The 1976 Syrian Intervention in Lebanon
- From Patrick Seale's 'Asad', the biography of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad
Chapter 17: The Lebanese Trap
With Sinai Two Henry Kissinger and Israel shaped an Arab order to suit their convenience - an order Asad was determined to contest. To accept the diktat of Sinai Two would have meant Syria's declining into just another weak state on Israel's borders, another Jordan perhaps, living on sufferance, projecting no power, and devoting much of its military energies to protecting Israel from Palestinian raiding. Such an inglorious fate was utterly repugnant to a man of Asad's touchy nationalism. The slogan of 'steadfastness' that he then launched conveyed the will to fight back and not simply accept an environment in which, with Egypt neutralized, Israeli supremacy was unchallengeable.
With this defiance Asad's Syria took its first steps towards becoming a substantial regional power and Israel's only remaining Arab opponent of any stature. The notion that Damascus is to be reckoned with in Middle East affairs has in recent years become a commonplace. But it was not always so. Memories have faded of its subordinate role in the first decades of independence, when it was a good deal less important than either Cairo or Baghdad and often seemed little more than a political football kicked back and forth between them. In 1955 Syria fell into Egypt's orbit, and spent the next twenty years in the toils of that relationship, whether wedded or divorced, whether allied in war or at odds in peace. Egypt then lay at the centre of the regional power system, the magnetic pole alternately attracting and repelling Syria. This was the world Nasser had made and which shaped Asad's adult thinking. But 1975 shattered the familiar pattern, forcing Asad to forge a new system of power relationships.
Survival was uppermost in his mind as he came to understand that Kissinger had outfoxed him. Sadat had betrayed him, Iraq was hostile, Saudi Arabia after Faysal's death was uncertain. In the exposed middle ground, under the immediate shadow of Israel, lay Syria, with around it Jordan, Lebanon and the mass of volatile and desperate Palestinians.
Vulnerable to Israeli power and manipulation, these fragile societies were now in the firing line. Under this threat Asad's attention was forced to shift away from peace diplomacy and the duel with Kissinger towards his immediate neighbourhood, which became his prime arena of interest. To resist, Syria needed weight, strategic depth, allies. And so was revived an old idea, predating the Anglo-French carve-up of the region, of the essential unity of the Arab Levant with Damascus as its focus. Both his protective envelope and his area of potential weakness, the Levant was the strategic terrain which Asad now struggled to bring under control.
From 1975, therefore, dated Asad's intense interest in every twist of Palestinian politics, in every shift in King Husayn's nimble footwork and, of course, in every chapter of Lebanon's long torment which was to absorb him for the next decade and beyond. Put in bald military terms, his anxiety was that Israel might attack on one of his exposed flanks: a left hook through Lebanon or a right hook through Jordan. But the threat was not only military. Israel might turn his flank politically by gaining a preponderant influence over either of these neighbours, or it might entrap him by escalating its conflict with the Palestinians. What was at stake in the confrontation with Israel was not just Syria's security, although that peril was real enough, but also its nationalist reputation, its regional stature.
Asad's first defensive move was a rare sortie to Lebanon in January 1975 for a meeting with President Sulayman Franjiya. Given huge publicity, this encounter in the sleepy town of Shtura in the Biqa' valley was meant to signal the closer bond Syria wanted with its neighbour at this dangerous time. Syria's interest in Lebanese affairs did not arouse surprise in either country, for in the general perception Syria and Lebanon were members of the same body. Within living memory, the French had enlarged autonomous Mount Lebanon, the home of Maronite Christians and Druzes, to create the Republic of Lebanon by the addition of territories inhabited, as it happened, mainly by Sunni and Shi'i Muslims. The inhabitants of the coastal cities - Tripoli and its hinterland, Beirut itself, Tyre and Sidon - as well as the Biqa' valley and the south thought of themselves as belonging to a larger entity which they called Syria. In culture, religious diversity, ethnic background, spoken dialect, even in what they ate and drank, Syrians and Lebanese were much of a piece. The populations of the two countries were thoroughly intermingled, with countless families straddling the French-drawn frontier. Intimacy did not, however, preclude a certain measure of suspicion and rivalry, even extending to the relative value of the Lebanese and Syrian lira, with the Lebanese currency at that time invariably ahead. Lebanese Christians feared Syrian irredentism, while Syria in turn was wary of Christian Lebanon's traditional ties with the West and its wavering commitment to the Arab cause. But by and large Syrians and Lebanese knew that they belonged together.
As the overspill in both directions was so immediate, each was highly sensitive to developments in the other's country. The mountain frontier was notoriously permeable to smugglers, to political refugees, to troublemakers, to ideas. A coup in Damascus was always the subject of anxious speculation in Beirut, while Damascus tried to make sure of a say in the composition of Lebanese governments and especially in the choice of president as well as of intelligence and security chiefs. The two countries were like connecting vessels: the political temperature of the one could not but affect that of the other.
Syria's involvement with Jordan and the Palestinians was only slightly less intimate. Three months after his meeting with President Franjiya, on the very day in March that Kissinger began the Sinai Two process, Asad invited Yasir 'Arafat's PLO to join Syria in a 'united command' and in June, as Kissinger's wooing of Sadat intensified, Asad responded by proposing a second 'united command', this time to King Husayn of Jordan. On 10 June Asad paid a visit to Jordan, the first by a Syrian ruler since 1957, and declared in the newly revived spirit of regional solidarity that Syria and Jordan were 'one entity and one country'.1 Even more exposed than Syria to Israeli power and disgruntled at being left out of Kissinger's peace plans, Husayn echoed these sentiments on a return visit to Damascus in August. A long honeymoon between Syria and Jordan followed.
Asad had no illusion about the military value of links with Lebanon, the Palestinians and Jordan: they were political accords, which reflected his concern to protect himself by exerting some control over his immediate environment. Nor was there any great trust between Asad, 'Arafat and Husayn. The three were thrown together in self- defence, in the shared if threadbare hope that, if they closed ranks, Israel could be held.
The Civil War
The immediate challenge came from Lebanon. Civil war broke out in the spring of 1975 and, the fire spreading by leaps and bounds, had by the end of the year claimed thousands of lives, inflicted massive physical damage, partitioned the country between armed gangs, and destroyed the authority of the state. First and foremost, the warfare in Lebanon posed a security problem for Syria: in Asad's own words at the time, the security of the two countries was indivisible.2 He reacted to the threat by repeated attempts to stop the fighting and check the drift towards partition. Three trusted subordinates, the energetic, rough-spoken Foreign Minister Khaddam, Chief of Staff Shihabi and Air Force Commander Jamil, were his chosen instruments, making numerous journeys across the mountains to the Lebanese capital to bring the warring parties together. (Lebanon was to engross Khaddam to such an extent over the coming decade that the Lebanese nicknamed him the wali, or the governor. Lebanese politicians, however, sometimes complained that life under his thumb was worse than it had been under the French.) The traffic was as heavy in the other direction, as Lebanese and Palestinian leaders of all factions flocked to consult Asad. In 1975 alone he met the PLO fourteen times.
At the heart of the conflict lay the Palestinians. Over 150,000 of them had taken refuge in Lebanon after the 1948 war, a total swollen mainly by natural increase to about 400,000 by the mid-1970s. A considerable number were assimilated into Lebanese life but most of this stateless and wretched population lived on the outskirts of the principal cities in camps which had become part slum, part fortress. Following the PLO's violent showdown with King Husayn in 1970-71 many guerrillas took refuge in Lebanon, turning the hilly 'Arqub region in the southeast of the country, which had been largely neglected by the government, into their stronghold. But the Palestinians' presence was felt far beyond the camps and the remote 'Arqub. As Muslim Lebanon provided a supportive environment, the Palestinians were soon woven into the fabric of life, particularly in West Beirut where the various militias set up their headquarters and where their leaders came to exercise great influence. The dolce vita of the capital was more agreeable than the rigours of Fatahland, but there was more to it than that: Lebanon was the only country where Palestinians enjoyed any freedom of movement. Efforts were made to regulate them - notably the Cairo Agreement of 1969 - but paper promises were soon forgotten. When Israeli raids showed that they could expect no protection from the Lebanese army, the Palestinians moved heavy weapons into the refugee camps in a clear breach of the Agreement. Soon the encroachments on Lebanese sovereignty became blatant and beyond counting.
Politically, the Palestinians found allies in the Muslim establishment and, significantly for the future, they also forged alliances with, and helped arm, radical movements which sprang up at that time in Lebanon's permissive climate. Because of this local backing and their own strength, the Palestinians came to throw their weight about, resisting attempts to control them by the weak Lebanese state.
For a decade, from the mid-1960s, the expanding Palestinian presence served increasingly to polarize Lebanese opinion. Muslims, sharing Arab nationalist sentiments, were committed to their cause, but Christians on the whole were not, and the more importunate the Palestinians became, the wider grew the Muslim-Christian cleavage. Most Christians wanted to keep their country out of the Arab-Israeli dispute. In their view Lebanon's raison d'etre was to provide a refuge for Christians, distinct and separate from the Islamic Arab hinterland. They feared the Palestinians whom they came to see as dangerous agents of change, threatening their preponderance, trampling on Lebanese sovereignty, encouraging malcontents to wage class warfare, and above all dragging neutral Lebanon into conflict with Israel.
The Christian front-runner was Pierre Jumayil's Kata'ib (or Phalanges) Party, the oldest, best organized and best armed of the Maronite vigilante groups and increasingly seen by Christian opinion as the only effective champion of 'Christian Lebanon'. Ranged against it was the 'National Movement', a motley collection of radical parties and private armies which came together in 1973 under the banner of Kamal Junblatt, an intriguing figure, part Gandhian socialist, part ambitious politician, part feudal Druze chieftain. His National Movement fronted for the Palestinian militias without whose strength he could not have challenged the Maronites. As battle lines were drawn, most of the country's politicians took sides. President Sulayman Franjiya and ex-President Kamil Sham'un, both with strong-arm gangs of their own, fell in behind the Kata'ib, while leading Sunni politicians like Rashid Karami of Tripoli and Sa'ib Salam of Beirut became spokesmen for the Palestinian cause.
The Palestinians were not the only source of tension in Lebanon. From the birth of the republic Muslims and Christians differed on the political culture to which they felt they belonged, the former tending to identify with the Arab world and the latter with the West. Within both Christian and Muslim camps were further fissures and antagonisms: Lebanon was, after all, a patchwork of clans, creeds and ethnic groups living in uneasy balance, a state of affairs recognized in the elaborate sharing out of public offices and perks on the basis of sectarian identity. The most striking features of the Lebanese system were first the enduring political influence of a handful of notables, then the sectarian schisms, and finally the control of economic life by a network of trading and banking families more concerned with profit than with public good. These arrangements were a recipe for nepotism and resistance to reform. As a result, Muslims came to resent the Christians' built-in privileges and to press for change. Druzes and Shi'a in particular grew disgruntled with a political system founded in essence on a pact between Maronites and Sunnis, which relegated them to lesser status. The underdogs and the poor of all sects began to challenge the fat living of the rich, whether Christian or Muslim. The most potent development was the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Shi'a, victims of government neglect, Israeli bombing and Palestinian high-handedness, by the remarkable Iranian-Lebanese cleric, the Imam Musa al-Sadr, whose Movement of the disinherited was founded in 1974 and its military wing, Amal (Hope), in 1975.
Other forces competed for the backing of the underprivileged as well as of all those dissatisfied with the closed, often corrupt circle of the establishment. In the Lebanese free-for-all, in which fifty daily newspapers were published among countless other periodicals, raucous extra-parliamentary pressure groups flourished, importing into the country the various currents and quarrels of the wider Arab world. Communists, Socialists, Ba'thists, Nasserists, pan-Syrians, and rival sub-sects of each, campaigned against each other and against Lebanon's unreformed political machine. So fragmented a society laid itself open to penetration and manipulation by agents from the surrounding countries and beyond. In this 'centre' of the Arab world, where money, ideologies and politics were traded, tussles for influence raged between Israel and its neighbours; between Syria and its Arab opponents, Egypt and Iraq; between Britain and France; between France and the United States; and between the Soviet Union and the West, to the great disturbance of the local scene.
The system might have survived such indigenous and imported stresses, however, had it not been for the added disruption of the Palestine problem. It had been clear from the Six Day War of 1967 when Israel took over the whole of former Palestine, that Lebanon could enjoy no stability in the absence of a political settlement for those who had been dispossessed. Unsatisfied Palestinian frustrations could not but overturn the unsteady Lebanese equilibrium. It was not by chance that the long rumbling tensions erupted into civil war in 1975. Serious disturbances broke out in the spring, precisely at the time when Secretary of State Kissinger started his Sinai Two shuttle, and the conflagration raged out of control in the autumn just as Egypt and Israel concluded their agreement. The Lebanese civil war ran parallel with Kissinger's Middle East diplomacy and can be seen as the of the regional conflicts provoked by his step-by-step advance to Arab disunity.
For when it became clear that Kissinger's objective was not a comprehensive settlement but merely to take Egypt out of play, two powerful currents of alarm and frustration were released in Lebanon. The Christians felt that they would never be quit of the hated and hostile Palestinians, while the Palestinians, deserted by the most powerful Arab state, trembled for their future. It was this insecurity which drove both sides to war. On a flying visit during his early shuttles, Kissinger met Lebanese politicians who pleaded with him to save their country by doing something for the refugees.3 But he did nothing. After ten years of mounting fear Lebanon in the mid-1970s could have been saved only by a comprehensive Middle East settlement in which the Palestinians were accommodated. Such was the devout hope of Lebanese of all complexions, of neighbouring Arab states and of the mass of Palestinians. But Kissinger and Israel decided otherwise. Sinai Two gave Lebanon its coup de grace.
Israel's part in the tragedy predated Kissinger's. It had long been Israel's policy to make its neighbours pay heavily for Palestinian raids from their territory. Massive retaliation was designed to oblige host governments to control the guerrillas, and on most fronts it worked. But when the Palestinians started operating out of southern Lebanon in 1968, the puny Lebanese army was too weak to bottle them up. Its attempts to do so resulted in clashes which themselves sharpened Lebanon's tensions, sparking off a violent internal debate about the role of the army: should it protect the guerrillas from Israeli strikes (as Arab nationalists demanded) or punish the Palestinians (as the Maronites preferred)?
As it happened, Palestinian attacks on northern Israel from Lebanon were small-scale and ineffective between the 1967 and 1973 wars, largely limited to cross-border sorties into the occupied Golan Heights. But Israel hit the hapless Lebanese in response to Palestinian operations anywhere in the world, or sometimes simply because Lebanon gave the guerrillas house-room. The aim of Israeli retaliation went beyond punishing or deterring the Palestinian enemy: it was evidently designed to provoke dissension inside Lebanon.
For example, when an Israeli airliner was attacked at Athens airport in December 1968 by guerrillas of George Habash's PFLP, Israeli commandos raided Beirut airport and blew up thirteen Lebanese airliners, sparking off a cycle of strikes, demonstrations, and the fall of the government. Israeli attacks against southern Lebanon became particularly brutal following the influx of Palestinians from Jordan in 1970—71. There were several large-scale armoured sweeps through villages, in which houses were bulldozed, prisoners taken, and resisters shot. The increasing use of Israeli air power made parts of the south uninhabitable and accelerated the flight of Shi'i peasantry to slums around Beirut where inevitably they upset the community balance and were soon to change the character of the capital altogether. Following the brutal murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, a two-day Israeli rampage along Lebanon's Mediterranean coast dynamited bridges, flattened scores of houses and left a trail of death and devastation in sixteen villages.
These attacks set the Lebanese against each other as well as Christians against the guerrillas. The Palestinian presence gave Israel a mechanism with which to provoke violent confrontations between Maronites and Palestinians, and a handle over Arab peace in general. On the night of 9—10 April 1973 Israeli commandos raided central Beirut and murdered three Fatah leaders in their beds, immediately precipitating huge anti-government demonstrations, a clash between the Muslim prime minister Sa'ib Salam and the Maronite president Sulayman Franjiya, and more than two weeks of fierce fighting between the Lebanese army and Palestinian militias.
When in the spring of 1974 groups of Palestinians started striking into Israel proper, Israeli reprisals duly escalated, with further damage to the fabric of Lebanon. On 15 May, in an attempt to secure the release of some of their fighters held in Israeli jails, Palestinian guerrillas took hostage a schoolroom of children in the Israeli border town of Maalot. The unit responsible called itself 'Kamal Nasser' after one of the Fatah leaders assassinated by Israel in Beirut in April 1973. When Israel refused to trade and stormed the building, sixteen children were killed in the crossfire before the guerrillas themselves were killed. The Maalot killings triggered off several days of ferocious, widespread and systematic Israeli attacks by aircraft, gunboats and ground forces against Palestinian camps and Lebanese villages, in which whole settlements were flattened and between 300 and 400 people killed and wounded.
These violent events took place when Kissinger was in the Middle East, in fact at the height of his Syrian shuttle. He asked Asad for his reaction to Maalot. 'Asad was icily aloof, Kissinger wrote later. 'Why wouldn't Israel give up twenty prisoners and save its children?' he inquired, but even then Asad was worried that Israeli retaliation against Lebanon might sooner or later suck Syria in.
In all, there were some forty-four major Israeli attacks on Lebanon between mid-1968 and mid-1974, resulting in the deaths of about 880 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians.6 But beyond these casualties and the material damage, the attacks undermined the coherence of Lebanese society and tore the country apart. From 1973 onwards both sides of the Lebanese divide, sensing that they faced physical annihilation, stepped up their efforts to arm themselves and scrambled for allies.
As the fighting in Lebanon spread in tandem with the final phase of Kissinger's diplomacy, Asad became convinced that the conflict was being manipulated From outside. In his analysis, the Lebanese civil war had been fanned into flame to distract the Arab world from what Kissinger was cooking up between Egypt and Israel: it was a cover for Sinai Two, drowning it in blood. Secondly, he saw it as a plot to draw the Palestinian Resistance into war in order to destroy it. And thirdly, he believed the goal was to partition Lebanon, the 'old Zionist aim', as he put it.7 If the Christians were driven by Palestinian and Muslim pressure to set up a sectarian statelet of their own, Arab nationalism as a bond between Arabs would be discredited, Islam would be made to seem intolerant, the Palestinian programme for a 'secular democratic state' embracing Muslims, Christians and Jews would appear hollow, and Israel would reign supreme over a balkanized Levant.
Asad was obsessed by the precedent of the Jordan crisis of 1970. 'Black September' had blooded him when he was on the very threshold of power, and there too Palestinian militias had challenged the state. He had intervened half-heartedly to try to protect the guerrillas, but had balked at outright war with Jordan and withdrawn his troops within days. Yet even his ineffectual show of force had at the time been enough to give Israel the chance to threaten intervention and thereafter, as Husayn's protector, to extend its influence over Jordan and manoeuvre the king into a covert, equivocal relationship. Was the Jordan nightmare to be repeated in Lebanon, allowing Israel to spread its tentacles up Syria's western flank?
In Asad's view, Syria and Israel were engaged in a contest for the Levant as a whole. Just as they jousted over Lebanon, so they were also engaged in a struggle for Jordan, with Asad endeavouring to bind the king to him and Israel trying to prise him away. As Syrian-Jordanian ties grew closer, Israel's Prime Minister Rabin warned the king in February 1976 to beware of the 'Syrian bear'.8 Syria was 'playing with fire', he declared, in attempting to build an eastern front.9 And on the day in March when Husayn called on Asad in Damascus, Moshe Dayan tried to throw a spanner in the works by revealing Husayn's many secret talks with Israeli leaders since the Six Day War.10 Right across the Levant chessboard Syria and Israel were jockeying for position.
Asad was by this time persuaded that Israel and the United States were acting in collusion, concerting their diplomatic strategies at the United Nations and elsewhere, as well as their covert operations on the ground in Jordan and Lebanon where he suspected them of inciting the Christians against the Palestinians. Whenever a laboriously negotiated ceasefire seemed to be holding, some outrage would set the place ablaze again, discharging a fresh spate of tit-for-tat kidnappings or killings, as if agents-provocateurs were determined to fuel the spiral of violence. He knew that Israel, whose alliance with the Maronites became public in 1976, had a strong intelligence presence in Lebanon, while American agencies were not absent. A former employee of the US National Security Agency was one American official to allege that the Athens station of the CIA had been used to activate the Kata'ib and 'kindle the war'.
Asad felt his environment bristling with perils. He could not allow the Lebanese crisis to rot. If necessary, he would have to intervene and he felt no qualms about doing so. His gut conviction was that Syria's concern with Lebanon was in the very nature of things, whereas interference by Israel, a state alien to the region, could only be illegitimate and malign. Of one thing Asad was certain: if the American-Israeli 'conspiracy' against him was to be thwarted, the fighting in Lebanon had to be stopped. The longer it continued, the greater Israel's opportunities. In his mind it was as clear as a mathematical formula.12
The Violence Grows
From December 1975 onwards a number of developments in Lebanon caused Asad extreme alarm. As the violence grew he envisaged two possible outcomes, both equally horrendous: either the Maronites would set up a separate state, which would bring Israel in as its protector, or the radicals with Palestinian backing would beat the Maronites, which would bring Israel in as punisher. If Syria intervened, it faced defeat; if it remained on the sidelines, Lebanon would fall to the enemy.
Abductions, random killings and other acts of savagery had already become depressingly familiar, but the massacre on 'Black Saturday', 6 December 1975, of some 200 Muslim civilians, rounded up and butchered in Beirut by Christian militiamen simply because of their religion, touched new depths of barbarism which seemed to rule out any hope of reconciliation. The massacre and the revenge killings that followed stampeded populations back and forth to the security of their co-religionaries, as whole neighbourhoods in hostile territory were blotted out. Each side took further cruel and decisive action in January to 'clean' its patch of alien elements and secure its lines. The Christians overran and razed the Shi'i slum of Karantina in Beirut's port area and the nearby Palestinian camp of Dbaya, because they lay astride roads from Christian East Beirut to the Christian heartlands in the mountains. At the same time the National Movement and its '"Palestinian "allies overwhelmed and ravaged the Christian localities of Damur, Jiyah and Kamil Sham'un's fief of Sa'diyat lying astride the roads linking Muslim West Beirut to the south. Partition was becoming a reality.
To head off a Lebanese collapse, Asad had tried to persuade the warring camps to agree on reforms. In February he encouraged President Franjiya to issue a Constitutional Document giving the Muslims some of the key concessions they had campaigned for: equal parliamentary representation with the Christians; more powers for the Sunni prime minister who was to be chosen by parliament rather than by the Maronite president and whose signature would be required on all decrees and laws; equal access to top civil service posts; and a reference to Lebanon as 'an Arab country'. A year or two earlier these adjustments might have kept the peace, but in the charnel-house which Lebanon had become by the spring of 1976 they were woefully inadequate.
In March 1976 came the knockout blow to the Lebanese state: the disintegration of the army into its religious components, with mutinies by Muslim officers in favour of the left while Christian officers flocked to the Kata'ib. Then, with support from the mutineers, the radicals went on the offensive: they drove Christian forces out of downtown Beirut and bombarded the presidential palace, sending Franjiya fleeing for his life. They began moving against the Christian mountain, herding the Maronites back into a 'Little Lebanon' with the port of Junieh as its main centre. Asad's dilemma in the spring of 1976 was that those in Lebanon most intent on pursuing the fight were his presumed friends and proteges - Kamal Junblatt's radicals and the Palestinians. So worried was he that in mid-March 1976 he cancelled at short notice a state visit he was due to make to France, his first ever as Syrian president to a Western country.
The Red Line Agreement
The Lebanese crisis was Henry Kissinger's swansong, the last occasion on which he exercised his manipulative skills in the Middle East before President Carter's election removed him from office. As the civil war grew more menacing in the spring of 1976, Kissinger's concern was how to break the tidal wave of radicals and Palestinians which was carrying all before it. He had until then been largely indifferent to the Lebanese predicament, but the victories of the left could no longer be ignored. The Soviet Union which was backing the winning side looked like gaining valuable ground. A more immediate worry was what~Syria and Israel would do. Both saw Lebanon as crucial to their security, but, if they clashed, a new Middle East war might be the consequence, putting at risk Kissinger's achievements and in particular the Israel- Egypt relationship.
For Kissinger, as indeed for Asad and Rabin, events in Lebanon seemed a replay of the Jordan crisis of 1970. Then Asad had sent in his armour until forced out by the spectre of an Israeli strike. Was not this the model for Lebanon in 1976? Once again the Palestinians were at war, and once again Israel was flexing its muscles to keep Syria out. Israeli warnings had been conveyed to Syria through the United States whose ambassador in Damascus, Richard Murphy, told Asad that Israel would view any Syrian entry into Lebanon as 'a very grave threat' to itself. Murphy's ultimatum —do not intervene, or Israel will13 - was given added force by his caution that the United States might not be able to hold Israel back. It was a classic expression of Israel's traditional position that the presence of other Arab troops in either Lebanon or Jordan would be considered a casus belli.
Then Henry Kissinger had a cleverer idea. It may have dawned on him when he went to the airport in Washington on 29 March 1976 to greet King Husayn of Jordan. The two men shared many secrets from the 1970 crisis. In the receiving line at the airport the king and Kissinger came upon L. Dean Brown, the former US ambassador to Amman who had been their go-between in the critical days of Black September. It was perhaps this chance encounter as well as his conversations with Husayn at this time which planted the seed of a characteristically byzantine scheme in Kissinger's fertile mind. Within twenty-four hours he brought Dean Brown out of retirement and sent him on a special mission to Beirut.
Until that moment, the received wisdom in both Washington and Jerusalem was to scare Asad into keeping out of Lebanon as Christians and Palestinians battled it out. This was Israel's instinct and to begin with it was Kissinger's too. His brainwave was to turn the received wisdom on its head. Surely the right policy was not to scare Asad off the scene, but rather to scare him on to it? Instead of saying to him, 'If you go in, so will Israel', the shrewder message was, 'If you don't go in, Israel certainly will'.
Kissinger was not feeling well-disposed towards the Syrian leader: his initial appreciation had long since given way to something cooler as Asad proved the sharpest and most obstructive critic of his diplomacy. He was aware that Asad's overriding fear was of an Israeli intervention in Lebanon to save the Christians, a fear which was causing him to attempt to restrain Junblatt and 'Arafat from pressing the Christians too hard. Kissinger grasped that Asad's anxieties could be turned to advantage: instead of protecting the Palestinians, Asad might be induced to crush them in order to prevent them from triggering off what he most feared — an Israeli invasion.
The benefits for the United States and Israel could be great indeed: the Palestinians would be humbled, the left reined in, Moscow thwarted, and Asad himself tarnished by a deed heinous in Arab eyes. How much of this Kissinger worked out and how much was just 'feel' must be a matter of speculation.
To ensure the desired outcome required the pulling of a few strings. Syria had to be told that the United States would not disapprove of an intervention in Lebanon and that Israel would not contest it by force; Israel in turn had to be persuaded - against its natural instinct - to accept the entry of a Syrian army into Lebanon; and in Lebanon itself the fighting between Christians and Palestinians would have to be kept going because if it stopped Syria would have no further cause to intervene.
Israel was not easily convinced of the wisdom of letting Syrian troops in, seeing that it was an axiom of Israel's policy that Syria had to be contained, not encouraged to expand. But on this occasion too Kissinger was able to argue that he knew best what was good for Israel. He won unexpected support from Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur and chief of Military Intelligence Shlomo Gazit, who both asserted that the entry of Syrian forces into Lebanon would actually weaken the Syrian army and divert its attention from the Golan Heights. Rabin was eventually converted.
Everything was in place for the secret US-Syrian-Israeli understanding which came to be known as the 'red-line' agreement - an unwritten, unsigned and by the Syrians unavowed accord whereby Israel agreed to the entry of Syrian troops into parts of Lebanon.14 The Israelis hedged their acceptance by insisting that Syrian troops south of the Damascus- Beirut road could not exceed one brigade and could not bring in SAMs. Israel also insisted on limiting Syrian air and naval deployment. This interpretation of the 'red-line' agreement was contained in a letter from Israel's then Foreign Minister Yigal Allon to Kissinger, the terms of which he passed on to Damascus.15 But, these restrictions apart, the fact remained that the red-line agreement was an invitation to Syria to come in, not a warning to it to stay out. Syria could now move against the Palestinians in Lebanon with the assurance that Israel would not interfere.
The turnabout was heralded by a dramatic change of tune from Washington. Right up to the end of March the State Department publicly warned Damascus against intervention, but suddenly thereafter the White House, Kissinger himself, L. Dean Brown and the Damascus embassy started issuing expressions of approval for Syria's 'constructive' role. Never did red light change more rapidly to green.
L. Dean Brown, Kissinger's envoy, handled the Lebanese end of the affair. Visiting Junblatt in his castle of Mukhtara, he expressed gloom about the future of co-existence between Druzes and Maronites which Junblatt took to mean American sanction for partition - and therefore for a continuation of the war.16 To the three principal Christian leaders, Franjiya, Jumayil and Sham'un, holed up in their mountain fortresses, Brown made plain that they could not expect rescue from the Marines as in 1958, but that their salvation lay in strengthening themselves through closer ties with Israel.17 Thus the Lebanese war machine was primed.
Threats from Junblatt and 'Arafat
In 1976 Asad felt compelled to intervene militarily in the civil war. His move was not impulsive. It had been long pondered and debated within the Ba'th party leadership. The writing had been on the wall for months. As early as December 1975 Asad had sent into Lebanon units of the Palestine Liberation Army and of Sa'iqa to rein in the radical alliance and separate the combatants. He had warned bluntly that Syria would strike at anyone who broke the peace, but his words had gone unheeded.
On 27 March 1976 he had a stormy seven-hour meeting with Kamal Junblatt, the uncontested leader of the Lebanese left. Junblatt had just announced the formation of a 'Fakhreddin Army' (named after a seventeenth century Druze hero) to unite all Muslim and leftist forces and wage 'total and irreversible' war on the Christian forces.18 But to Asad Junblatt's war policy seemed utter folly, playing straight into Israel's hands and exposing Syria itself to untold peril. 'Why are you escalating the fighting?' he asked. 'The reforms in the Constitutional Document give you 95 per cent of what you want. What else are you after?' Junblatt replied that he wanted to get rid of the Christians 'who have been on top of us for 140 years'. The problem was that, as a Druze, Junblatt was constitutionally debarred from the presidency which was reserved for Maronites alone. To rule Lebanon as he aspired to do, he had to smash the confessional system, but smashing the system meant smashing the Christians or at least subjugating them. In spite of this inherited position as a Druze baron, Junblatt was a genuine man of the left. Since the founding of his Progressive Socialist Party in 1949, he had campaigned for reform, coming to stand as a champion of the have-nots of Lebanese society. He had early befriended the Palestinians, proclaimed himself a Nasserist, enjoyed cordial relations with Moscow, and from the late 1960s onwards had gathered together a vast constituency of Arab nationalists and radicals of all sorts. And by the spring of 1976, as his allies besieged the strongholds of his old Maronite rivals, he scented victory.19
But Asad was filled with horror at the prospect of a radical, adventurist Lebanon on his flank, provoking Israel and alarming the West by giving free rein to Palestinian militants. And this was precisely where Junblatt's ambition was leading. For if Junblatt could not seize the whole of Lebanon, he evidently had his eye on the 'leftist' half - the south, the Shuf, Sidon and West Beirut - where he saw himself running a sort of Mediterranean Cuba which he imagined Soviet support would make invulnerable.20 The steering committee of his National Movement was already posing as the cabinet of this future 'people's republic', with as its 'prime minister' a radical Shi'i pamphleteer, Muhsin Ibrahim, who had travelled from MAN to Marxism. Asad had little taste for the upheaval Junblatt was seeking to bring about. He was not averse to reform in Lebanon: he had in fact inspired Franjiya's Constitutional Document and when that failed had forced through the premature election of Ilyas Sarkis in the hope that a new untarnished leader would stabilize the situation. But he was a man of order and he did not want the Maronite establishment deposed.
Junblatt stormed out of the meeting with Asad totally unpersuaded of the need to stop his war. Returning to Beirut, his attacks on Syria and its leader became more strident and, to Asad's dismay, his commitment to battle still more wholehearted. In Asad's view Junblatt's ambition blinded him to the big picture, but he held the Palestinian leaders still more culpable a s their troops alone made Junblatt's warlike strategy credible. 'Arafat, Abu lyad, George Habash and the others had evidently not learned the lesson of their disastrous confrontation with King Husayn in 1970.
Asad's relations with the Palestinian Resistance had long been highly ambivalent: in theory he was with it heart and soul, in practice it was a constant source of trouble. A passionate advocate of the Palestine cause, Asad could claim that no Arab leader had fought for it more consistently or had more firmly linked his own future to the recovery of Palestinian rights. First to arm the guerrillas in the 1960s, Syria had been the only Arab state to attempt to protect them against King Husayn in 1970. In 1971, when Husayn was finishing them off in the wilds of northern Jordan, Asad had sent Mustafa Tlas to negotiate a deal which would have given the militias sanctuaries overlooking the Jordan valley but, obsessed by hatred of the king, the Fatah leadership had shortsightedly refused to compromise, making the move to Lebanon inevitable. In 1971-3 Syria had housed the fighters and kept them supplied as they took over the hill country of 'Arqub — their 'Fatahland'. From 1972 Syrian anti-aircraft gunners had even been posted secretly to Palestinian camps in Lebanon to protect them against Israeli air attack. Again in April-May 1973, when the Palestinians were fighting the Lebanese army, Asad had sent Syrian commandos to their aid and closed the frontier with Lebanon in their support. Asad was even to claim later that the thirteen Syrian planes shot down by Israel on the eve of the October War had been defending Palestinians in the 'Arqub.21
But when all was said and done, Asad had no confidence in the guerrillas, and considered their operations a dangerous nuisance in that, for trifling results, they allowed Israel t o mobilize international sympathy and exposed Arab states to attack. Asad would not prevent anyone going off to fight Israel if they wished to do so, but in Syria at least any such operation had to be firmly controlled and subordinated to national policy.
The war in Lebanon brought to the surface the essential irreconcilability of the interests of the Arab states and those of the guerrillas. The Palestinians yearned for freedom to decide their own strategies, but such independence could be had only at the expense of the security of Arab states. In 1975-6 Asad woke up to the fact that the Palestinians held the key to Lebanon's sovereignty: the power of decision over peace and war. This was the crux of his conflict with them.22
'Arafat came three times to Damascus that spring, in March, April and May but, just as Asad's encounter with Junblatt had been a dialogue of the deaf, so his encounters with 'Arafat simply widened the chasm between them. The cautious Syrian leader, a strategist with an iron grasp of the possible, wrestled with the mercurial Palestinian whose temperament inclined him to the taking of impossible risks. Asad warned 'Arafat to keep out of the war. Disturbance in Lebanon was not in the interests of the Resistance. There could be no possible connection, he argued, between fighting the Christians in the Lebanese mountains and recovering Palestine. In a major speech on 12 April he declared:
“We are against those who insist on continuing the fighting. A great conspiracy is being hatched against the Arab nation . . . Our brothers in the Palestinian leadership must understand and be aware of the gravity of this conspiracy. They are the prime targets.”
But 'Arafat dreamed of autonomy for his movement free from Arab tutelage. Both Iraq and Egypt were pressing him to resist Asad's influence. Half the Lebanese population was on his side, leading him to believe that his position there was both legitimate and unassailable. He would not be dictated to by Syria. Just as Junblatt yearned to rule Lebanon, so 'Arafat saw a leftist Lebanon in which he held the real power as the best haven and the most effective springboard for his homeless people. So he made the fateful decision to continue the war against the Christians. It was to be a war against Syria.
Asad sent an army into Lebanon to teach the Palestinians sense and to keep the Christians Arab. On the night of 31 May to 1 June 1976 Syrian armoured columns crossed the border in strength and immediately broke the Palestinian and leftist siege on several Christian settlements, notably the important town of Zahla in the Biqa' valley. Once reasoning, persuasion and threats had failed Asad felt he had no choice. This was his first major use of force since the October War, but whereas that campaign had expressed the deepest Arab yearnings and won him enthusiastic applause, his Lebanon action was widely misunderstood, was shot through with mixed motives and unnatural alliances, and proved profoundly unpopular. It was an altogether awkward and thankless venture which was to cost Asad friends abroad and generate at home one of the worst crises of his presidency.
At first his intervention was low-key, even tentative, each advance preceded by calls on the Palestinians and their allies to lay d o w n their arms and withdraw from Christian areas. Asad was clearly anxious to avoid large-scale clashes or casualties to either side. As in Jordan in 1970, his tanks were given no air cover. But when the Palestinian command rejected his ultimatums, Asad brought in artillery and aircraft in support of thrusts deeper into Lebanon. Sharp engagements were fought along the Damascus-Beirut highway, in and around the southern port of Sidon, in Fatahland, in the foothills of Mount Hermon, and around the northern port of Tripoli. By late June Syrian forces were blockading Palestinian and leftist strongpoints and supply lines by land and sea and controlled some two-thirds of the country, although not the populated coastal strip.
The battle in the Sidon area was to be of traumatic significance. Not expecting to meet resistance, a Syrian tank unit ran into a Palestinian ambush in which at least two tanks were destroyed and four others captured. Some Syrian officers and crews were killed. Rumours spread that they had been beheaded and their heads kicked about like footballs, although this was almost certainly untrue. Reports also reached Asad that Syrian soldiers who had been manning anti-aircraft guns in Palestinian camps had been beaten up and in some cases killed. He was outraged by these incidents and his heart hardened against the Palestinians. The fools were digging their own graves by sucking him deeper into a conflict he longed to avoid. With all the indignation of a man convinced of his own rectitude, he wrote off the Palestinian leaders not just as reckless adventurers but as thankless wretches who bit the hand that fed them. The extraordinary personal animus between Asad and 'Arafat probably dates from the Sidon ambush.24
Syria's intervention turned the tide of the civil war, throwing the Palestinians and leftists on the defensive and allowing the Christians to move to the attack against hostile enclaves in their territory, and in particular against the great sprawling camp of Tal al-Za'tar in Beirut's eastern suburbs to which they now laid siege. After a fifty-two-day blockade of savage intensity, this slum, inhabited by some 30,000 Palestinian and Shi'i refugees, fell to Christian forces on 12 August. About 3,000 civilians died, many of them slaughtered after the camp had fallen to Kamil Sham'un's private army, the so-called 'Tigers', commanded by his son Dany.
The merciless carnage at Tal al-Za'tar was the first of many massacres of Palestinian civilians by other Arabs, prefiguring the Sabra and Shatila killings of 1982 perpetrated by Christian militiamen with Israeli encouragement, and the 'war of the camps' of 1986-7, in which the Palestinians' tormentors were Shi'a allied to Syria. But by illustrating the switch in Syria's friendships, Tal al-Za'tar dug a trench of hatred and suspicion between Asad and the Palestinians.
Asad's war on the Palestinians and his defence of the Christians were seen as an astonishing, and to many a profoundly shocking, reversal of alliances. The lion of Arabism was slaughtering Arabism's sacred cow. For the rest of his presidency Asad was to bear the burden of a policy which was as unpopular with the Arab masses as it was misunderstood. Israel meanwhile watched him thrashing about in the Lebanese quagmire with undisguised satisfaction. Prime Minister Rabin observed sardonically that he saw no need to disturb the Syrian army in its killing of 'Arafat's terrorists'.25 Kissinger's calculations had proved correct: his discreet string-pulling had caused Syria, of all countries, to bash Palestinians and dash Soviet hopes.
The outcry against Asad's war in Lebanon was heard from one end of the Arab world to the other. Sadat broke off relations and his foreign minister accused Asad of genocide.26 Iraq's strong man Saddam Husayn sent troops to the Syrian border, calling Asad a megalomaniac whose mad ambitions had immersed him in a bloodbath of his own making.27 Junblatt denounced the Syrian government as a fascist military regime, and both he and Palestinian leaders called for all-out war against Damascus. For Asad's military intervention had put an abrupt end to Junblatt's daydreams. And the paradox was that once Asad had robbed him of everything he had struggled for, Junblatt really did revert to being a narrowly vindictive, lord of the Druzes. This normally non-violent man, this Gandhian, became very violent indeed, seeing himself at last as the frustrated instrument of a historic Druze revenge on the Maronites. With his vision of a socialist Lebanon shattered, he seemed to be taken over by the ancient feuds of his ancestors.28 The now beleaguered National Movement appealed for the despatch of Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan or Iraqi troops, for UN or French intervention, or indeed for help against Syria from any quarter. At the same time Syrian embassies in various countries came under attack from pro-PLO Arab demonstrators. More ominously for Asad, there were persistent reports that the oil states, which had so generously funded Syria's boom after 1973, were now cutting back their subsidies.
In the closed world of Ba'thist politics, another painful shaft was fired at him: Salah al-Din Bitar, co-founder of the party and now in exile in Paris, asked in an article in Le Monde how it was that Syria, 'the beating heart of Arabism', could have joined Christian isolationists on a course so foreign to its traditions. The answer, he said damagingly, lay in the nature of power in Damascus: lonely, cut off from the people, stifling all democracy.~9
Two other charges, widely circulated at the time, did Asad much harm. The first was that he was acting in collusion with the United States to crush the Palestinians in order to pave the way for an American peace plan. He took this hard, seeing that he had reason to consider himself the main obstacle to, and main victim of, American and Israeli scheming. The second slur was that he was playing minority politics - hastening to the relief of the Maronites because he was himself a minority. Anti Syrian demonstrators in Beirut chanted: 'Asad, we can stomach you as an Alawite but not as a Maronite!'30 Insight into the feelings of threatened minorities was indeed part of Asad's inheritance, but, in all fairness, his Lebanese adventure was motivated by geo-strategic reasons, by the need to head off an Israeli intervention, and not by narrow sectarian sentiments. When still a schoolboy, he had self-consciously climbed out of the minority trap in order to embrace the Arab cause. Now, angrily warning his enemies not to push him too far, he declared that 'nothing embarrasses us in this country. We have gone beyond complexes and have been free for a long time.'31 It was a personal cri de coeur.
Although he put a brave face on it, at home his regime was shaken and there were frequent reports of disturbance and disaffection that summer, amplified by his enemies but real nonetheless. In September three Palestinians were hanged in public for seizing a Damascus hotel and taking hostages. In the face of such violence, Asad felt the need for more protection: a Presidential Guard was set up under his wife's kinsman, 'Adnan Makhluf, while his brother Rif'at was promoted to the rank of full colonel and his Defence Companies, the praetorian guard of the regime, were reinforced.
Among the casualties of Asad's armed foray into Lebanon were good relations with the Soviet Union. The Soviet leadership was alarmed at the turn of events in the spring of 1976 and sent Premier Kosygin to the area, first to Iraq and then to Syria. In Baghdad, where he arrived in late May, Kosygin publicly cautioned Syria against intervention in Lebanon, but by the time he reached Damascus on 1 June it was too late. Asad had overnight thrust his troops and his Russian armour across the border. In spite of Asad's lengthy explanations, the Soviet premier was angry32 and Tass commented sourly that Syria's intervention had done nothing to staunch the 'ever- swelling river of blood'.33 The reasons for Soviet displeasure were easy to divine. The Russians admired Junblatt (he was one of only a few Arabs to be awarded the Lenin Peace Prize); they had close ties with the PLO; loath to have to choose between Asad and the Lebanese left, they were embarrassed to see them fighting each other. Above all, they had expected great political gains in Lebanon, perhaps hoping to turn it into a unique relay station for their regional influence once their friends had triumphed. By destroying these expectations Asad seemed to be putting the clock back to a Western-dominated Lebanon, thereby annulling ten years of hard work by the left.
As the Syrians advanced into Lebanon, Junblatt and the Palestinians waited for the Soviet Union to save them, and Kosygin in Damascus was bombarded with appeals. Some deluded. souls, .even imagined Soviet paratroopers would drop out of the skies. Moscow had indeed told the Lebanese Communist Party and other friends on the left that it disapproved of Syria's intervention, and this was locally misunderstood to mean that Moscow would do something to stop it.34 In fact, the Kremlin intended not a breach with Syria but merely a cooling of relations. Brezhnev sent a message to Asad urging him to withdraw and Moscow made repeated pleas to all three parties —Syria, the Lebanese left and the Palestinians — to close ranks.
For Asad the practical consequences of Soviet displeasure were severe enough: new arms contracts were postponed and, at a time when Israel seemed particularly threatening, he was largely deprived of a superpower prop. Recalling the crisis a decade later he said with characteristic understatement,35
There was a setback in our relations with the Soviet Union. Certain commitments between us came to an end. It was difficult for them to understand the nature of our relations with Lebanon. Advanced Soviet weaponry did not again reach Syria until 1978 when, in the wake of Sadat's trip to Jerusalem, Asad was back in favour as the Russians' friend in the Middle East. The opprobrium heaped upon him from all quarters did not divert Asad from his objectives of removing the Palestinians from the Christian heartlands, separating them from the leftist National Movement, and taming both in the interests of his wider anti-Israeli strategy.
The summer of 1976 was spent in low-level military operations alternating with renewed appeals and ultimatums. Then, in late September and October, Asad launched a number of major offensives which ended in the near-rout of the Palestinians and their allies. He was now ready to accept a Saudi invitation to a peace-making summit in Riyadh on 16 October which consecrated his Pyrrhic victory. His presence in Lebanon was legitimized. His troops were recognized as the major contingent in a proposed 'Arab Deterrent Force' which Saudi Arabia and Kuwait agreed to fund. The Palestinians were returned to their camps after promises had been extracted from them (and soon broken) to abide by the Cairo Agreement. Asad's venomous quarrels with Sadat and 'Arafat were for the moment papered over, and all this was endorsed at a wider Arab gathering in Cairo on 25 October. In mid-November Syrian troops marched into West Beirut, the leftist private armies vanished from the streets and the civil war was declared over.
But Asad's victory was partial and compromised. From then on he had to bear the burden of having pursued a course which the majority of Arabs saw as profoundly anti-Arab. He defended himself, then and later, eloquently and repeatedly, tracing in public the whole history of his relations with Junblatt and 'Arafat. From first to last Asad remained convinced that, whatever the outside pressures on him, his intervention had been tactically and morally correct and that he had been impelled by the highest principles.36 He had been forced to act by the blindness and ambition of men who could not grasp the nature of his life-and-death struggle with Israel. But the shadow remained. Whatever his justifications, he was never wholly believed, and in some important way he was seen to have departed from the Arab mainstream.
Israel and the Maronites
The men whose war had forced his intervention continued to plague him, the one in life and the other in death. It was widely believed at the time that Asad not only wished to tame the Palestinian movement but also to depose Yasir 'Arafat and name in his stead Syria's man, Khalid al-Fahum, a Damascus-based former teacher of chemistry who was then chairman of the Palestine National Council. But 'Arafat, both then and in the coming years, proved remarkably resistant to Syrian pressures.
'Arafat's civil war ally, Kamal Junblatt, was assassinated on 16 March 1977 when on his way from his castle, Mukhtara, to B'aqlin, the largest Druze village in the Shuf. His car was intercepted, two men got in, ordered his bodyguards out, and blew off the top of his head before making their getaway. Kamal Junblatt's son, Walid, who succeeded him as head of the Junblatt clan, was one of many to hold the Syrians responsible. As he later explained: 'My father was badly advised. He was informed that a coup was in preparation in Syria and that by attacking the 'Alawi leadership there he could upset the regime. All he did was sign his death warrant.' Walid Junblatt called on Asad at the end of the forty-day period of mourning for his father. He had to choose between Syria and Israel and, notwithstanding his suspicions of its complicity in his father's murder, he chose Syria. It was nevertheless disconcerting to be greeted by Asad with the words: 'How closely you resemble your father!'37 Whether or not Asad willed Junblatt's death, he was blamed for it throughout the Arab world and his reputation suffered. There was, however, some benefit to be derived: with Junblatt's disappearance, the anti-Syrian coalition he led fell apart.
Nevertheless, Asad's fundamental objective in Lebanon eluded him. He had fought against the Palestinians and protected the Christians in order to deny Israel a pretext for intervention. But his controversial and costly move proved vain: by the end of 1976 Israel was more deeply involved in Lebanese affairs than ever and was flaunting its intimate relationship with the Maronites to the shock and horror of Arab opinion which for three decades had sought to put the 'Zionist entity' into quarantine. The Christians had accepted Syria's help but to Asad's fury they had also reinsured with Israel. Israeli weapons, advisers and cash flowed into the Maronite heartlands through the port of Junieh while southern Lebanon was restructured to Israel's advantage. As early as July 1976, barely a month after Syria entered Lebanon, Defence Minister Shimon Peres announced the 'good fence programme' whereby the frontier security barriers which Israel had erected in 1974 were opened to traffic, offering Lebanese residents of the border villages employment, medical care and markets for their produce in Israel, and thereby giving Israel a chance to turn them into collaborators against the Palestinians. Israeli armoured patrols now penetrated freely into Lebanon and, by October, a pro-Israeli militia led by Major Sa'd Haddad, a Christian officer of the defunct Lebanese Army, was functioning as Israel's early-warning system along the whole border.38
The Christians were thankless, the Druzes bitter, radicals of all shades vengeful, the Palestinians hostile and still in arms, and Israel, now as much part of the Lebanese scene as Syria itself, able to tweak Asad's tail at will. In defence of his strategic environment, Asad had fallen into the Lebanese quagmire.