Mountain War (Lebanon)
|Part of the Lebanese Civil War|
|Syria Syrian Army|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Walid Jumblatt
Emir Majid Arslan
Bassam Abu Sharif
| Ibrahim Tannous
Fouad Abou Nader
|Casualties and losses|
|1,600 dead and 2,000 injured|
The Mountain War (Arabic: حرب الجبل | Harb al-Jabal), also known as the War of the Mountain and Guerre de la Montagne in French, was a subconflict between the 1982–83 phase of the Lebanese Civil War and the 1984–89 phase of the Lebanese Civil War, which occurred at the mountainous Chouf District located south-east of the Lebanese Capital Beirut. It pitted the Christian Lebanese Forces militia (LF) and the official Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) against a coalition of anti-government Muslim leftist militias led by the Druze Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), backed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Syria. Hostilities began when the LF and the LAF entered the predominantly Druze Chouf district to bring back the region under government control, only to be met with fierce resistance from local Druze militias and their allies. The PSP leader Walid Jumblatt's persistence to join the central government and his instigation of a wider opposition faction led to disintegration of the already fragile LAF and the eventual collapse of the Maronite-led government under President Amin Gemayel.
- 1 Background
- 2 The Mountain War
- 2.1 September 1983
- 2.2 October 1983
- 2.3 November 1983
- 2.4 December 1983
- 2.5 January 1984
- 2.6 February 1984
- 2.7 March 1984
- 3 Consequences
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 External links
In the wake of the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the main Maronite Christian ally of Israel, the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia of the Kataeb Party commanded by Bashir Gemayel sought to expand its area of influence in Lebanon. The LF tried to take advantage of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) advances to begin deploying troops in areas where they had not been present before. This territorial expansion policy was focused on regions known to harbor a large Christian rural population, such as the mountainous Chouf District, located south-east of Beirut. Following the assassination of their leader – and President-elected of Lebanon – Bashir Gemayel in September 1982, the LF command council decided late that month to enter the Chouf. The head of LF intelligence, Elie Hobeika, voiced his opposition to the entry, but was overruled by his fellow senior commanders of the council, Fadi Frem and Fouad Abou Nader. With the tacit backing of the IDF, Lebanese Forces' units under the command of Samir Geagea (appointed Commander of all LF forces in the Chouf-Aley sector of Mount Lebanon in January 1983) moved into the Christian-populated areas of the western Chouf. By early 1983, the Lebanese Forces' managed to establish garrisons at a number of key towns in the Chouf, namely Aley, Deir el-Qamar, Souk El Gharb, Kfar Matta, Bhamdoun, Kabr Chmoun and others. However, this brought them into confrontation with the local Druze community, who viewed the LF as intruders on their territory.
The Maronites and the Druze were long-standing enemies since the 1860s – when a bloody civil war tore apart the Mount Lebanon Emirate, on which thousands of Christians were massacred by the Druzes – and old enmities were rearoused when Geagea's Maronite troops tried to pay old historic debts by imposing their authority on the Chouf by force. Some 145 Druze civilians were reportedly killed by the Lebanese Forces at Kfar Matta and sporadic fighting soon broke out between the LF and the main Druze militia, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP).
Re-organization of the LAF
The new Lebanese President Amin Gemayel – brother of the late Bashir, elected as his successor in 21 September – requested that a second U.S., French and Italian (soon joined by a small British contingent) peacekeeping Multinational Force (MNF II) be deployed in and around the Beirut area to maintain order, although the political objectives of this deployment were unclear. President Amin Gemayel and Lieutenant-General Ibrahim Tannous, the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), also succeeded in persuading the United States Government to assist Lebanon in rebuilding its depleted army. Under the auspices of the U.S.-funded Lebanese Army Modernization Program (LAMP), the Lebanese Government proceeded to re-organize and re-equip the LAF with the help of Jordan, the United States and France, whose MNF contingents (U.S. Marines and French Foreign Legion Paratroopers) began training Lebanese soldiers, followed by the end of the year of the arrival of arms shipments. This stance however, eroded the neutrality of the MNF at the eyes of the Lebanese Muslims, since they did not perceive the LAF as a true national defense force that would protect the interests of all factions. Indeed, the LAF was almost wholly controlled by the Christians. In early October 1982, after the Lebanese Army regained control of West Beirut, Lt. Gen. Tannous turned his attention to the Chouf District and on 18 October, his troops began to reassert their presence in the region. However, they were unable to stop the ongoing Christian-Druze clashes, mostly due to Israeli presence in the area, which tended to restrict Lebanese government' forces activity.
In November, fighting in the Chouf spread into the south-western suburbs of Beirut and friction in the Lebanese Capital increased after 1 December, when the Druze PSP leader Walid Jumblatt was injured in an assassination attempt by a car-bomb explosion. On 20 December fighting broke out again between the Christian LF and the Druze PSP/PLA militias at the town of Aley which rumbled on until 7 February 1983, when the Druze overrun the town and drove out the Christian garrison.
On 18 April a suicide bomber drove a delivery van packed with explosives into the lobby of the U.S. Embassy at West Beirut, killing 63 people – among the dead were Robert Ames, a senior Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst, and six personnel from the CIA station in Lebanon. Responsibility was claimed by the previously unknown Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO), a Lebanese Shi'ite terrorist group supported by Iran and based near Baalbek in the Syrian-controlled Beqaa valley. This attack inaugurated the saga of suicide car- and truck-bombings in Lebanon.
Fighting in the Chouf between Christian LF and Druze PSP/PLA militias spilled over again into Beirut, this time in the form of artillery shelling by the Druze PLA between 5 and 8 May.
17 May Agreement
After six months of prolonged U.S.-mediated secret negotiations, representatives of the Lebanese, Israeli, and American governments signed a withdrawal agreement on 17 May 1983, which became known as the 'May 17 Agreement', that provided for the evacuation of all foreign armed forces from Lebanon. However, implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement depended entirely upon the cooperation of Syria who, incensed for being neither invited to the negotiations nor consulted prior to the signature of the agreement, rejected it by refusing to withdraw its 30,000 troops stationed in Lebanon. Many Lebanese, both Christian and Muslim, were not in favour of a U.S.-sponsored agreement either, which included severe security terms imposed by the Israelis and practically treated Lebanon as a defeated country. Although the agreement was approved by the Lebanese Parliament, President Amin Gemayel refused to ratify it, a decision that irritated the Israeli Prime-Minister Menahem Begin. Lebanese Sunni and Shia Muslims also felt both threatened and marginalized when their President, confident of U.S. political and military support, avoided implementing the much-needed political reforms to which the mainly Muslim Political Parties and militias felt entitled.
As a result, internal political and armed opposition to the weak Gemayel administration grew intensively throughout the country. On 22 May, a number of clashes occurred in the Chouf Mountains, as the Druze PSP/PLA militia moved to expel the Lebanese Forces from their remaining positions in the area. Despite the heavy presence of IDF units in the region, the Israelis had little interest at getting involved in Lebanese inter-sectarian strife, and made no attempt to intervene in the behalf of their LF allies.
During the summer of 1983 the situation in Lebanon degenerated into a vicious power struggle between Lebanese rival factions, with the MNF caught in the middle. Both the Israelis and Syrians withdrew to more defensive positions and tried to outmaneuver each other by playing their local proxies, with mixed results. Seemingly oblivious to the deteriorating political and military situation, the U.S. government did nothing to demonstrate its neutrality. In June, rather than cancelling or descaling the training and arming of the LAF ground forces, the U.S. Marines began joint patrols with them, whilst the French, Italian and British contingents of the Multinational Force refrained from doing so, fearing that such a partisan move would compromise the neutrality of the MNF.
At the same time, the Lebanese central government was planning to re-impose its authority over the Chouf District, and on 9–10 July, LAF troops occupied an observation post recently abandoned by the IDF, located on the hills to the east of Beirut. President Gemayel and Lt. Gen. Tannous wanted to step up full deployment of combat units of the reformed Lebanese Armed Forces to the area, to act as a buffer between the LF and the PSP. This was objected by the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who accused the LAF of primarily serving the Kataeb interests, and began to re-organize and re-arm his PLA militia with Syrian material help. Oddly enough, the Israelis did not reacted to the Druze military build-up in the Chouf.
Clashes with Druzes in the Chouf
The first engagement between the Druze PSP/PLA and the LAF occurred on 14 July, when a Lebanese Army unit accompanying an IDF patrol was ambushed by Druze guerrillas. Fourteen Lebanese soldiers and two Druze militiamen were killed in the attack, and in response the artillery units of Jumblatt's PLA shelled on 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd the Christian-held neighborhoods of East Beirut (in which over 30 people were killed and 600 injured, mostly civilians) and U.S. Marines positions at Beirut International Airport in Khalde, wounding three Marines. In between, the Lebanese Army engaged for the first time between 15 and 17 July the Shia Amal militia in West Beirut over a dispute involving the eviction of Shi'ite squatters from a schoolhouse.
On 23 July, Jumblatt announced the formation of a Syrian-backed coalition, the Lebanese National Salvation Front (LNSF) that rallied several Lebanese Muslim and Christian parties and militias opposed to the 17 May Agreement, and fighting between the Druze PLA and LF and between the Druze and LAF, intensified during the month of August. Intense Druze PLA artillery shelling forced the Beirut International Airport to close between 10 and 16 August, and the Druze PSP/PLA leadership made explicit their opposition to the deployment of LAF units in the Chouf.
The U.S. Marines compound came under further Druze PLA shell-fire on 28 August, this time killing two Marines, which led the Marines to retaliate with their own artillery, shelling the Druze positions in the Chouf with 155mm high-explosive rounds. This incident marked the beginning of the shooting war for the U.S. military forces in Lebanon. Although President Gemayel accused Syria of being behind the Druze shelling and threatened to respond accordingly, artillery duels between the LAF and Druze militias continued sporadically until a ceasefire came in effect in late August.
Clashes with Amal in Beirut
As these events were unfolding in the Chouf, tensions continued to mount at Muslim-populated West Beirut. They finally exploded in mid-August when a general strike called on the 15th quickly escalated into open warfare, which pitted the Shia Amal militia led by Nabih Berri against the Lebanese Armed Forces. Although Amal had managed to seize control of much of West Beirut after two weeks of street-fighting, hostilities resumed in 28 August near MNF positions in the southern edge of Beirut which caused several casualties. Response was not long in coming, and two days later, LAF troops assisted by MNF detachments backed by artillery and U.S. Marines' Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, made successful counterattacks and regained control of the Muslim quarters.
The Israelis withdraw from the Chouf
To further aggrieve matters, the Israelis during that same month withdrew unilaterally from the Chouf to new positions further south along the Awali River, ostensibly to allow the Lebanese Army to resume control over the area. This unexpected move effectively removed the buffer made by the IDF between the Druze and Christian militias, which now maneuvered toward an inevitable confrontation. Some international analysts have argued that the Israelis had deliberately provoked the conflict so that their Christian LF allies could establish themselves in the area. New recordings of a phone call between the U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin released by the New York Post in November 2014 revealed a request made by Reagan to the Israeli Prime-minister to delay the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Chouf mountains. In any event, the cease-fire in the Chouf barely held for a week, and triggered another round of brutal fighting which caused Walid Jumblatt to declare on 1 September that the Druze community of Lebanon was now formally at war with the Christian-dominated Gemayel government in East Beirut. The "Mountain War" had begun.
The Mountain War
On 3 September, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commenced the first part of a phased withdrawal plan codenamed Operation Millstone, by quickly pulling out its troops from their positions on the southern edge of Beirut and from a section of the Beirut-Aley-Damascus Highway, and within twenty-four hours Israeli units had completed its redeployment south of the Awali River line. Surprised by this unexpected Israeli move, the largely unprepared Lebanese Armed Forces then rushed south to occupy Khalde and the road adjacent to Beirut International Airport, but ran into difficulties near Aley, where heavy fighting between the Druze and LF militas persisted.
At this point, Jumblatt's 17,000-strong PSP/PLA militia was now part of a military coalition under the LNSF banner that gathered 300 Druze fighters sent by its Druze rival Majid Arslan and head of the powerful Yazbaki clan, 2,000 Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) militiamen under Inaam Raad, 3,000 Nasserite fighters of the Al-Mourabitoun led by the Sunni Muslim Ibrahim Kulaylat and some 5,000 Popular Guards' militiamen of the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) under Elias Atallah. In addition, the Shia Amal militia under Nabih Berri (not part of the alliance) at West Beirut was able to mobilize 10,000 fighters. Both Amal and the PSP-led LNSF coalition received the discreet, yet fundamental backing of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Syrian Army, who provided logistical and artillery support.
The Lebanese Forces militia had about 2,500 lightly-equipped Christian militiamen in the Chouf, mostly tied up in static garrison duties throughout the region's main towns whereas another 2,000 fighters were deployed alongside LAF ground units at West Beirut. The Lebanese Army committed six newly formed mechanized infantry brigades – the Fourth Brigade, Fifth Brigade, Sixth Brigade, Seventh Brigade, Eighth Brigade and the Eleventh Brigade – totaling roughly some 10,000 men, placed under the overall command of Lt. Gen. Tannous and the Lebanese Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff, the Druze General Nadim al-Hakim. Deployed in the western Chouf, and at both the western and eastern sectors of Beirut, the army brigades benefited from aerial, artillery, and logistical support lent by U.S. and French forces of the MNF contingent. In this post-Israeli period in the Chouf the Lebanese Forces and the regular army occasionally fought side-by-side, but at other times they were opponents. This lack of coordination between the LF and the government was due to the deep distrust that LF senior commanders felt towards President Amin Gemayel, its moderate political posture and friendly relations with Lebanese Muslim and Palestinian leaders.
As soon as the last Israeli units left the Chouf, the Druze launched on 5 September a full-scale offensive on Lebanese Forces' and Lebanese Army positions at Deir el-Qamar, Kabr Chmoun and Bhamdoun. Less than 300 Lebanese Forces fighters were defending Bhamdoun, with orders to hold their positions for 12 hours until being replaced by Lebanese Army units. However, 72 hours later the expected reinforcements failed to arrive, and it became clear that the LF counter-offensive in the coastal town of Kfar Matta aimed at opening the road to Bhamdoun had stalled. Warned at the last minute by the PLO of the eminent Druze offensive, Samir Geagea, the LF supreme commander in the Mountain region issued a general evacuation order of all Christian civilians from the towns and villages of the Aley and Chouf districts towards the symbolic town of Deir el-Qamar, site of the Christian population massacres in 1860.
For their part, the LF garrison forces were completely caught by surprise by the ferocity of the assault and were outnumbered. Supported by obsolescent 25-pounder field guns, TOW Jeeps, Heavy machine guns and recoilless rifles on gun-trucks (aka technicals), and anti-aircraft autocannons mounted on wheeled BTR-152 armored personnel carriers (APCs), plus two armored companies provided with Israeli-supplied Tiran 4 and captured T-54/55 Tanks, they tried desperately to hold their ground at Bhamdoun against a determined enemy now equipped with Soviet-made tanks, tracked and wheeled APCs, technicals, long-range artillery, and MBRLs supplied on loan by Syria.
Bhamdoun fell on the 7th, followed two days later by Kabr Chmoun, forcing the Lebanese Forces troops' to fall back to Deir el-Qamar, which held 40,000 Christian residents and refugees and was defended by 1,000 LF militiamen; the two armored LF tank companies managed to hold their ground at Souk El Gharb and Shahhar, and later spearheaded LF counterattacks at nearby Druze-held towns. The Lebanese Forces command later accused the Druze PSP of both ransacking Bhamdoun and of committing "unprecedented massacres" in the Chouf; in order to deny support, cover or a visible community for the LF to protect, the Druze implemented a 'territorial cleansing' policy to drain the Christian population from the region. Between 7 and 13 September, Jumblatt's PLA militia forces overran sixty-two Maronite villages, slaughtered 1,500 people and drove another 50,000 out of their homes in the mountainous areas east and west of Beirut.
When the Lebanese Army was forced to pull back on 12 September, in order to strengthen their position around Souk El Gharb, the Druze moved forward to fill the gap. This allowed their artillery point-blank line of sight to the U.S. Marines position at Beirut International Airport, overlooked by mountains of strategic value on three sides – designated the 'three 8' hills or Hill 888 – and on 15 September, Druze forces and their allies massed on the threshold of Souk El Gharb, a mountain town that controlled a ridge to the south-east of Beirut overlooking the Presidential Palace at Baabda and the Lebanese Ministry of Defense complex at Yarze.
The Battle of Souk El Gharb
At Souk El Gharb and Shahhar however, the Lebanese Army was able to relieve the LF garrison units who had repulsed the first wave of Druze PLA ground assaults and were running out of supplies; for the next three days the army's Eighth Brigade led by Colonel Michel Aoun bore the brunt of the attacks, fighting desperately to retain control of the town, while the Fourth Brigade tried to held on at Shahhar. The revived Lebanese Air Force (FAL in the French acronym) was also thrown into the fray for the first time since the 1975-77 phase of the Lebanese Civil War, in the form of a squadron of ten refurbished British-made Hawker Hunter fighter jets sent to support the beleguered Lebanese Army units in the Chouf. Since the main air base at Rayak had been bombed by the Syrian Army, the Hunters had to operate from an improvised airfield at Halat, near Jbeil, built by the Americans by using part of the coastal highway. The last combat sortie of the Lebanese Air Force was flown in 17 September, when three Lebanese Hunters, backed by a squadron of French Navy's Super Etendards from the aircraft carrier Clemenceau made an attempt to bomb and strafe Druze PLA and Syrian Army gun emplacements in the Chouf. However, the Druze were awaiting for them with an array of Syrian-supplied air defense systems, comprising SA-7 Grail surface-to-air missiles, AZP S-60 57mm anti-aircraft guns, and ZPU-1, ZPU-2 and ZPU-4 14.5mm and ZU-23-2 23mm autocannons. One Hunter was shot down by a SA-7 and the pilot barely managed to eject himself into the sea, being rescued by a U.S. Navy vessel. The second Hunter was heavily damaged by ground fire and made a forced landing at Halat. The third did not return to the base but flew straight to the RAF airbase at Akrotiri, Cyprus, where the pilot eventually requested political asylum upon arrival. Two days later, on 19 September, a Lebanese Air Force Scottish Aviation Bulldog two-seat training aircraft flying on a reconnaissance mission over the Chouf was hit by ground fire and crashed, killing its two pilots.
Lt. Gen. Tannous then requested urgent military support from the United States to its beleaguered LAF units fighting at Souk El Gharb. At first, the Americans refused but eventually agreed when they were told that this strategically valuable town was in danger of being overrun. The United States Navy nuclear-powered missile cruiser USS Virginia, the destroyer USS John Rodgers, the frigate USS Bowen, and the destroyer USS Arthur W. Radford fired 338 rounds from their 5-inch (127 mm) naval guns at the Druze PLA positions, and helped the Lebanese Army hold the town until an informal ceasefire was declared on 25 September at Damascus, the day the battleship USS New Jersey arrived at the scene. Although the Lebanese Army had beaten the Druze forces on the battlefield, it remains an open question whether they would have held Souk El Garb without the American naval support. Moreover, it was a pyrrhic victory for the Lebanese Armed Forces, for it marked the beginning of a confessional split in its ranks. Just prior to the cease-fire, Gen. al-Hakim, LAF Chief-of-Staff and commander of the predominantly Druze Seventh Brigade, fled into PSP-held territory but he would not admit he had actually defected. In response to a request from Walid Jumblatt to neutralize the Army, some 800 Druze regular soldiers from the primarily Druze Eleventh Brigade deserted their command at Hammana and Beiteddine, whilst another 1,000 Druze soldiers refused to leave their barracks. After linking up at Khalde with their Shi'ite Amal allies, the Druze PSP/PLA forces drove from Shahhar the mixed Fourth Brigade 3½ miles south to the vicinity of Damour, in the Iqlim al-Kharrub coastal enclave, as they attempted to create a salient from Aley to the coast at Khalde, south of Beirut. Surrounded and badly mauled, the Brigade disintegrated when approximately 900 Druze enlisted men, plus 60 Officers and NCOs, deserted to join their coreligionists of Jumblatt's PSP or SSNP militias. The remaining 1,000 or so Maronite Officers and men fled south across the Awali River, seeking protection behind Israeli lines while leaving behind some U.S.-made tanks and armored personnel carriers, jeeps, trucks and ammunition. After reaching Sidon, the soldiers were evacuated by sea under the auspices of the Israeli Navy to East Beirut, where they joined other Christian-dominated army elite units.
Geneva Reconciliation Talks
The 25 September cease-fire temporarily stabilized the situation. The Gemayel government maintained its jurisdiction over West Beirut districts, the Shia Amal movement had not yet fully committed itself in the fighting, and Jumblatt's PSP/PLA remained landlocked in the Chouf Mountains. The Lebanese government and opposition personalities agreed to meet in Geneva, Switzerland, for a national reconciliation conference under the auspices of Saudi Arabia and Syria, and chaired by President Gemayel to discuss political reform and the May 17 Agreement.
For its part, the United States found itself carrying on Israel's role of shoring up the precarious Lebanese government. An emergency arms shipment had been dispatched earlier on 14 September to beleaguered LAF units fighting in the Chouf, which were backed by air strikes and naval gunfire from the battleship USS New Jersey. On 29 September, the U.S. Ambassador's residence in East Beirut was hit by shell-fire and in response, the U.S. Marines' contingent stationed at Beirut International Airport was ordered to use its M198 155mm howitzers in support of the Lebanese Army. That same day, the United States Congress, by a solid majority, adopted a resolution declaring the 1973 War Powers Resolution to apply to the situation in Lebanon and sanctioned the U.S. military presence for an eighteen-month period. U.S. vice-president George H. W. Bush made clear the position of the Reagan administration by demanding that Syria "get out from the Lebanon". A large naval task-force of more than a dozen vessels was assembled off the Lebanese coast and an additional contingent of 2,000 U.S. Marines was sent to the country. The United States Department of Defense (DoD) stated that the increase of its military forces in the eastern Mediterranean had been carried out to "sent a message to Syria".
Many international observers believed that these measures implemented by the U.S. government were meant to reshape the power balance in the region in favor of the Amin Gemayel administration, to the detriment of the Syrians and their Lebanese allies. The United States was now perceived in many circles as another foreign power attempting to assert its influence in Lebanese affairs by force, just as Israel and Syria had done.
Alarmed by this American posture (which compromised the neutrality of the Multinational Force) and fearing for the safety of their own MNF contingents in Lebanon, the British, French and Italian governments voiced their concerns, insisting with the Reagan administration to restrict its activities in the region to the protection of Lebanese civilians and to stop supporting what they considered an ongoing assault of the Gemayel government on his own people. However, President Reagan refused to modify his intransigent position and on 1 October, another shipment of arms was delivered to the Lebanese Army, including M48A5 main battle tanks (MBTs), additional M113 armored personnel carriers (APC) and long-range artillery. That same day, Walid Jumblatt announced the formation of a separate governmental administration for the Chouf, the "Civilian Administration of the Mountain" (CAM or CAOM), and called for the mass defection of all Druze elements from the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The delivery of arms shipments was complemented by naval artillery barrages. Steaming to within two miles of the Lebanese coast, the battleship USS New Jersey, the destroyer USS John Rodgers and the nuclear-powered cruiser USS Virginia fired on their 5-inch naval guns some six-hundred 70 lb shells into the wooded hills above Beirut. Unfortunately, the U.S. Navy neglected proper reconnaissance and without sending Forward air controllers to help spot accurately Druze PLA and Syrian Army positions, most of the shells missed their targets and fell in Shia- and Druze-populated sub-urban areas located on the edge of West Beirut and the western Chouf, causing a considerable number of civilian casualties. For many Lebanese Muslims, this was the last straw – any illusion of U.S. neutrality had been dispelled by these recent developments and the MNF soon found itself exposed to hostile fire.
MNF barracks bombing
Early in the morning of 23 October, a suicide truck bomb struck the U.S. Marines' 1/8 Battalion Landing Team (BLT, part of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit or MAU) building at Beirut international airport killing 245 American servicemen and wounding another 130 marines and U.S. Navy personnel, followed a few minutes later by the mysterious implosion of the French 3rd company, 1er RCP Paratrooper's Barracks at the 'Drakkar' apartment bloc in the Ramlet El-Baida quarter of Bir Hassan, Ouza'i district, which claimed the lives of 58 French paratroopers. Again, the Shi'ite Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing of the BLT building at the airport (but not of the 'Drakkar' apartment bloc) and warned of further attacks.
The French promptly responded to the bombings with air strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in the Beqaa valley. French Super Etendards from the aircraft carrier Foch retaliated by striking Nebi Chit, thought to house the Islamic Amal (a splinter faction of the Amal movement), and also the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' base at Ras el-Ain near Baalbek, but failed to hit the facilities and did only minor damage. They also struck at Syrian Army's and Druze PLA positions in the Chouf region while U.S. warships kept up their artillery barrages against Syrian and Druze gun emplacements overlooking Beirut.
These retaliatory measures failed to put an end to the bomb attacks, however, and on 4 November the Israeli Military Governor's Headquarters in Tyre was destroyed by a suicide truck-bombing, which cost the lives of 46 Israeli soldiers. Later that day, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) retaliated with air strikes against Palestinian positions near Baalbek in the Syrian-controlled Beqaa valley, although responsibility was claimed by the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shia Islamic Jihad.
The Israelis conducted additional retaliatory air strikes on 16 November, hitting a terrorist training camp in the eastern Beqaa valley. The next day, French Super Etendards carried out similar strikes against another Islamic Amal camp in the vicinity of Baalbek.
Persistent and occasionally heavy fighting in the southwestern suburbs of Beirut between the Lebanese Army and the Shia Amal militia continued throughout November. As the month ended, the Chouf District continued to be the scene of frequent artillery and mortar exchanges between the LAF and Druze PSP/PLA forces. The Israeli Air Force frequently carried attacks on hostile targets in the Chouf, losing a fighter jet to ground anti-aircraft fire over Bhamdoun on 21 November.
American-Syrian confrontation in the Chouf
Diplomatic tensions between Syria and the United States escalated to direct confrontation in early December when, despite numerous warnings from Washington, Syrian anti-aircraft batteries fired on a pair of U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat fighter jets flying on a reconnaissance mission over a section of the Beirut-Damascus Highway in the Syrian-controlled Beqaa valley. Determined to send a clear message to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, the Americans retaliated with an air raid on 4 December, when twenty-eight Grumman A-6E Intruder and Vought A-7E Corsair II fighter-bombers, supported by a single E-2C Hawkeye, two EA-6B Prowlers and two F-14A fighter jets, took off from the aircraft carriers USS Independence and USS John F. Kennedy, flashed inland over Beirut and headed for eight Syrian Army and Druze PLA installations, anti-aircraft artillery sites and weapons' depots near Falouga and Hammana, within an eight-mile corridor 20 miles (16 km) east of the Lebanese Capital. Other targets included positions held by the pro-Syrian As-Sa'iqa Palestinian guerrilla faction.
As a demonstration of American resolve, however, the raid was a failure; once over their targets in the Chouf, the U.S. fighter-bombers dispersed and pounded Syrian Army and Druze PLA positions but ran into a heavy barrage of anti-aircraft fire, so intense that the smoke in the sky rivalled that from the bomb blasts below, which according to the U.S. Defense Department, also included a volley of about 40 surface-to-air missiles. Two American planes, one A-6E and an A-7E, were shot down by Syrian man-portable SA-7 Grail or vehicle-mounted SA-9 Gaskin missiles. The Pilot of the A-6E, Lieutenant Mark A. Lange, ejected himself too late and was killed when his parachute failed to open properly while his Bombardier/Navigator, Lt. Bobby Goodman managed to bail out successfully and was taken prisoner by Syrian troops; their downed plane crashed near the town of Kafr Silwan, located in the mountains of the Syrian-controlled portion of the Matn District. More fortunate was the Pilot of the A-7E, Commander Edward T. Andrews, who was also the leader of Carrier Air Wing ONE (CVW-1): although he suffered minor injuries, was able to eject and landed in the Mediterranean, where he was rescued by a Lebanese Navy patrol boat. In flames, his downed A-7E wavered for a moment in the air, and then exploded over the village of Zouk Mikael in the Keserwan District, killing one Lebanese woman when the debris crashed into her house; a third plane, also an A-7E, suffered tailpipe damage, apparently from an SA-7 or SA-9.
The damage report was sketchy at best: although the U.S. Navy planes dropped over 150 Rockeye "smart" bombs and cluster bombs, the Syrians claimed that only an ammunition dump and an armored car were destroyed, and two people were killed and eight were wounded. There were no further American air strikes; instead, only artillery barrages from U.S. Navy warships and from U.S. Marines positions in the Beirut International Airport would be used against Syrian and Druze gun emplacements in the Chouf.
The evacuation of Souk El Gharb and Deir el-Qamar
In early December, PSP leader Walid Jumblatt, ostensibly as a gesture of goodwill on humanitarian grounds and without any preconditions, offered to lift the sieges of Souk El Gharb and Deir el-Qamar, which had been cut off since September and had to rely on weekly International Red Cross (IRC) relief convoys for food and medical supplies. The Israelis underscored the extent of their responsibility for their Lebanese allies on 15 December when they stepped in to help the IRC in the evacuation of some 2,500 Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) militiamen and 5,000 civilians from Deir el-Qamar and Souk El Gharb. IDF armor and mechanized infantry units provided cover for the exodus towards the Israeli-controlled Awali River line. There were some tense moments as Druze PLA militiamen, waving their rifles, jeered the LF fighters, who had been bundled into Israeli military trucks. The Christian fighters and the civilian refugees were eventually taken by ship by the Israeli Navy from the Israeli-occupied port of Sidon to Christian-controlled areas around Beirut.
In West Beirut, violent clashes erupted on 24 December when Lebanese Army detachments attempted to occupy positions just vacated by the departing French MNF contingent. This time the Druze PLA joined the Amal Movement in the fighting, forcing the battered government forces to withdraw to East Beirut after a five-day street battle.
On 5 January, the Lebanese Government announced that a disengagement plan to demilitarize Beirut and its environs, had been approved by Israel, Syria, the Lebanese Forces, and the Shia Amal and Druze PSP/PLA militias. However, implementation of the plan was delayed by continual inter-factional fighting in and around the Lebanese Capital, but also in Tripoli.
As sporadic fighting broke out again on 16 January, there were fears that the informal cease-fire that has generally prevailed since late September 1983 was breaking down. Druze PLA artillerymen again shelled Christian-controlled East Beirut and the Marines positions around the International Airport, with Amal and the Lebanese Army joining at the fringes. This in turn provoked a response from the 5-inch naval guns of the battleship USS New Jersey and the destroyer USS Tattnall, firing at Druze gun emplacements in the hills surrounding Beirut.
The fall of West Beirut
On 1 February, Walid Jumblatt denounced the Lebanese Government's disengagement plan as a waste of time, while its Druze PLA troops linked up the following day with Nabih Berri's Amal militia units in order to attack Lebanese Army positions within West Beirut, which marked the beginning of the battle for the Lebanese capital. On 3 February, a combined Druze PLA/Amal full-scale offensive operation was mounted against Lebanese Army positions in the southern and eastern districts of the city, while fighting also erupted in the central area. On 6 February, amidst intense shelling, the Shia Amal and the Druze PLA took control over West Beirut in a matter of hours, and although forced out of the Chyah quarter by Amal, the Lebanese Army launched three days later a combined counter-offensive with the Lebanese Forces on the Shia-populated southwestern suburbs of the Lebanese capital. The PSP/PLA-Amal alliance forces promptly reacted that same day by mounting simultaneous ground assaults against Government- and LF-held positions in the city center along the Green Line, and on the southern and eastern districts. After two days of the heaviest fighting in Beirut since the 1975-76 civil war, the combined Druze PLA/Amal militia forces managed to drive Lebanese Army and LF units out of West Beirut, largely due to the refusal of Shia Muslim soldiers to fight their coreligionalists – in fact, some actually fought against their own Army units. On 8–9 February a massive artillery barrage by offshore U.S. warships pounded Druze PLA and Syrian positions in the hills overlooking Beirut, an operation that invoked the disapproval of the U.S. Congress. Thirty rounds hit a Syrian command post, killing the general commanding the Syrian forces in Lebanon, and several of his senior officers.
Meawhile in the Chouf, on 13 February the local Druze PLA forces and its LNSF allies drove the last remaining Lebanese Army and LF units from the towns of Aley, Kfar Matta and others, with only Souk El Gharb remaining firmly in Government hands. On that same day, an Amal force also succeeded in driving out other Lebanese Army units from their positions in the southern approaches to West Beirut, seizing Khalde (with the exception of the adjoining International Airport, still being held by the U.S. Marines). During the following two days, Amal militia forces moved against Lebanese Forces positions in the Iqlim al-Kharrub coastal enclave, reaching Damour after meeting little resistance and on 14 February, Amal and Druze PLA units linked up at Khalde. The next day, the towns of Mechref and Damour fell under the control of the PSP/PLA, while violent clashes raged around Souk El Gharb, the last government-held stronghold in the Chouf mountains. By this time, hordes of panic-stricken Lebanese civilian refugees were fleeing towards Israeli-held territory south of the Awali River line, accompanied by a large number of dispirited Lebanese Army soldiers and LF militiamen. West Beirut and the Chouf had fallen to the Shia Amal, the Druze PLA and LNSF militias backed by Syria, and both the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Lebanese Forces had been decisively defeated.
Collapse of the LAF
The decisive defeat of the Lebanese Armed Forces on two key fronts led it once again to disintegrate along sectarian lines, as many demoralized Muslim soldiers began to defect to join the opposition or confined themselves to barracks. It is estimated that 40% of the Lebanese Army's 27,000 active fighting men had gone over to support the Muslim militias or refused to take part in any further fighting against them. Following an open appeal by Nabih Berri, the predominantly Shia Sixth Brigade deserted en bloc to Amal.
The Multinational Force begin its withdrawal
As these events were unfolding in Beirut, the U.S. President Ronald Reagan was pressured for a complete withdrawal of the U.S. contingent of the MNF from Lebanon by the U.S. Congress. These calls were increased after the Lebanese Sunni Prime minister Shafik Wazzan and his entire cabinet resigned on 5 February. Two days later, Reagan ordered 1,700 Marines to be transferred to U.S. Navy vessels lying offshore, leaving just a small force of Marines from BLT 3/8, the ground combat element of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, as part of the External Security Force assigned to guard the replacement U.S. Embassy in East Beirut until their withdrawal on 31 July. The American detachment began to be withdrawn on 17 February; the British, French and Italian detachments followed suit – the Italians pulled out on 20 February, followed by the rest of the U.S. Marines detachment on 26 February. Amal militiamen took over their vacant positions, including those at the International Airport, which were handed over to the Sixth Brigade. The positions that the French had held along the Green Line, parts of which had already been taken over by the Amal, the Druze PLA and the Lebanese Forces, were eventually handed over to a specially formed force of Internal Security Forces (ISF) gendarmes and recalled Lebanese Army reservists.
Faced with the crushing defeat and subsequent collapse of the LAF, and with his own status effectively reduced to that of Mayor of East Beirut, President Amin Gemayel had no choice but to go on 24 February in an official trip to Damascus and consult the Syrian President Hafez al-Assad on the future of Lebanon. Naturally, he was first required to renounce the American-sponsored 17 May Agreement with Israel.
After a peace plan put forward by Saudi Arabia and accepted by President Amin Gemayel was rejected by Syria, Israel and the main Lebanese political parties (the Kataeb, NLP and the Druze PSP), the Lebanese Government on 5 March formally cancelled the 17 May agreement, which it had not even ratified; the last U.S. Marines departed a few weeks later. The second round of the reconciliation talks began on 12 March in Lausanne, Switzerland, again chaired by President Gemayel. The participants called for an immediate ceasefire, which had in fact been generally observed since the defeat of the LAF and LF in late February, and established a higher security committee to supervise the disengagement of opposing factions. Firing across the Green Line continued spasmodically, and on 22 March Druze PLA militiamen backed by Amal drove their erstwhile allies of the Sunni Al-Mourabitoun militia from their positions in the area, ostensibly to prevent any violations of the ceasefire. Their mission at an end, the last French troops of the MNF left Beirut on 31 March. The "Mountain War" was over.
The defeat of the LAF and the Lebanese Forces in the Mountain War was catastrophic for the Maronite Christian community, and came with a cost in political currency and territorial losses. It was clear that the LAF Commander-in-Chief Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Tannous and the LF Command Council headed by Fadi Frem and Fouad Abou Nader in East Beirut had grossly underestimated the military strength and organizational capabilities displayed by the Druze and their allied Sunni and Shia Muslim militias of the LNSF coalition, as well as the political and logistical support they would receive from Syria and the PLO. Moreover, President Amine Gemayel's early refusal to grant the Lebanese Druze and Shia Muslim communities the expected political representation, and his excessive reliance on American and French political and military support during the conflict that ensued, seriously undermined his own credibility and authority in his dual role as head of state and leader of the Maronite Christian community. For their part, the war inflicted a heavy blow to the Lebanese Forces' prestige and credibility, due to their arrogant behavior towards the Druze civilian population and their incapacity to protect the Christian communities of the Chouf District. The Mountain War also contributed to shatter the illusion that the Lebanese Civil War had been settled in 1976, a view shared by many Lebanese Christian and Muslim political factions and militias, who believed that the withdrawal of all foreign forces (meaning the Israelis, Syrians and Palestinians) would bring an decisive end to the civil war. In the end, their hopes were dashed when the MNF pulled out and the Israelis withdrew to southern Lebanon to establish a "Security Belt", which enabled Syria to consolidate its hold on Lebanon. However, the resulting power vacuum proved difficult to fill, even for the Syrians, and the country remained split and in turmoil for years to come.
- Battle of the Hotels
- Damour massacre
- Lebanese Civil War
- Lebanese Armed Forces
- Lebanese Forces
- Sabra and Shatila massacre
- Syrian military presence in Lebanon
- 1983 beirut embassy bombing
- 1983 Beirut barracks bombing
- Weapons of the Lebanese Civil War
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