Contents
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February/March 2003 

dossier Dossier: Amine Gemayel
Former President of Lebanon

by Pierre Maroun
Pierre Maroun, a former adjunct professor of Critical Thinking and Business Ethics at Southern Ohio College in Akron, Ohio, is currently writing a book on the assassination of the late Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel.

Amine Gemayel
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud often complains that his critics are out of touch with reality, but if there is one opposition figure in Lebanon today who knows the constraints of the office bequeathed to him, it is Amine Gemayel, the last president of Lebanon's First Republic. Although Gemayel served in office during the worst of times for Lebanon, his success in preserving a measure of government autonomy in the waning years of the country's independence, despite Israeli intervention, an expanding Syrian and Iranian military presence, and unfavorable international conditions, is regarded by some Lebanese not only as a historic achievement, but as a model. For the eventual departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon is likely to come about when an unassuming future president or prime minister asserts the constitutional authority of his office and transcends the sectarian and parochial divisions that continue to curse the land of the cedars.


Amine Gemayel descends from a Maronite Christian family with a long tradition in Lebanon. Originally from the northern region of Mount Lebanon, his ancestors settled in the town of Bikfayya, 25 kilometers northeast of Beirut, in the mid-16th century. His father, Pierre, was forced to leave Lebanon in the early 20th century due to his opposition to the Ottoman Empire and spent several years living in Egypt. Gemayel's great uncle, Antoine, traveled to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 as a political representative of the Maronite Christian community in Lebanon.

After returning from exile after World War I, Pierre Gemayel established a pharmacy in Beirut, but his true calling was politics. In 1936, he founded an organization called the Phalange (Kata'ib, in Arabic) for the purpose of defending Christians from sporadic attacks by Muslim radicals and pressuring the French mandate authorities to grant Lebanon independence. Amine was born in 1942, the eldest of the two sons and four daughters raised by Pierre and his wife, Genevieve.

After Lebanon achieved independence in 1943, the Phalange evolved into a secular nationalist political party and Amine was raised in an atmosphere of great political expectations. In 1965, he earned a law degree from Saint Joseph University and began practicing as an attorney. Two years later, he married Joyce Tayan, with whom he would raise three children. In 1970, Gemayel won a contested by-election to fill the parliament seat vacated by his deceased uncle and mentor, Maurice Gemayel, becoming the youngest member of the body. He was reelected in 1972. Unlike many Lebanese politicians, Gemayel remained actively involved in the local affairs of his constituency. He later established a French language daily newspaper, Le Reveil.

Gemayel's younger brother, Bashir, played a major role in organizing a Phalange party militia to defend Christian interests in Lebanon against increasingly audacious Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters, who eventually instigated a full-scale civil war in 1975. Bashir formally took command of the Phalange militia the following year and, over the next four years, absorbed other Christian militia forces into a single entity, the Lebanese Forces (LF), which ruled over a predominantly Christian enclave in East Beirut and areas north of the capital. The two brothers were strikingly different in temperament and political style. Amine was a polished businessman and gifted orator in classical Arabic, while Bashir dressed casually and gave speeches in colloquial language.

Although he saw himself a peacemaker, not a warrior, Amine took up arms during the war. In 1976, he personally commanded Phalange units besieging the Tel al-Zaatar Palestinian camp in East Beirut. However, Amine maintained close contacts with Palestinian and Arab leaders and earned a reputation for humanitarianism by negotiating the evacuation of Palestinian civilians from besieged camps in East Beirut.

Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976 with the permission of Christian leaders, who faced military defeat by a Palestinian-leftist coalition that was itself largely armed by Damascus. Then-President Suleiman Franjieh and his successor, Elias Sarkis, accepted Syria's military presence in roughly one-third of the country in hopes of preserving Christian political supremacy in Lebanon, but the LF adamantly opposed Syrian troops and came to blows with them on several occasions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the face of Palestinian and Syrian threats, Bashir Gemayel and other Christian militia leaders accepted Israeli military aid and training.

Israel's June 1982 invasion of Lebanon was intended, in part, to facilitate Bashir's election (by parliament) as president of Lebanon in August, an event that sparked an outpouring of public jubilation among Christians and Muslims alike that stunned observers. Bashir was hardly well-liked outside of the Christian community, but the vast majority of Lebanese were willing to embrace any leader who could credibly promise to end Palestinian and Syrian involvement in the country. It was precisely for this reason that Bashir was assassinated 21 days after his election by a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), a radical group favoring Syrian annexation of Lebanon. In the frenzied aftermath of the assassination, which witnessed a brutal massacre of Palestinian refugees by Christian militiamen, the enormous public outpouring of affinity for the slain leader was transferred to his brother, who was chosen by parliament to assume the presidency on September 21.

Gemayel's Presidency

Gemayel began his presidency with overwhelming support from nearly all Lebanese, irrespective of sectarian identity. Whereas Bashir had just barely secured the necessary electoral quorum due to a boycott by most Muslim deputies and received a majority of the votes only after a second round of balloting (largely due to his brother's success in persuading some Muslim MPs to vote for him), Amine received the support of all but three of the 80 deputies present.. Unlike his late brother, Gemayel was untainted by connections with Israel and had developed strong ties with prominent Muslim politicians who favored the restoration of state authority. Sunni notables of West Beirut, who had been eclipsed by the PLO prior to its ejection from the capital by Israeli forces, strongly backed the new president, as did traditional Shiite leaders, who faced challenges from Syrian-backed leftist groups and Iranian-backed fundamentalists. Shafiq Wazzan, a Sunni, was appointed to head a confessionally balanced and politically moderate cabinet.

"I offer no program of a new era because a single concern grips us now. This is to stop the vicious cycle of bloody violence on Lebanon's soil," Gemayel said in his inaugural speech, pledging to build "a strong, independent and sovereign state" and an army "capable of repulsing transgressions against the nation or encroachments against the law."[1] However, powerful obstacles lay in the way of restoring Lebanese territorial sovereignty. The army was fragmented along confessional lines and poorly equipped. The withdrawal of PLO funds from Lebanese banks after Yasser Arafat's eviction from Beirut had led to the collapse of the Lebanese currency and hyperinflation. Most importantly, the Lebanese government controlled only a few slivers of territory in and around the Lebanese capital. Over one-third of Lebanon was held by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), another third of the country remained occupied by Syrian forces, and the rest was under the control of foreign-backed militias with an inherent interest in resisting state authority.

In the political vernacular of the time, there were considered to be two approaches to restoring government authority in Lebanon: the "Syrian option," pursued by Gemayel's two predecessors, and the "Israeli option," pursued by the late Bashir Gemayel. Each necessarily entailed concessions to one occupying power in return for support from the other. Initially, Gemayel pursued an ambitious third approach - the "American option" - in hopes of securing the withdrawal of Syria and Israel from Lebanon without making undue concessions to either.

The American Option

American President Ronald Reagan, believing that solving the Lebanese crisis would help jumpstart the Middle East peace process, quickly agreed to dispatch American troops, which had twice entered Lebanon in 1982 to oversee the evacuation of the PLO and to protect Palestinian refugees after the Sabra and Chatila massacre. A detachment of 1,200 marines arrived in Beirut in late September, joining a multinational force (MNF) that included 1,300 French soldiers and 1,300 Italians. Reagan stated that the deployment was intended to achieve "the withdrawal as quickly as possible to their own borders of the Israelis and the Syrians."[2]

A palpable wave of enthusiasm swept the country during the first months of Gemayel's tenure. Within days of his ascension, Lebanese army units entered West Beirut, unifying the capital for the first time since 1975, and seized arms caches left behind by the PLO and other militias worth an estimated $138 million.[3] The following month, Gemayel paid an official visit to the White House - the first Lebanese president to do so - and returned with solid American commitments to train and equip Lebanon's army.

Philip Habib
Gemayel soon entered negotiations with Israel, mediated by Reagan's special Middle East envoy, Philip Habib, resulting in a May 1983 security agreement known as the May 17th Accord.[4] The agreement, which provided for an Israeli withdrawal in exchange for security cooperation in south Lebanon, was embraced by moderate Lebanese political figures of all sects. Prime Minister Wazzan was said to have been "a driving force behind the agreement,"[5] which the parliament approved by a vote of 64 to 2, with four abstentions.

Although Israel stated in a side letter to the Reagan administration that it would not withdraw from Lebanon unless the Syrians did likewise, it was initially expected that Syrian President Hafez Assad would agree to a simultaneous withdrawal. While Gemayel's alliance with the Reagan administration was a direct affront to Assad, who regarded Lebanon as an artificial entity cut off from Syria by France, the swift and decisive destruction of Syria's air defense network and much of its air force by Israel earlier in the year underscored the Syrian military's vulnerability and chastened the dictator, who faced serious challenges at home from Islamist insurgents.

At the time of Gemayel's ascension, the Soviet Union initially appeared to accept Lebanon's entry into the American sphere of interest,[6] but this changed after the death of USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev in November 1982 and the ascension of Yuri Andropov. In December, Moscow began massively re-equipping the Syrian air force and army. Damascus received SS-21 surface-to-surface missiles and the advanced SAM-5 anti-aircraft system, neither of which had previously been deployed outside the Warsaw Pact. In addition, the Soviets dispatched a team of 7,000 military advisors to operate the weapons systems and teach the Syrians how to use them. The infusion of Soviet arms "bolstered Assad's confidence," notes Itamar Rabinovich. "As 1983 wore on, the main lines of Syria's policy appeared more clearly - the central government had to accept Syria's hegemony or be brought down."[7] Syrian-backed militias, most notably the predominantly Druze Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), headed by Walid Jumblatt, and the Shiite Amal movement, headed by Nabih Berri, declared their opposition to the government, denounced the agreement with Israel, and resisted the expansion of government authority tooth and nail.

Equally decisive was the Assad regime's strategic partnership with Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. Prior to 1982, the new Islamic Republic in Tehran had not been a major player in Lebanese affairs. In the wake of Israel's 1982 invasion, however, Assad permitted hundreds of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers to deploy in the central Beqaa Valley of eastern Lebanon for the purposes of mobilizing resistance to Israel. After the deployment of the MNF in Beirut, the IRGC presence in Lebanon grew to over a thousand military trainers and propagandists and, in coordination with Syrian military intelligence, began to organize radical Islamist opposition to the Western presence. A multitude of underground paramilitary factions sprung up, later organized together as Hezbollah (Party of God), and introduced suicide bombings and the kidnapping of Western hostages for the first time.

In April 1983, a suicide bomber struck the US embassy in West Beirut, killing 63 people. Throughout the summer, Druze and Syrian artillery fired on the Lebanese capital, but the president remained defiant. In July, while speaking before the National Press Club in Washington, Gemayel was asked by a member of the audience what he intended to do about Syrian shelling of Beirut. "We shall reverse these shells," he said, "and they will fall on the capital from which they came."[8] In late August, the Shiite Amal movement launched an uprising against the government in West Beirut. Although the Army prevailed, the uprising shook public hopes in the security situation.

On September 1, Gemayel undertook perhaps the most important act of his presidency - in letters to Assad and the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Gemayel officially requested the withdrawal of Syrian military forces in Lebanon.[9] Until that moment, Assad could claim with some degree of justification that the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon was legal, on the basis of a request by former President Franjieh.[10] From that point onward, the occupation became squarely illegal under international law. Within days, Gemayel's government would pay a heavy price for its stance. The critical event that set in motion the collapse of the "American option" took place in the mountains overlooking the capital.

The Mountain War

After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, the LF moved troops into the mountainous Shouf region of central Lebanon in order to provide for the return of Christian residents who had been expelled by Druze militiamen in 1977. Rather than establishing a defensible front line, however, the LF sought to establish a military presence in all villages where Christians had lived - the result was a convoluted line of exposed positions that could be maintained only so long as Israel acted to restrain the Druze. Following the death of Bashir Gemayel, however, the Jewish state began to cultivate closer relations with the Druze (in part because of the influence of Israeli Druze) and adopted a position of neutrality.

Rather than facilitating the entry of Lebanese army units into the Shouf to maintain order, which would have angered the Druze, Israel abruptly withdrew from the area on September 3, 1983, leaving a power vacuum that opened the way for an offensive by Druze fighters, backed by pro-Syrian Palestinian forces and Syrian artillery, against LF forces under the command of Samir Geagea. Christian militia forces were routed in a key battle in the town of Bhamdoun, strategically located where the Beirut-Damascus highway straddles the edge of the mountains, and forced to retreat from most of the Shouf. Within two weeks, around sixty Christian villages were destroyed, thousands of civilians were killed, and tens of thousands of civilians were driven from their homes.

Gemayel came under intense criticism by the LF leadership for failing to send army units to the defense of Bhamdoun. Geagea declared that "Gemayel's main objective was the annihilation of the Lebanese Forces so he could be the only spokesman and savior of the Christians." However, the president's options were limited. Prior to the Israeli pullout, Gemayel had ordered the Ministry of Defense to prepare plans for the deployment of army units to the Shouf, but the ministry "produced a report claiming it could not reserve any units to deploy outside Beirut and Baabda Palace," Gemayel later recalled. "Protecting these two sensitive areas was essential to preserving the security of the Lebanese government and the Christian area, especially since Syria and its allies were preparing to launch an attack on these fronts."[11]

By mid-September, Lebanese army units defending the capital at Souq al-Gharb were under assault by Druze forces, backed by Syrian artillery. Declaring that Souq al-Gharb was of strategic importance to the United States, Reagan ordered warplanes from the US Sixth Fleet to shell Druze and Syrian positions. This played into Assad's hands, as pro-Syrian militia leaders could now portray the MNF as having exceeded its peacekeeping mandate and taken sides in the civil war. Meanwhile, an American envoy was sent to Damascus to press Assad for a ceasefire. The Syrian dictator agreed, provided that a "national reconciliation conference" be convened to determine the country's political future and that he have the exclusive right to approve all prospective participants.

As preparations commenced for the conference, scheduled to convene in Geneva on October 31, the Syrians honored their promise to end the militia assault on Lebanese army forces defending the capital. Typically, however, Assad violated the spirit of the understanding. In order to undercut the Lebanese government's negotiating position in Geneva, it was necessary first to humble its international protectors. On October 23, suicide truck bombers hit the American marine barracks in Beirut, killing 243 servicemen, and the headquarters of the French MNF detachment, killing 52 soldiers. Although the bombings were carried out by Hezbollah operatives, it is inconceivable that Syrian military intelligence had not been briefed on the plans.

The Geneva conference did not produce a cease-fire agreement, and the violence flared up again. On December 4, 1983, Syrian forces in Lebanon shot down two American planes and transferred a surviving pilot to Damascus. On the same day, eight US marines were killed by Syrian shelling. In February 1984, Syrian-backed militias attacked the army units in the predominantly Shitte southern suburbs of Beirut. After four days of fierce fighting, the army units disintegrated along confessional lines and were defeated. MNF troops stationed in the capital were now surrounded by hostile militia forces. As the security situation deteriorated during the month, the United States and its European allies decided to withdraw their forces from Lebanon, leaving Gemayel to face the storm alone. This made Syria's position in Lebanon stronger than ever. Responding to critics who blamed him for relying heavily on the US, Gemayel asked: "Whom else did I have to rely on at the time?"[12]

The Syrian Option

After the withdrawal of American forces from Lebanon, the US government focused its diplomatic efforts primarily on securing the release of American hostages held by Shiite militants linked to Hezbollah. Abandoned by his Western allies and unable to hold off further attacks by Syrian-backed militia forces, on February 29 Gemayel made his first trip to Damascus since taking office and announced his intention to abrogate the May 17th Accord.

In March, a week-long national reconciliation conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland, under the watchful eye of Syrian Vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam. Although Gemayel proposed a political reform plan that was acceptable to most participants, its reduction in the powers of the Lebanese presidency was rejected by former President Franjieh, who was strongly allied with the Assad regime, and the conference adjourned without an agreement being reached. Afterwards, however, a new "national unity government" was established, which brought Syria's militia allies into the official apparatus of the state for the first time, and the various factions agreed on a cease-fire, which went into effect on April 9.

The new cabinet met in Bikfayya and began hammering out an interim agreement that would allow the government to reassert its authority. Muslim ministers initially demanded that the post of army commander, traditionally held by a Maronite Christian, be eliminated, but this was unacceptable to Christian ministers. Gemayel put forth a compromise proposal that established a state security agency for non-military intelligence gathering under the stewardship of a Shiite and a six-man multiconfessional Military Council with exclusive oversight of appointments at the brigade and division levels. Muslim ministers accepted it, provided that Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Tannous be replaced as army commander by Michel Aoun, who was widely respected for his non-sectarian views. The agreement, formalized in June, provided for the withdrawal of all militia forces from the capital, the dismantling of barricades and checkpoints, the reopening of Beirut's airport and port, and the deployment of the army.

"There must be integration with Syria, by means of actual agreements in the economic, security, military, political, information, and educational fields."

Nabih Berri
Voice of the Mountain Radio, 31 August 1985

Optimistic predictions that the Bikfayya Agreement would end Lebanon's chronic conflict were dashed as sporadic battles and terrorist attacks resumed and all of the key militias remained reluctant to yield power to Gemayel's government. The root of the problem was that the president's attempts to reach an accommodation with Syria and its militia proxies generated intense opposition within the LF, which in turn undermined the willingness of other militias to demobilize. The LF openly condemned Gemayel for abandoning the May 17th Accord and demonstrated its independence by establishing a liaison office in Jerusalem in May 1984. Some in the LF preferred to partition the country into sectarian enclaves - an objective that required the failure of Gemayal's efforts to reunite the country.

The death of the aging Pierre Gemayel, whose presence in the cabinet served to quiet Christian opposition to the government, and the passing of the Maronite patriarch in the fall of 1984 led some in the LF to believe that the time was right to break with Gemayel completely. However, the elder Gemayal's chosen successor as head of the Phalange Party, Elie Karameh, supported the government, and in November LF chief Fadi Frem was replaced by Fouad Abi Nader, a nephew of the president. Nevertheless, many Christians had doubts about whether Gemayel could achieve a settlement with Syria without compromising Lebanese sovereignty.

To be sure, Gemayel's objective of reconciling with Syrian-backed militia leaders, who had the power to inflict enormous suffering on the civilian population he had pledged to protect - without compromising Lebanese sovereignty was very difficult to achieve. The president found that his attempts to negotiate an end to the conflict with Berri and Jumblatt kept leading back to Damascus, which demanded that any settlement legitimize and perpetuate Syrian military and political hegemony in Lebanon - every "reconciliation" proposal put forward by Syria's militia allies contained this provision. Gemayel's efforts to persuade Damascus to abandon such unacceptable conditions, however, were doomed to fail so long as there were doubts as to whether the president could "deliver" Christian support for a settlement.

Christian Disunity

In early March, the government ordered Geagea, who had assumed command of veteran LF forces in Jbeil (Byblos), to dismantle a lucrative tollbooth on the main road from Beirut to the northern port of Tripoli. After Geagea refused, the Phalange politburo expelled him from the party. The following day, Geagea declared an "intifadah" against Abi Nader and the Phalange leadership as his forces began marching from Jbeil to Beirut, seizing LF and Phalange barracks along the way. LF intelligence chief Elie Hobeika, who had supported the politburo decision because of his personal rivalry with Geagea, quickly switched sides as Geagea's supporters seized control of most of east Beirut and Christian areas of Mount Lebanon.[13]

Although the goal of the rebellion was ostensibly to sabotage Gemayel's negotiations with Syria, Hobeika's former bodyguard, Robert Hatem, said that parochial interests were the primary motivation - the turnover of LF assets to the state would have strengthened the president politically.[14] Instead, the LF strengthened itself vis-a-vis Gemayel by seizing Phalange properties, such as the Voice of Lebanon radio station and the al-Amal newspaper. Nevertheless, the intifadah garnered the support of most Christians and gave Geagea temporary supremacy in the Christian enclave.

Geagea's rebellion was followed days later by a military adventure in south Lebanon. After the 1983 Mountain War, some LF units had redeployed to Christian-inhabited areas in Iklim al-Kharroub, an area between the coast and the Shouf, and the eastern suburbs of the predominantly Sunni port of Sidon. In February 1985, Israeli forces in Lebanon undertook a second major redeployment, from Sidon and its hinterland to south of the Awali River. Palestinian and Sunni Nasserite militia forces quickly asserted control over the city under the watchful eye of LF artillerymen perched in the hilltops east of the city. Although Lebanese army troops entered the city, isolated clashes occurred sporadically.

On March 18th, however, LF militiamen in the eastern suburbs began expelling Sunni residents of nearby villages and opened fire on Muslim militia positions in Sidon, forcing over 25,000 civilians to flee their homes - a provocation that led the city's Maronite bishop to join Muslim leaders in condemning the LF. A coalition of Sunni and Palestinian militias then went on the offensive against LF forces. After a month of fighting, during which the LF forces suffered no more than a few dozen casualties, Geagea suddenly ordered his men to pull out of the area and return to Beirut. The tragedy that unfolded was a repeat of the Shouf disaster - around 40,000 Christians were driven from their homes and forced to take refuge in Jezzine.

The LF blamed Gemayel for the disaster and criticized Aoun for refusing to deploy the army so long as the LF remained in the area. However, Aoun and Gemayel understood that support for the government would have plummeted if the army had reinforced LF positions and it is doubtful that Geagea expected this when he initiated the conflict. Historian Theodore Hanf, whose study of the war in Lebanon is by far the most authoritative effort to probe the underlying motivations behind key decisions throughout the conflict, was puzzled by the LF adventure in Sidon: "No convincing explanation has ever been offered of why the Lebanese Forces provoked the fighting and then pulled out." Gemayel's advisor, Joseph Abu Khalil, later suggested that the LF deliberately intended to cause an exodus of Christians out of the area, both to undermine Christian support for Gemayel's authority and to establish cantons divided among confessional lines.[15]

Elie Hobeika
In any event, the disaster undermined Geagea's newly-won political stature. In May, the LF Executive Committee elected Hobeika chairman. Afterwards, Hobeika issued a statement acknowledging Syria's "fundamental role" in Lebanon and the "link that binds the two countries together in terms of geography, history, and fate."[16] The message was received loud and clear in Damascus - the Syrians turned away from Gemayel, and instead sought to negotiate an agreement by Hobeika, Berri, and Jumblatt that would hand power to militia elites in a Syrianized post-war republic.

As Syrian-mediated discussions among the LF, PSP, and Amal progressed throughout the fall of 1985, Hobeika prepared the way for his own deal with Syria by striking at Gemayel's Phalange loyalists. According to Abu Khalil, "Opposing the authority of Hobeika became hard. Those who dared to do so were faced with intimidation, kidnapping, jailing, or even more.[17]

In late December, Berri, Jumblatt and Hobeika met in Damascus and signed the so-called Tripartite Accord. Not surprisingly, the agreement contained provisions calling for "complete and firm coordination" between Syria and Lebanon on "all issues - Arab, regional, and international." The Lebanese military was to be "rehabilitated with Syrian assistance" and instilled with the capability of "distinguishing the real enemy from the real friend." The agreement was met with fierce opposition within the Lebanese Christian community and criticism from Sunnis (who, lacking a major militia of their own since the defeat of the Mourabitun in March 1984, objected to the idea of empowering militia leaders to decide the nation's fate).

The agreement was unacceptable to Gemayel as it stood. "It was Lebanese in appearance but Syrian in substance," he later recalled. "Its objective was to deliver complete control of Lebanon to Syria."[18] However, the president initially declined to openly support or reject it, hoping that he could persuade the Syrians to amend key provisions. On January 13, he made his 10th visit to Damascus in less than two years in hopes that Assad could be reasoned with, but the Syrian dictator demanded that Gemayel endorse it as is. During Gemayel's absence from the country, Hobeika ordered LF forces to attack Phalange forces in Lebanon who remained loyal to the president. For three days, Gemayel's heavily outnumbered loyalists held out. On January 15, Geagea suddenly defected to Gemayel's side, bringing about half of LF forces with him. The ensuing bloodbath, which left over 350 people dead, resulted in a victory for Gemayel and Geagea. Hobeika was expelled from Beirut and forced to take up residence in the Syrian-controlled Beqaa.


After the scuttling of the Tripartite Accord, Syria's proxies shelled East Beirut relentlessly, called for Gemayel's resignation, and boycotted cabinet meetings, hoping the government would crumble. However, denied the political rewards promised them under the terms of the Tripartite Accord, Syria's militia proxies soon turned on each other with ferocity. Intense fighting between Amal and the PSP in west Beirut erupted during the summer of 1986, followed by a war in the southern suburbs between Amal and Hezbollah. These outbreaks of violence served as a pretext for Syria's military intelligence chief in Beirut, Maj. Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, to expand the Syrian military presence in Lebanon. Hundreds of Syrian troops entered west Beirut in July 1986 to maintain security, followed by the deployment of a larger force of 7,500 in February 1987. In May 1988, Syrian troops entered the southern suburbs to halt fighting between Amal and Hezbollah.

Gemayel condemned the Syrian deployments, but was powerless to block them, for Assad was no longer interested in reaching an accommodation with the Lebanese president. Instead, the Syrians sought to isolate Gemayel and consolidate their grip on the country, while awaiting the expiration of his term in September 1988. In February of that year, Gemayel narrowly avoided assassination when a sophisticated explosive device was discovered on his plane at the airport in Beirut, then under the control of Syrian troops. Syrian intelligence officers quickly seized the device before Lebanese police could determine its origin. Gemayel, who had experienced eight previous assassination attempts before and during his presidency, was unfazed.

As Gemayel's term drew to a close, the Syrians sought to ensure the election of a new president that would accept Syrian hegemony over Lebanon by threatening and intimidating Lebanese deputies, while securing American acquiescence in exchange for promises to free Western hostages held by Amal and Hezbollah. However, the LF successfully prevented parliament members in areas under its control to convene and elect a president. Fifteen minutes before the expiration of his term, Gemayel appointed Gen. Aoun interim prime minister to head a caretaker government until parliament could freely elect the next president.

Gemayel did not remain in Lebanon long enough to witness Aoun's dramatic, but failed, attempt to liberate the country by force of arms in 1989-90. Ten days after Gemayel left office, Geagea's forces swarmed into Metn and the former president's 500-1000 Phalange loyalists surrendered peacefully. Gemayel left Lebanon shortly thereafter, reportedly after the LF threatened the safety of his family.[19]

Exile and Return

Following his departure, the nightmare that Gemayel had sought to avert during his presidency became a reality. After invading East Beirut and defeating Aoun's forces in 1990, Damascus installed a succession of puppet governments, dominated by pro-Syrian warlords and tacitly supported by the United States. and other Western countries.

Gemayel resided in Paris during his twelve years in exile, but traveled frequently to Western capitals in an effort to persuade American and European officials to end their implicit recognition of Syrian hegemony in Lebanon. Whether writing in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal or speaking before the US Congress, his articulate and eloquent calls for the restoration of Lebanese political and territorial sovereignty helped ensure that this forsaken cause was not forgotten. Although the Phalange Party in Lebanon slipped into political obscurity, Gemayel worked tirelessly to organize and inspire its chapters in the Lebanese Diaspora to carry on the fight for Lebanese independence.

Gemayel decided to return to Lebanon in July 2000, believing that the withdrawal of Israeli forces in May and the death of Syrian President Hafez Assad had created a historic "opportunity to start a new relationship with Syria, based on mutual respect for both nations," and "to achieve true dialogue and peace among all Lebanese." The political situation at that time was sharply polarized between government elites who came to power through Syrian-orchestrated elections and a loose coalition of nationalist opposition groups, most notably Aoun's Free National Current (FNC, also known as the "Free Patriotic Movement) and underground elements of the LF loyal to Geagea, who flatly rejected the post-war political order (and was imprisoned in 1994). The Christian political establishment was caught in the middle and paralyzed. The former president believed that bridging these divisions was imperative if the Lebanese people were to persuade the son and heir of the late Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad, to disengage from the country.

Some Lebanese sources claimed that the former president obtained permission from Syria to return in exchange for assurances that he would not cross certain "red lines." Although Gemayel denied that there was ever such a deal, his criticism of the Syrians and their Lebanese allies was muted during his first few months back in Lebanon. Hoping to cultivate an atmosphere of accommodation, he proclaimed that he was "ready and willing to have brotherly and fruitful cooperation" with Syria's new president and met with top figures of the Lebanese regime.[20]

However, Gemayel quickly began working to thwart Syria's efforts to seize control of the Phalange Party. Mounir al-Hajj, the president of the party since March 1999, had aligned himself with Damascus and was running on the electoral slate of then-Interior Minister Michel Murr in the 2000 parliamentary elections, which had outraged many Christians, as this coalition also included the SSNP - the group that assassinated Bashir Gemayel. At the last minute, Gemayel's son, Pierre, entered the race and managed to defeat Hajj - a stunning electoral upset that not only humiliated Hajj and destroyed him politically, but demonstrated that grassroots Christian campaigning could prevail in the Metn over Murr's powerful electoral machine.

In April 2001, Gemayel played a major role in establishing the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, a loose coalition of Christian public figures (including nine members of parliament) who opposed the Syrian occupation, endorsed by Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir. Gemayel also facilitated Jumblatt's "conversion" to the nationalist cause. His visit to the Druze leader's ancestral home in Mukhtara paved the way for a visit by the Maronite patriarch to the Shouf and a broader process of Christian-Druze reconciliation. Under pressure from the Syrians, Jumblatt later disassociated himself from Qornet Shehwan Gathering, but the initiative nevertheless demonstrated that the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty is not merely a Christian goal, but a national one.

Mounir al-Hajj
Realizing that the former president's efforts to build a unified pro-sovereignty coalition within the Christian community and beyond threatened its own Christian allies, Syria launched a campaign to prevent Gemayel from assuming control of the Phalange Party. The Syrians threw their support behind Karim Pakradouni. Although Pakradouni had originally expressed support for Gemayel, he abruptly began attacking the former president in 2001 as the security agencies worked to threaten and intimidate other members of the Phalange politburo. Two months before the October 2001 party elections, the security forces launched a massive crackdown against critics of the Syrian occupation, arresting scores of people.

Not surprisingly, amid this climate of fear and intimidation, the Syrians got their way - but they knew that Pakradouni's victory would be hollow unless Gemayel endorsed it. After the election, Lebanese Prosecutor-General Adnan Addoum, a Syrian appointee, threatened to indict Gemayel for embezzlement in connection with the Defense Ministry's purchase of Puma helicopters in the 1980s - despite the fact that a parliamentary committee had investigated the case in the early 1990s and found no connection between Gemayel and the Defense Ministry, which operated on its own regarding military purchases (former Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss had also publicly cleared Gemayel of the charges).

Gemayel not only refused to accept Pakradouni's victory, which he called a "conspiracy to end the role of the Phalange" in Lebanon's political life, but in July 2002 launched a "reform movement" dedicated to restoring the party's independence. In response, the regime increased pressure on the former president. Addoum officially renewed the Puma helicopter investigation in September and, a few weeks later, activated a libel suit previously filed by Pakradouni against Gemayel for publicly characterizing his replacement of Hajj as "prostitution replacing prostitution."

Gemayel says that he has received assassination threats and warnings to leave the country, but insists that he will not be intimidated into leaving or revising his political views. Unlike Aoun's nationalist movement, Gemayel supports implementation of the Taif Accord - a 1989 agreement, endorsed (under American and Saudi pressure) by surviving members of the 1972 parliament, which provided the constitutional framework for Lebanon's Second Republic. "[It] is now a part of the Constitution and we are asking for its implementation, pure and simple," he said in an August 2002 interview. Full implementation of the accord would require the establishment of a government of national unity, the disarmament of all militias (including Hezbollah), and the deployment of the army in south Lebanon. Gemayel added that Syria's failure to withdraw from Lebanon violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the accord. "In Ghabat Bolonia, formerly one of the most prosperous tourism areas in Lebanon . . . all you see is abandoned villas, destroyed buildings and Syrian Army personnel walking all over the place," he complained. "Are these strategic positions to counter Israeli aggression?"[21]


  [1] The Associated Press, 23 September 1982.
  [2] The New York Times, 29 September 1982.
  [3] Al-Sayyad (Beirut), 22 October 1982.
  [4] While the Israelis sought to negotiate at the highest political levels, Gemayel was willing to negotiate only through lower ranking representatives.
  [5] Theodore Hanf, Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon: Decline of a State and Rise of a Nation (London: IB Tauris, 1993), p.287.
  [6] See Karen Dawisha, "The USSR in the Middle East: Superpower in Eclipse?" Foreign Affairs, Winter 1982/83, pp. 438-452.
  [7] Itamar Rabinovich, The War for Lebanon: 1970-1985 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 187.
  [8] Elie A. Salem, Violence and Diplomacy in Lebanon (London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1995), p. 111.
  [9] The full text of Gemayel's request, addressed directly to Assad, is provided by Salem, pp. 115-116.
  [10] During the final days of his presidency, President Sarkis asked the Arab League to suspend the mandate of the Arab Deterrent Force - the mechanism under which Syrian troops had received Arab League permission to occupy Lebanon.
  [11] Interview with author, Paris, 18 February 2000. Gemayel later accused Israel of responsibility for the LF withdrawal from Bhamdoun, saying that there were "moles inside the LF . . . implementing its orders." Abu Khalil also believes that the defeat of the LF in the Shouf was due to Israeli penetration of its ranks. (Abu Khalil, p 250.)
  [12] Interview with Gemayel, Paris, 18 February 2000.
  [13] Interview with EHobeika and Abu Khalil, Al-Jazeera, 12 December 2000. See also Abu Khalil, Kossat el-Mawarenah, p 328.
  [14] Robert M. Hatem, From Israel to Damascus: The Painful Road of Blood, Betrayal and Deception (La Mesa, CA: Pride International Publications, 1999), p. 73. Some, including Aoun, charge that Geagea and his elite were smuggling drugs through the Barbara checkpoint in cooperation with the Syrians, but no tangible evidence of this has ever come to light.
  [15] Abu Khalil, p. 338.
  [16] Abu Khalil, pp. 351-2.
  [17] Abu Khalil., pp. 269, 378.
  [18] Interview with Gemayel, Paris, 18 February 2000.
  [19] The Daily Star (Beirut), 31 July 2000.
  [20] Al-Hayat (London), 25 June 1995.
  [21] The Daily Star (Beirut), 5 August 2002.

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