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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Israel and the Lebanon Quagmire, 1982


The Rise and Fall of Bachir Gemayel

Israel and the Lebanon Quagmire, 1982

by Jacques Neriah

Published in Hebrew by Steimatzky, 2018

The Rise and Fall of Bachir Gemayel: The Story of Israel and the Lebanon Quagmire, 1982

Introduction – Dr. Shimon Shapira

Many books have been written about the First Lebanon War, which broke out in the summer of 1982. This book came into the world as a result of the great interest that the war still arouses, both in Israel and abroad. It primarily discusses the character of Bachir Gemayel, the commander of the Christian militia and president of Lebanon for a brief moment, how he managed to establish a place for the Christians, the Christians’ influence upon the Lebanese state, and their relationship with Israel.

Gemayel was a charismatic figure. He also managed to attract a considerable number of Israelis, including members of the Mossad, who respected him. In February 1982, a few months before the outbreak of the First Lebanon War, I met him in Tabarja, north of Beirut. Bachir was wearing a neatly pressed army uniform, without any stripes.

“Why don’t you have any stripes?” I asked.

He answered me with a question: “Were there stripes in the Palmach and the Haganah [Israel’s pre-state militias]?”

Gemayel knew the Israeli leadership personally: Prime Minister Begin, Defense Minister Sharon, Chief of Staff Eitan, and many other IDF generals and officers by their first names. Some of them were captivated by his charm.

In the years preceding the First Lebanon War, the State of Israel’s main interest was focused upon the various Christian forces in Lebanon, mostly from the Maronite community. There were also contacts with the Druze leadership, but these were very minor. The Shiites, who were a large minority, did not arouse any particular interest among the Israelis. The great interest in the Christians left very little attention for the Shiites, if at all. The obscurity of information that shrouded the Shiites in Lebanon did not only apply to the Israeli intelligence community. Academic research was not particularly productive. On the eve of the First Lebanon War, there were few analyses that could illuminate this darkness.

The lack of information, which at times bordered on ignorance, harmed Israel’s intelligence decisions and formed the basis of the illusion that it was possible to elect a Maronite president in Beirut who had Israeli backing and would make peace with Israel.

Israel sank into the Lebanese mire for a period of 18 years, engaging in local skirmishes with Hizbullah, a Shiite militia that the Iranians established in Lebanon. After much bloodshed, Israel was compelled, as a result of Hizbullah firepower, to withdraw for the first time from the territory it had taken from this Arab country. Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah became a pan-Arab hero along the lines of Egyptian ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The continued Hizbullah military presence in Lebanon created two myths with regard to the history of the Shiite militia that should be dispelled. The first is that Hizbullah came into existence as a result of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. The second is that when Israel withdrew from Lebanon, Hizbullah would become a political party and lay down its arms. Yes, this was an additional illusion, just before the Israeli withdrawal in 2000. In fact, historical research based on Iranian material asserts that Hizbullah was established by the Iranians as an alternative to the Shiite Amal movement, which refused to accept the principle of the supremacy of Ayatollah Khomeini. This principle required the Shiites’ absolute obedience to the leader of Iran – Khomeini at first and subsequently Khamenei. When Amal refused to accept this principle, a decision was made in Tehran to establish Hizbullah, even before the First Lebanon War broke out. Indeed, the First Lebanon War, which went on for years, fanned the flames of the Shiite Revolution, which molded Hizbullah as an Iranian militia in every way.

With regard to the second myth, it was obvious even before the Israeli withdrawal that removing Israeli forces from Lebanon would not turn Hizbullah into a political party that would disarm. This was because, as a jihadist movement with its leadership in Tehran and its purpose of serving as a weapon in the Iranian jihad against Israel, there was no chance that Hizbullah would disarm and become a political party.

Jacques Neriah combines unique research insight with rich experience and many years of involvement with Lebanon. Together, these form a firm basis for the writing of this fascinating book, which is different from all of the other books that have been written about Lebanon until now because it looks at Israel through Lebanese eyes. – Dr. Shimon Shapira, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, November 2017

* * *

Below is the final chapter of Jacques Neriah’s book, translated by Naomi Grossman:

The Crisis with Israel

Israel’s clandestine relationship with Bachir Gemayel had been carried out for several years. The critical moment of time had come; Israel’s Defense Forces crossed into Lebanon on June 6, 1982.

Bachir Gemayel
Bachir Gemayel

Israel had great expectations of Bachir Gemayel, but the greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment. While nothing operative had been agreed upon with Bachir before the war, the Israeli leaders and also the commanders of its military believed far too naively that he would do anything to prove his loyalty and gratitude to Israel. The illusions that arose, with the active assistance of the Lebanese Forces and the Christian lobby in Israel, were shattered during the first few hours of the war when they discovered that Bachir refused to send his forces into combat alongside the IDF. On June 8, the first doubts crept into Sharon’s mind about future relations with Bachir Gemayel. Sharon asserted that Bachir had changed his status and was no longer the leader of the “gangs.” He had become a politician on a national level. Sharon expressed his concern that the change in status also meant a change in nature.

It was clear as daylight that the objectives of “Operation Peace for Galilee” or “The First Lebanon War,” as it is more commonly called today, were the minimum objectives of Bachir Gemayel. The way that Israel behaved toward him until the outbreak of hostilities attests to a huge lack of confidence in Bachir’s strength, concerns that his command would leak confidential information about Israel’s methods, and a lack of desire to involve him in its exact moves. Israel’s planners and forecasters were sure that Bachir was not strong enough to assist the IDF in the fighting. For this reason, the strategies for the war were planned without considering his position.

“If we thought that it was essential for the IDF to land in Jounieh, we’d land there,” said Chief of Staff Eitan.

Gemayal embracing IDF Chief of Staff Raful Eitan in Lebanon
Gemayal embracing IDF Chief of Staff Raful Eitan in Lebanon

From the Israeli point of view, the Christians would take care of West Beirut. This matter remained unresolved until the war broke out. Until the IDF forces joined up with Bachir’s Lebanese Forces on June 13 in Kafr Shima, the Christians were consistently told, sometimes twice a day, “not to do anything until Israel asks you.” Furthermore, from the outset, anyone who came into contact with Bachir knew that since January 1982, he had not been too excited about involving his men in the fighting. He took an approach that his men would only join the fighting if such a measure were seen as absolutely necessary for dragging the IDF into a broader range of combat. All of Bachir’s deliberations were known to the Israeli representatives, and nothing changed in his position until the fighting began. From this point of view, it was an ironic kind of “completion of goals” between Israel and Bachir. Effectively, the discrepancy in perception, like the objectives of the war, was very profound and each side only sought how to exploit the other side for its own purposes.

It is therefore worthwhile analyzing the reasons for the crisis that occurred in relations between Israel and Bachir, which included the non-clarification of goals and the contrast between them. Israel and Bachir did not reach any concrete, operative agreement with regard to Bachir’s role in the war because Bachir offered too little and because Israel did not trust the Christians. Bachir was asked to remain on standby. Essentially, Israel’s conduct here is reminiscent of its treatment of the “agent” that some in Israel thought that Bachir represented. Within this framework, there was also a lack of clarity with regard to the few operational agreements that were drawn up with him. With all the talk, it was not possible to know what Bachir’s true positions were. Some thought that the agreements from January 1982 were valid, while others disregarded them, while yet others considered the talks in March 1982 as the source of Bachir’s obligations.

Public and political pressure in Israel was the main cause, if not the only one, of the development of hostility toward Bachir. This attitude began to be felt from the stage of the “alliance,” as the war continued to rage and the siege of Beirut intensified, and the Lebanese Forces continued to refrain from any significant combat. The Israeli public could not bear to see the images that appeared in the media broadcast from Lebanon, of calm Christians bathing in the sea and having fun, as if they weren’t affected by anything going on around them and were not even interested, while IDF soldiers were fighting for a cause presented as a historical opportunity for the Christians to establish their own independent state. As long as the conflict continued, the strange behavior of an ally who was not prepared to fight his own battle became less and less understood, especially as he was seen in Israel as someone who had only won the presidency due to the IDF’s military intervention. Under public and political pressure, Israeli representatives approached Bachir and asked him to take significant action. However, Bachir continued to refuse, and Israel officially stopped pressuring him, even though it found it hard to give an explanation that would satisfy Israeli public opinion as to the absence of Bachir’s cooperation.

Bashir Gemayel (far right) and Ariel Sharon, 1982
Bashir Gemayel (far right) and Ariel Sharon, 1982

From here it was a small step toward blaming the Christians for their treachery and two-faced behavior. It is interesting to note that Minister Sharon himself stated at the end of July 1982 that in every meeting with Bachir, he clearly felt that the latter was following a path of political goals and this affected his approach, also determining his attitude toward both military activities and contact with the Americans. Nonetheless, Sharon suggested that Israel should not change its attitude toward him. Sharon stated that he thought that the Christians had dug themselves in. Three years after the war, Sharon admitted, “Did we believe that they would fight more? Yes. Did we build on them fighting? No.” Chief of Staff Raful Eitan wrote, “We had doubts about some of the Christians during the war. There were unfulfilled expectations. There were assumptions that were proven false.” Gradually, public feeling in Israel permeated the ranks of the army, and feelings of joy and understanding gave way to an attitude of deep dismissal and criticism of Bachir and the Christian camp in Lebanon.

Menachem Begin’s inability to understand Bachir’s avoidance of fighting alongside the IDF was the decisive factor that pushed relations with Bachir toward a crisis. Menachem Begin was not fully involved with the connections with Bachir, and evidently he was not privy to Bachir’s twists and turns and position on the issue of involving his forces in the conflict on the side of Israel. When Bachir’s forces took their time to participate in the “cleansing” of Beirut, Menachem Begin expressed his disappointment with him on August 8, 1982, when he accused the Christians of not lifting a finger to assist Israel as it battled the PLO alone.

There is also no doubt that Bachir himself played a considerable role in causing the crisis in his relations with Israel. First of all, he was very misleading when it came to his power. Bachir was asked on more than one occasion to allow IDF officers to assess from close up the situation of his forces to evaluate their fitness. The request of the head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate, Yehoshua Sagi, to keep one of his men with the Lebanese Forces was rejected by the Mossad. Bachir never got a chance to explain properly not only how he would be able to govern all of Lebanon, but how he intended to carry out with his forces the military plans that were presented to Israel in 1982. It was very typical of Bachir’s group to present an overriding goal, such as, “We intend to take care of western Beirut, to connect with the city of Zahlé, to conquer the district of Koura in the north, and to fight against the Syrians and the Palestinians.” However, when going into further detail about the way this would be done, it would suddenly emerge that they “did not intend to do this alone and that they were relying on the Lebanese army.” The Lebanese Forces spoke about connecting with Damour and the agricultural region of Elcharuv (a strip of Sunni land between Damour and Sidon). But no real capability stood behind these words. Like many things in Lebanon, these words gave the impression of real strength rather than of unrealistic plans, and if these things had not been achieved yet, it was because a mysterious force was holding them back.

Nonetheless, it should be remembered that Bachir never promised to fulfill the role that the Israelis had given him in their plans. In all of the discussions with IDF officers and Sharon before the war in Lebanon, he told them, “My problem is the Maronite hinterland, which I intend to protect. I can’t allot too many forces to solving your (!) problem in Beirut.” Bachir was an artist in public relations. He knew how to give his Israeli friends the impression that he could reach secret agreements, but they must not worry about formal agreements. There was one truth for the outside world and another truth for his relations with Israel. This was the mistake that Bachir and the rest of his comrades made.

At the General Staff’s intelligence division, there were officers who were convinced that Bachir was trying to deceive Israel. From the beginning, they explained, forecast, and warned that the Lebanese Forces could not be relied upon because they were not able to do anything, and they did not want to do anything. The officers in the Military Intelligence Directorate quickly began to believe that the talks with the Christians were mere words, and there was nothing practical in “Christian talk.” When the Christians were asked by the officers in the Military Intelligence Directorate how they intended to carry out a plan that seemed beyond their capability, the Christians raised the possibility of moving their forces from one sector to another as soon as one front had been dealt with. However, Israel’s political echelon preferred to ignore the opinion of military intelligence, which it considered to be biased. Here, lay the difference of opinion.

After years of cooperation and contact with Israeli sources, Bachir and his group did not read the political map in Israel correctly. The Lebanese Forces did not understand correctly the implications that could arise from its relations with Israel and the opinion of its public as a result of the conflict of interests created by Bachir’s objective of reaching the presidency “in a legitimate way” and the need and desire of the Israeli leadership and public for public statements of Christian support for the Israeli operation and Christian action in West Beirut. Bachir and his friends did not estimate the strength of public opinion in Israel correctly because they were not aware of its importance in Israeli life. After years of liaising with Israeli representatives, it emerged that the range of existing contacts remained limited to a certain type of personality (who were not always policy makers or those who formed public opinion in Israel.) It seemed to them that they reflected public opinion in Israel. Years of secret dialogue did not allow contact with the Israeli press or public opinion, so for them, Israel was reflected by the people who were sent to Lebanon or with whom they met during their time in Israel. Bachir and his associates did not understand why Israel insisted that they make statements of support for their actions. Furthermore, Bachir’s public positions bothered his Israeli contacts, who told Bachir that he had to understand that the Israeli government could not ignore the anger of the media. Therefore, it was important to get public support in Israel by approaching the Israeli public directly.

The Israeli public and its leadership were particularly bothered by what was perceived as Christian indifference to Israel. Bachir’s expressions about anything to do with his relations with Israel set the tone for the way his associates and the Christian media dealt with Israel. For the Israelis, these expressions turned Bachir Gemayel into “an Arab like all other Arabs,” with one language for the outside world and quite another for internal consumption. In other words, there was an Israeli perception of dishonesty, deception, and lack of trust. There is no doubt that the key sentence in this regard was Bachir’s (correct) pronouncement that, “It’s not my conflict! The Israelis entered into it for themselves, not for us.”

Bachir’s rhetoric quickly made it clear that achieving peace with Israel is an almost impossible task. This was based on the following two assumptions: Lebanon would not yield any of its lands, and it considered an Israeli armed presence on Lebanese soil as a foreign presence. Bachir went too far in his insult to Israel when he stated that, “Regarding relations with Israel, a new Lebanese government will be established and this question will be discussed by this new Lebanese administration.” Here is the position that Bachir presented at his meeting with Saeb Salam on September 11: “I promise to take care of the Syrian-Palestinian withdrawal. I will ask the prime minister to deal with the Israeli withdrawal. Begin and Sharon are currently asking for a peace agreement in order to withdraw from Lebanon. It falls upon the Lebanese, and especially upon the Sunnis, to set the price for their leaving. I am not Israel’s man, and not of any other country. I am Lebanon’s man. I am a man of freedom, sovereignty, and independence for Lebanon within an area of 10,452 sq. km.”

Bachir and his associates did not understand how much the Israeli leadership wanted a second peace treaty. (It was only two months after the removal of the Israeli communities in Sinai, prior to the completion of the withdrawal from there.) Similarly, Israel did not understand the depth of Bachir’s fear of such a connection with it. When asked why the Israeli broadcasts gave so much coverage to the occupation of the university in Rihane, Bachir replied, “With everything that’s happening all around, and especially when the Israelis are in our capital, all of the details have completely changed in our country. What is this miserable skirmish that lasted just a few minutes?” The conquest of Rihane was presented to Israel as a response to its demands.

To a certain extent, Bachir was not honest about his real intentions, or at the very least he was very unclear about his plans for peace. In Israel, they were convinced – and apparently there was something to support this assurance – that Bachir would strive for a very special relationship with Israel. At one of the meals in Israel that Bachir attended with Minister Sharon, his advisor Tamir, and the head of intelligence Sagi, the issue of peace was raised. Bachir said, “Let’s assume that it will be all right. We fought a war; we won the war. What kind of government would you like to see in Lebanon? A narrow one or a broad one?” Yehoshua Sagi asked, “What is a narrow or a broad government in Lebanon?” Bachir replied, “A narrow one is when we Christians establish a government. A broad one is when you manage to create an order with all of the other religions.” Again, Sagi asked, “What do you mean by a narrow government?” Bachir explained, “When you help us to essentially destroy all the rest.”

These kinds of statements only gave Israel the feeling that Bachir was prepared to take his relations with Israel to a higher level. This feeling would be Begin’s undoing. For this reason, from the very first day of the war, questions such as, “What are you doing? Why aren’t they moving? Why aren’t they liberating their capital city?” bothered the Israeli prime minister. During the war, Begin asked one of the Israelis who knew Bachir very well what his intentions were. When he heard that Bachir wanted to be the president, Begin interrupted him and said that he thought he was a young freedom fighter and not someone whose first priority was to seek government.

The Israelis, through the journalists who arrived in Beirut at the beginning of the “alliance,” were surprised by the Christian way of thinking and what they saw on their television screens. On the one hand, the Christians welcomed the Israeli soldiers warmly. They called them “saviors” and “liberators,” and they emphasized that they were “the Christian nation,” which made them different from the “Palestinian and Muslim nation.” They also mentioned their closeness to the Jews, the resemblance between the Christian and Jewish nations, and the unity that fate had created between them. Christian merchants had no problem accepting Israeli cash in exchange for the services they provided Israeli soldiers, who converted it into dollars and Lebanese pounds at mobile banks sent to Lebanon by Israeli banking institutions. On the other hand, the Christians treated the Israelis in the same way that soccer fans worship their local team. They were proud that their team won, encouraged it to keep scoring new goals, and thought that flattering words, thanks, and applause would satisfy the Israelis, who wanted them to fight alongside them like true allies. Indeed, under the pretense of expressing their readiness to fight, the Christians demanded from Israel – at every level – that it should continue the momentum and complete the work that it had started. Therefore, when a Lebanese engineer was asked his opinion, he wondered, “How can you put an end to Palestinian terror and international terror without conquering all of Lebanon? If you conquered all of Lebanon, it would put an end to international terror within three or four months. Afterward, there would be an agreement where an international force could take the places of all the foreign armies, which would leave (meaning the Syrians, Palestinians, and Israelis). We hope that there would also be a new government that would prevent the formation of a new terrorist force in Lebanon. If you only take the south, you will leave the Beqaa Valley in Syrian hands. You would not be able to reach the secondary objective that you created for yourselves (destroying international terror. The first objective was to fight the Palestinians.) The Israeli army has to be the last to leave Lebanon because if Israel exits Lebanon while the Syrian army is encamped in its territory, we won’t be able to establish a strong country while foreign forces are on Lebanese land.”

While the ruminations of the Lebanese engineer (which were repeated and heard by hundreds of other Lebanese people) were hypothetical, the politicians really did intend Israel to do all the work on its own. Disregarding the sensitivities of the Israeli public, they revealed these thoughts to the Israeli media, receiving a lot of negative feedback in Israel.

Reporter Charles Enderlin of the French–language Israeli broadcasting service first interviewed Pierre Gemayel at the home of the Kataeb Party leader, who was still wearing pajamas (and an elegant silk scarf around his neck). Gemayel faithfully reiterated his worldview, not even bothering to hide the anti-Semitic undertones in his statements: “I don’t want to get into the political question, but I know that this military action is going to change this part of the world completely. I hope that this action will be to Lebanon’s benefit. After all, after God comes Lebanon, and I am Lebanese first of all. We are against all occupation. I believe that the Jewish people, which is one of the most intelligent nations in the world, wants to rule the world and it has to understand us.”

When Gemayel was asked about his connections with the Land of Israel before the establishment of the state, he revealed that “we had a chocolate factory in Lebanon, and I used to drive there. Each time, I noticed how the Jews were spreading and establishing facts on the ground. ”Gemayel was asked if he intended to visit Israel in the near future. At first, he replied, “When there will be peace,” but immediately afterward he corrected himself: “When I can.” He understood that he had to explain his position, and he said, “We have managed, after many efforts, not to be foreigners… Why should we have bad relations with the Arab world? Try, like us, not to be a foreign entity. If Lebanon were Christian, it would not be Lebanon. And if it were Muslim, it would not be Lebanon.” 

Gemayel did not explain clearly enough that Israel should not ask the Christians to do things that would turn them into a foreign entity in the Arab world. He did this in an additional interview with the same Israeli reporter, when he said, “Every cultured person must help us preserve the Lebanese National Pact (the treaty of 1943), (and even more so) the Jewish people, which is one of the most cultured nations. Fourteen or 15 million Jews control the world (the press, media, science, medicine).” The reporter attempted to clarify Gemayel’s thoughts even further by asking, “How can Israel help?” Pierre Gemayel replied, “By understanding us and acting accordingly.”

The harshest of all was former Lebanese president Camille Chamoun. When asked at the end of June for his evaluation of the situation, he answered: “What the Israeli army needs is to keep on doing this and not to stop in the middle… If the army carried on without stopping, we would not be talking now about the little skirmishes that occur on the ground.” The reporter asked why the Lebanese Forces did not join in with the fighting. Chamoun’s reply was particularly arrogant: “And for what? Isn’t the Israeli army able to continue its military actions, which it began with its own means, alone? I am not protecting the Lebanese Forces, but their participation (in combat) would not add anything on the political front,” Chamoun asserted.

In a newspaper interview with another Israeli reporter, Chamoun claimed that the Lebanese Forces could not act in West Beirut because the idea of Christians killing Lebanese Muslims would be intolerable (!) “The Christians are decreed to live with the Muslims,” Chamoun added. “But this is not the case with Israel.” Chamoun suddenly became a staunch defender of Lebanon’s belonging to the Arab world and the Arab League in spite of Arab aggression toward Lebanon. For this specific reason, he claimed that Lebanon could not sign a peace agreement with Israel. “The most that could be done is a mutual security treaty, under which Israel would pledge not to invade any more Lebanese territory, and the Lebanese government would pledge to prevent organizations and groups hostile to Israel from threatening its security. In the special circumstances that Lebanon is in, this would be the simplest, most logical solution.”

With this behavior, and especially with these pronouncements, the Christians precipitated a crisis of faith between Israeli public opinion and its leadership, who could not explain to the nation the meaning of the Christians’ refusal to fight alongside the IDF. The Christians played this situation for all it was worth. The war was described as a conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and Syrians (“We have no part in this.”). The Christians used many excuses to justify the calmness of life in Jounieh and acted like “freedom fighters.” It seemed as if everyone was “members of the resistance” or acted within it. Others expressed surprise over questions seeking to clarify whether there was any shooting from the eastern part of the city toward the west. “What do you mean?! Since the beginning of the war, all such shooting has stopped!” There were also those who made the press interviews conditional on not having to answer any political questions. There were also skeptics who expressed a desire “for Israel not deciding on our presidents for us,” and that it should not become another occupying force like the Syrians.

In the end, there is no doubt that the role played by the United States in distancing Bachir from Israel, as well as Bachir’s attempt to benefit from both worlds (Israel and the United States), accentuated the extent to which the feeling that Bachir was deceiving Israel prevailed among Israeli leaders. The assumption of U.S. representatives in the region was that Bachir had to attain the presidency in a legal fashion, and at the very least he had to try in this way. As this was what they believed, it was clear to the Americans that Bachir could not be president if approaches to Muslim representatives were permanently blocked and the latter avoided Parliament on the date of the election. A Muslim rejection of Bachir was very possible due to his public image of an unyielding Christian fighter. From this point of view, open cooperation with the Israelis, including participating in the fighting, would scuttle his chances of being a legitimate president. For this reason, it was necessary to distance him from Israel as far as possible and turn him into an American asset by preventing him from being identified as an Israeli agent. Accordingly, when Lebanese Forces were dispatched to fight in south-west Beirut, and they took over the buildings of the Arab University in Rihane after murdering 22 Shiite civilians there, U.S. representatives warned Bachir that he was making a huge mistake and that such actions would distance him from a legal presidency forever.

The Israelis soon accused the United States of trying to foment discord between them and Bachir, and this caused growing friction between U.S. representatives in the region and Israeli representatives. Consciously, or maybe unconsciously, Bachir himself caused the situation to escalate. In his meetings with Israeli representatives, he would cynically say in jest: “Do you know what your friends told me? Not to deal with you!” While the United States and Israel were doing their best to help him to succeed, he apparently thought that he could prosper from the discord between them because both the United States and Israel had invested a lot of effort in him. Therefore, the price for Bachir’s support for either side rose accordingly. It is interesting to note that the Americans in the region sensed that they were the ones that tipped the balance in favor of Bachir in his race for the presidency and that without them Bachir would never have succeeded in being elected president. The Israelis were also convinced that without their actions, it was very doubtful whether Bachir would have been elected to the position.

Bachir shamelessly exploited the rivalry between Israel and the United States. It was maybe typical of the way he worked that on the night of his election as president, he suddenly appeared at the house where the U.S. representatives lived, with warm words of gratitude: “It wouldn’t have been possible without you.” He did not tell the Americans that he paid a similar visit to the Israelis and also thanked them for their help and told them that he would not have been elected without them. The hostility between the U.S. representatives in the area and Israel was so great that it did not occur to either side that Bachir would say the exact same words to each of them. They simply had no idea, and apparently, they also did not imagine that the “loyal” Bachir would pay such a visit to both of them to thank them for all of their efforts. Bachir also made sure not to tell the Americans that he met with the Israelis or vice versa.

Bachir felt that he had a special debt of gratitude to U.S. negotiators Philip Habib and Morris Draper for the long hours they invested in him, their advice, and the immense effort they made when it was decided that the United States should back Bachir in the presidential elections. Draper and Habib were the first foreigners to visit Bachir at his new home in Bakifa on the day after his meeting with Begin in Nahariya (on September 2). He told them what went on at the meeting and his disappointment with the Israeli prime minister. Bachir did not forget to inform the Americans with whom he was in contact that the announcement of the “Reagan Plan” on September 1, 1982, worsened the crisis in his relations with Begin. Begin sensed that the United States was trying to detach Israel from all its achievements in the First Lebanon War, including the defeat of the PLO and its removal as a political entity that needed to be considered in every debate and negotiation over the future of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. The United States, he thought, wanted to take control of Bachir and distance him from Israel.

If Begin expected that the defeat of the PLO in Lebanon would strengthen Israel’s position in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, he suddenly realized that the United States was on the verge of using the war in Lebanon for a general political initiative that did not fit in with his understanding or worldview.

With his sharp senses, Bachir Gemayel was aware at this time of the “creaks” emerging in his relations with Israel. However, after becoming the president-elect, his relations with Israel lurched even more sharply toward a crisis. This is what loomed in the background when Bachir Gemayel, his advisors, and a professor of international law from Beirut University were flown late at night on September 1, 1982, to Nahariya for Bachir’s first meeting with Begin since his election as president.

Bachir arrived in a good mood, believing that he would receive Begin’s congratulations on being elected to the presidency. For the next two hours, Bachir had to wait for the Israeli prime minister’s arrival. He did not know that exactly at that time U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis presented Menachem Begin with a dispatch from U.S. President Reagan regarding his plan, which he was going to announce the following day. The location of the meeting was the office of the manager of the Shekem store in Nahariya, which was a fair distance away. Therefore, when Begin finally arrived, he was in a despondent, angry mood. Begin hardly responded to Bachir’s warm hug, and at first, he even refused to shake his hand. Afterward, he approached Bachir and said that he would speak to him as a father speaks to his son. He always believed that he would become the president of Lebanon and would lead his country toward independence and full sovereignty over all of its territory, toward democracy and peace with its neighbors… Over the past few years, Israel had been determined to prevent the annihilation of the Christians. Begin emphasized Israel’s sensitivity to the continued existence of minorities in the area and the “lifelong covenant” that connected it to the Christians in their shared war against terror organizations. Now, Begin asserted, the time has come to build a joint future for both nations, based on peaceful relations and good neighborliness. Everyone present rose to their feet and drank a toast to their guest. In his response, Bachir Gemayel praised Begin and thanked Israel for their help and for creating a situation in which he could be elected president. At the end of his speech, he and Begin withdrew with a handful of advisors into another room.

The first question that Begin asked was what Bachir’s intentions were with regard to a peace treaty with Israel. Begin told Bachir that after being sworn in as president in another 21 days, Bachir should invite him to visit Beirut. After that, Bachir would visit Jerusalem, where he would sign a peace treaty with Israel. Bachir replied that he was not able to sign a peace treaty so quickly and that he would need an extension of a year. Begin had planned that the ceremony for signing the peace treaty would take place on December 31, 1982. Eventually, a quarrel broke out between them, during which Begin raged at Bachir and rebuked him for not doing what he had been asked when he refrained from joining in the fighting in Beirut. Bachir felt humiliated. He turned to Begin and asked him, “What is better for you, Mr. Begin? Is a dead friend better, or a real friend who is alive, but not in a state of peace?” Bachir promised that until the peace treaty was signed, there would be normalization between Israel and Lebanon, with open borders. At this point, Bachir cited the relations that had existed between Israel and the Shah of Iran as an example to emulate. Bachir even suggested that the Lebanese Forces could become a border guard (a suggestion that had been apparently coordinated with Draper, or at least was known to him) and that a military checkpoint for the security of the communities in northern Israel would be set up.

One critical point in the conversation was the issue of Maj. Saad Haddad the founder and head of the pro-Israel militia, the South Lebanon Army. (Begin wanted Haddad to be appointed as commander of the southern region, which would at least raise his rank if he could not be the chief of general staff or an army commander.) Bachir claimed that Haddad would have to undergo a (symbolic) trial in Beirut, but he promised that he would be acquitted. This remark only aroused Begin’s anger all the more. Begin remarked that it was better for Bachir to first of all deal with all of Israel’s enemies in the Kataeb party, who were forging unhealthy alliances with the Syrians and also non-Syrians. Bachir paled in anger and felt insulted, yet throughout the conversation, he treated Begin with respect and spoke to him very politely.

When Begin parted from Bachir, he promised to call him again before September 22. Bachir asked Begin several times not to publicize this meeting, and Begin promised to fulfill this request. Bachir later told his father: “He treated me like a child.” When he returned from Nahariya, and news of his meeting with Begin had appeared in Jerusalem, Bachir announced that he was cutting off all contact with Israel and he would not allow any of his staff to meet with the Israelis. Bachir did not want Sharon to visit him, but he did agree to a visit from Yitzhak Hofi, head of the Mossad. Bachir escorted him throughout his visit. He only agreed to meet Sharon the following day.

The last meeting between Bachir Gemayel and Ariel Sharon took place on September 12 at the home of the Gemayel family in Bakifa, two days before Bachir was murdered. Bachir agreed to meet with Sharon because he wanted the IDF forces to remain in Lebanon until his government was established. However, he also had another motive that, from Bachir’s point of view, was no less important or crucial. In spite of the affection that he felt toward Bachir, Sharon continued to see him as a way to implement his policies. He was supposed to give Israel something political in exchange, upon which future relations would be based. Sharon asserted that if Bachir refused to sign a peace treaty, not all of southern Lebanon would be his. During several debates, several officers from Israel’s Northern Command had suggested a radical change in policy to Sharon.  The officers said that Israel should create an increased security zone in southern Lebanon while strengthening Haddad and building a treaty with the Shiites. Such a step, the officers admitted, could essentially lead to the de facto division of Lebanon, and Bachir would only become the president of a Christian enclave in the north. Sharon was not inclined to listen to the suggestion of the officers of Northern Command, but he understood that to strengthen Haddad there would be no other choice than to distance the Lebanese Forces from southern Lebanon if they did not agree to work with Haddad. For this reason, Sharon sought to put pressure on Bachir to integrate Haddad in his future plans under the threat of Israel doing whatever it wanted in the south with the aid of Haddad’s military framework. At the beginning of the war, Haddad’s soldiers were not allowed to move further north beyond the area called the “Haddad Strip,” which was under their control in 1978. Afterward, they were permitted to station themselves as far as the Awali River, north of Sidon, and 300 soldiers from the Lebanese Forces that were stationed in the south were ordered to leave the area. Chief of Staff Raful Eitan managed at the last minute to prevent the transfer of a symbolic armored force of Haddad’s men to Beirut to take part in the battle for the city. Eitan feared that the general of Northern Command intended to show that while Bachir refused to take part in the fighting, Haddad’s men were prepared to give their support.

As mentioned earlier, the south was removed from the authority of the Lebanese Forces in less than two months, contrary to the principal agreement between Israel and Bachir, according to which Bachir’s representatives were supposed to organize the south. Therefore, when the crisis arose between Bachir and Begin in Nahariya, Bachir’s first concern was that Israel, in response, would decide to cut off the south from the north permanently, making him the  president of a Christian enclave only, and appoint Haddad as ruler under him over the land between the Beirut-Damascus Highway and the international border with Israel.

The final meeting between Bachir Gemayel and Ariel Sharon began with a relaxed atmosphere and ended at 2 am. In the end, it appeared as if the rift had been repaired. In Bakifa, Sharon informed Bachir that Israel would continue to support the Christians and that there was no need to worry about Israel changing its position. He hinted clearly that Israel did not intend to hinder Bachir’s position in the south. Regarding the question of a peace treaty, it was agreed that two teams should be set up, Lebanese and Israeli, to begin secret negotiations for formal talks. The members of the Lebanese team included Zahi Boustani, Joseph Abou Khalil, and Jean Nader. Nonetheless, it is not clear whether Bachir intended to sign a peace treaty since this seems to relate more to secret agreements under the exclusive authority of the lawful president of the Lebanese Republic. Similarly, a plan was discussed for the Lebanese Forces taking control of “the French room” with the intensive assistance of the Israeli Air Force. It was understood that if there were any complications, the Israeli Air Force would provide help. Fadi Frem was supposed to coordinate the military action with Gen. Amir Drori of Northern Command.

An understanding was also achieved about West Beirut. Bachir reiterated to his guest his intention of destroying the Palestinian refugee camps in the west of the city and building a parking lot and a large zoo in their place. The Sabra camp would be replaced by the zoo, and Shatilla by a parking lot. Some claim that Bachir also intended to build a memorial to the IDF soldiers who fell in the conflict in Lebanon. Bachir planned to erect a similar memorial in Damour in memory of Maj. Gen. Yekutiel Adam, who was killed by fire from Palestinian fighters there.

Phalange party headquarters in Beirut
The wreckage of the Phalange party headquarters in Beirut where a bomb was detonated while Gemayel spoke inside, on September 14, 1982.

Bachir promised that by October 15, no trace of the Palestinians would be left in Beirut. The Lebanese (Christian) Forces (wearing Lebanese army uniforms) were supposed to clean up the camps along with units (probably Christian) from the Lebanese Army.

According to one of Bachir’s close associates, on September 14 a message arrived to say that Israel approved all of the agreements achieved during Sharon’s visit. They were also approved by his father, Pierre Gemayel, the head of the Phalange Party. Bachir did not live long enough to read this dispatch.