US embassy cable - 85BEIRUT2325

POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF WEST BEIRUT FIGHTING

Identifier: 85BEIRUT2325
Wikileaks: View 85BEIRUT2325 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Beirut
Created: 1985-04-18 17:56:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL LE SY
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 181756Z APR 85
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2708
INFO AMEMBASSY AMMAN IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY CAIRO IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY LONDON IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY NICOSIA IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY PARIS IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY RIYADH IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV IMMEDIATE
AMCONSUL JERUSALEM IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 02325 
 
CAIRO ALSO FOR ASSISTANT SECRETARY MURPHY 
 
E.O. 12356:  DECL:  OADR 
TAGS:  PGOV, PREL, LE, SY 
SUBJECT:  POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF WEST BEIRUT 
FIGHTING 
 
REF:  (A) BEIRUT 2279, (B) BEIRUT 2287 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
2.  SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION.  FOLLOWING MAJOR 
FIGHTING ON THE NIGHT OF APRIL 16-17, A TENSE CALM 
NOW PREVAILS IN WEST BEIRUT.  SHIITE AMAL MOVEMENT 
LEADER NABIH BARRI EMERGED AS THE PRIME VICTOR IN 
THE INTRAMUSLIM FIGHTING.  STATEMENTS MADE BY THE 
VARIOUS LEADERS TRACK WITH OUR ANALYSIS (REFTEL A) 
THAT THE FIGHTING REFLECTED TWO MAJOR CONFLICTS: 
LEBANESE SHIA VS. LEBANESE SUNNI AND LEBANESE SHIA 
VS. PALESTINIANS.  THE AMAL MOVEMENT, WITH THE 
SUPPORT OF THE DRUZE PSP AND OTHER MEMBERS OF THE 
"NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC FRONT," HAS DEALT A SEVERE 
BLOW TO THE SUNNI MURABITUN MILITIA AND HAS COME 
OUT OF THE AFFAIR WITH ITS POSITION AS THE 
STRONGEST POLITICAL AND MILITARY FORCE IN WEST 
BEIRUT CONFIRMED AND ENHANCED. 
 
3.  THE SYRIAN ROLE REMAINS UNCLEAR, BUT MANY HERE 
SPECULATE THAT DAMASCUS MUST HAVE CONDONED THE 
AMAL/PSP MOVE AGAINST THE MURABITUN AND ITS 
PRO-ARAFAT PALESTINIAN ALLIES AND MAY HAVE, IN 
FACT, ACTIVELY SUPPORTED THE CLASH. 
 
4.  IN HIS RESIGNATION STATEMENT, PRIME MINISTER 
RASHID KARAMI EXPRESSED DESPAIR OVER THE APRIL 
16-17 FIGHTING, POINTED AN ACCUSING FIGURE AT 
DAMASCUS, AND ASKED FOR SYRIA TO HELP RESOLVE THE 
ENSUING CRISIS.  IT IS TOO SOON TO MAKE ANY FIRM 
PREDICTIONS AS TO WHO THE NEXT PRIME MINISTER MAY 
BE OR WHAT FORM THE NEW CABINET MAY TAKE, BUT WE 
SET FORTH BELOW SOME OF THE RELEVANT FACTORS.  END 
SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION. 
 
------------------------------- 
AMAL, BACKED BY PSP, VICTORIOUS 
------------------------------- 
5.  THE DUST IS NOW SETTLING IN WEST BEIRUT AFTER 
VERY HEAVY FIGHTING OCCURRED ON THE NIGHT OF APRIL 
16-17, RESULTING IN APPROXIMATELY THIRTY PERSONS 
KILLED AND ONE HUNDRED WOUNDED.  BEIRUT AIRPORT 
REMAINS OPERATIONAL, AND THE GREEN LINE IS 
PARTIALLY OPEN, BUT SPORADIC SNIPING CONTINUES IN 
VARIOUS AREAS OF WEST BEIRUT. 
 
6.  IN THE FIRST INSTANCE, STATEMENTS BY KEY 
LEADERS CONFIRMED OUR EARLIER ANALYSIS THAT THE 
EVENTS OF APRIL 16-17 REFLECTED A SHIA-SUNNI 
CONFLICT.  THE SHIITE AMAL MILITIA, BACKED BY THE 
DRUZE PSP, HIT HARD AT THE SUNNI MURABITUN MILITIA, 
REPORTEDLY TAKING CONTROL OF ALL SIGNIFICANT 
MURABITUN POSITIONS, INCLUDING THE "VOICE OF ARAB 
LEBANON" RADIO STATION LOCATED IN THE ABDUL NASR 
MOSQUE. 
 
7.  THE REACTION OF SUNNI LEADERS HAS BEEN STRONG. 
PRIME MINISTER KARAMI RESIGNED (SEE BELOW), AND THE 
GRAND MUFTI OF THE REPUBLIC, SHEIKH HASSAN KHALID, 
STRONGLY CONDEMNED THE SHIA FOR STRIKING AGAINST 
TRADITIONALLY SUNNI WEST BEIRUT.  "IT IS 
INADMISSIBLE FOR BEIRUT TO BE STRUCK AND HUMILIATED 
AND ITS AUTHORITY SEIZED BY THOSE VERY PEOPLE THAT 
IT PROTECTED AND WILL CONTINUE TO PROTECT...BY 
THOSE THAT IT WELCOMED AND HONORED AND WILL 
CONTINUE TO WELCOME AND HONOR."  THE MUFTI ADDED 
THAT THE SUNNIS WOULD NOT PERMIT THE INHABITANTS OF 
WEST BEIRUT TO BE "STRUCK AS IF THEY HAD BECOME 
ISRAELI AGENTS."  EXPRESSING SOLIDARITY WITH PRIME 
MINISTER KARAMI, FORMER PM TAKIADDIN SOLH STRONGLY 
REGRETTED THE FIGHTING WHICH "OPPOSED PARTIES 
STRUGGLING FOR A COMMON CAUSE...WHO SHOULD DIRECT 
THEIR WEAPONS EXCLUSIVELY AGAINST THE ISRAELI 
ENEMY." 
 
8.  AMAL LEADER NABIH BARRI RESPONDED VEHEMENTLY TO 
THE MUFTI'S NOTION THAT THE SHIA WERE GUESTS IN 
TRADITIONALLY SUNNI WEST BEIRUT.  "BEIRUT IS MY 
CITY AND MY CAPTIAL," HE SAID, "WE WILL NOT ACCEPT 
CANTONS THAT DEFINE US AS FOREIGNERS WHEN WE ARE 
PEOPLE OF THE HOUSE."  SUPPORTING BARRI'S 
STATEMENT, THE DRUZE PSP SAID IT "COULD NOT 
UNDERSTAND...HOW HE (THE MUFTI) COULD QUALIFY 
CERTAIN RESIDENTS OF WEST BEIRUT (I.E., THE SHIA) 
AS INTRUDERS. ...THOSE WHO DEFEND WITH THEIR BLOOD 
THE CAPITAL AGAINST FASCIST-PHALANGE AGRESSION, 
THOSE WHO STRUGGLE SO THAT BEIRUT WILL REMAIN ARAB 
AND FREE CANNOT BE CALLED INTRUDERS." 
 
9.  IN THE SECOND INSTANCE, THE APRIL 16-17 
FIGHTING WAS A SHIA-PALESTINIAN SET-TO.  THE SHIA, 
BACKED BY THE DRUZE, STRUCK HARD NOT ONLY AT THE 
SUNNI MURABITUN BUT ALSO AT THE PRO-ARAFAT 
PALESTINIANS CLOSELY ASSOCIATED WITH THE 
MURABITUN.  THEIR SUCCESS IN DOING SO, HOWEVER, WAS 
LESS OVERWHELMING, IN PART BECAUSE THE PALESTINIANS 
APPARENTLY DID NOT "RISE TO THE BAIT" AND 
PARTICIPATE IN THE FIGHTING WITH ALL THEIR FORCE. 
SINCE THE FIGHTING, AMAL AND PSP HAVE REPORTEDLY 
ESTABLISHED CHECKPOINTS AROUND THE PALESTINIAN 
REFUGEE CAMPS, TIGHTENING CONTROL OVER THE INFLUX 
OF ARMS. 
 
10.  IN A MAJOR PUBLIC STATEMENT, AMAL HIT HARD AT 
THE PALESTINIANS.  BARRI CALLED THE FIGHTING A 
"NIGHTMARE" IN WHICH HIS AMAL MILITIA CONFRONTED 
"AN UPRISING CAREFULLY PLANNED BY ARAB HANDS 
EXPLOITING SECTARIAN IDEAS, FOREIGNERS, INTRUDERS, 
AND GUESTS IN BEIRUT."  BARRI ASKED RHETORICALLY 
"WHY SOME OUTSIDERS (I.E., THE PALESTINIANS) ARE 
CONSIDERED AS GUESTS, EVEN IF THEY COME FROM 
ANOTHER REGION AND ANOTHER CONFESSION, WHILE THE 
REAL GUESTS IN BEIRUT (I.E., THE SHIA), WHO HAD THE 
HONOR OF LIBERATING THE CITY FROM THE CHAINS OF MAY 
17 AND THE AGENTS OF ISRAEL, ARE NOT WELL LOOKED 
UPON..." 
 
11.  ON THE GROUND, THE VICTORS HAVE MOVED TO 
CONSOLIDATE THEIR GAINS.  LEADERS OF AMAL, PSP, AND 
THE SMALLER MEMBERS OF THE LEFTIST "NATIONAL 
DEMOCRATIC FRONT" (SYRIAN SOCIALIST NATIONAL PARTY, 
LEBANESE COMMUNIST PARTY, SYRIAN ARAB BAATH PARTY) 
MET AT BARRI'S WEST BEIRUT RESIDENCE ON APRIL 17 
AND ANNOUNCED THE FORMATION OF A UNIFIED MILITARY 
COMMAND TO ESTABLISH AND MAINTAIN ORDER IN WEST 
BEIRUT (A THROW-BACK TO AN IDEA FIRST FIELDED AFTER 
THE FEBRUARY 6, 1984, FIGHTING AND DROPPED AFTER 
STIFF SUNNI RESISTANCE).  THIS GROUP PLANS TO SET 
UP AN OPERATIONS ROOM AND A BUREAU OF CITIZENS 
AFFAIRS.  IT SAYS IT WILL ALSO COMMAND A JOINT 
"STRIKE FORCE" INITIALLY COMPRISING 300 MEN, TO BE 
DOUBLED TO 600, DRAWN IN EQUAL NUMBERS FROM AMAL, 
THE PSP, AND THE JUNIOR MEMBERS OF THE NDF. 
ACCORDING TO THE BEIRUT DAILY, "LE REVEIL," WEST 
BEIRUT NEIGHBORHOODS HAVE BEEN PARCELED OUT AMONG 
THESE GROUPS.  AMAL IS REPORTEDLY RESPONSIBLE FOR 
SECURITY IN TARIQ AL-JADIDAH, FAKAHANI, MAZRAH, AND 
KARAKAS; THE PSP IN RAS BEIRUT, HAMRA, AYN 
AL-MURAYSA, MINAT AL-HISN, MUSAYTIBAH, AND RAWSHAH; 
AND THE VARIOUS SMALLER GROUPS UNDER THE EGIS OF 
THE PSP IN SMALL, TOKEN  SECTIONS OF TERRITORY. 
 
12.  NOTABLY ABSENT FROM REPRESENTATION ON THE 
UNIFIED MILITARY COMMAND OR IN THE DIVISION OF 
SPOILS IS ANY SUNNI MUSLIM GROUP.  LACK OF GOL OR 
LAF PARTICIPATION GOES WITHOUT SAYING.  MORE THAN 
EVER BEFORE, NABIH BARRI HAS ESTABLISHED HIMSELF AS 
THE STRONGMAN OF WEST BEIRUT.  THROUGH THE 
FORMATION OF THE UNIFIED MILITARY COMMAND AND THE 
ANNOUNCED FORMATION OF A "POLITICAL HIGH COMMAND," 
THE SHIITE AMAL MOVEMENT WITH ITS ALLIES IS 
CONSOLIDATING AND FORMALIZING ITS CONTROL OF WEST 
BEIRUT.  THIS WILL BE A BITTER PILL FOR THE SUNNI 
COMMUNITY TO SWALLOW. 
 
----------- 
SYRIAN ROLE 
----------- 
13.  THERE AS BEEN MUCH SPECULATION AND LITTLE 
CONCRETE EVIDENCE CONCERNING THE ROLE THAT SYRIA 
MAY HAVE PLAYED IN THE APRIL 16-17 FIGHTING.  AS WE 
ANTICIPATED (REFTEL A), THE FACT THAT NABIH BARRI 
HAD JUST RETURNED FROM DAMACUS BEFORE THE FIGHTING 
HAS FUELED SPECULATION THAT SYRIA CONDONED AND 
PERHAPS ACTIVELY SUPPORTED THE MOVE AGAINST THE 
MURABITUN AND, ESPECIALLY, AGAINST THE PRO-ARAFAT 
PALESTINIANS.  ACCORDING TO THIS LINE OF REASONING, 
SYRIA MAY NEXT UNLEASH AMAL AND THE PSP AGAINST THE 
PRO-ARAFAT PALESTINIANS IN THE BEIRUT SOUTHERN 
SUBURBS AND IN SIDON.  IN ANY EVENT, SYRIA IS 
CERTAINLY WATCHING DEVELOPMENTS HERE CLOSELY AND IS 
APPARENTLY NOT UNHAPPY WITH THE COURSE THEY HAVE 
TAKEN SO FAR. 
 
14.  IN HIS RESIGNATION STATEMENT (REFTEL B.), 
PRIME MINISTER KARAMI EXPRESSED DEEP DESPAIR OVER 
THE VIOLENCE IN WEST BEIRUT.  HE OBLIQUELY BUT 
CLEARLY BLAMED SYRIA FOR THE "GRAVE AND SERIOUS" 
EVENTS AND CALLED ON IT TO HELP SORT OUT THE 
CRISIS.  ON APRIL 18, KARAMI DEPARTED FOR DAMASCUS 
TO MEET WITH SARG LEADERS. 
 
---------------------------- 
REPLACING THE PRIME MINISTER 
---------------------------- 
15.  THE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCE OF THIS LATEST 
BATTLE IN WEST BEIRUT WAS TO FORCE THE RESIGNATION 
OF PRIME MINISTER KARAMI WHO, CONFRONTED WITH 
BARRI'S SUCCESSFUL ATTACK ON SUNNI INTERESTS, HAD 
NO CHOICE BUT TO RESIGN.  THE SELECTION OF A NEW 
SUNNI PRIME MINISTER IS SUBJECT TO A NUMBER OF 
RESTRAINTS.  FOREMOST IS THE UNLIKELIHOOD OF ANY 
SUNNI NOTABLE AGREEING TO REPLACE THE DESPAIRING 
KARAMI UNDER THE PRESENT CONDITIONS.  KARAMI 
CLEARLY FELT HUMILIATED BY THE EVENTS OF APRIL 
16-17; NO SELF-RESPECTING SUNNI WOULD OVERTLY 
ATTEMPT TO PROFIT BY THE "EFFENDI'S" DISCOMFITURE. 
SECONDLY, IT WILL BE DIFFICULT TO PERSUADE A SUNNI 
LEADER TO PRESIDE OVER A CABINET WITH AN 
UNREPENTANT BARRI AND JUMBLATT PRESENT.  FINALLY, 
SYRIA'S APPROVAL OF THE NEW PRIME MINISTER WILL BE 
REQUIRED.  NOT KNOWING SYRIA'S EXACT ROLE AND 
INTENTIONS IN THE EVENTS IN THE WEST, THE 
PROSPECTIVE SUNNI CANDIDATES WILL BE WARY. 
 
16.  UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, WE CAN FORESEE ONE 
FORM WHICH A POSSIBLE SOLUTION MIGHT TAKE.  FOR 
EXAMPLE, A MEETING OF SUNNI RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL 
NOTABLES AT THE DAR AL-FATWA, THE SEAT OF THE GRAND 
MUFTI, MIGHT ISSUE A SET OF CONDITIONS THAT WOULD 
HAVE TO BE MET BEFORE A SUNNI COULD ACCEPT THE 
PREMIERSHIP.  THIS WOULD ALLOW THE NEW PRIME 
MINISTER TO CLAIM THE BACKING OF THE SUNNI 
COMMUNITY FOR NEW TERMS FOR HIS PARTICIPATION, THUS 
MORE OR LESS TURNING THE PAGE ON KARAMI'S 
RESIGNATION.  WE CANNOT PRECLUDE THAT, UNDER THESE 
CIRCUMSTANCES, KARAMI HIMSELF MIGHT NOT BE 
REINCARNATED. 
 
17.  POSSIBLE PRECONDITIONS (APART FROM 
CONCILIATORY STATEMENTS AND GESTURES FROM AMAL AND 
THE PSP) INCLUDE AN AGREEMENT THAT BARRI AND 
JUMBLATT WOULD PARTICIPATE IN CABINET MEETINGS, AND 
THE IMPLEMENTATION OF AN EFFECTIVE SECURITY PLAN 
FOR THE SUNNI HEARTLANDS OF WEST BEIRUT, SIDON, AND 
POSSIBLY TRIPOLI.  ANY OF THE ABOVE CONCESSIONS 
WOULD BE HARD TO EXTRACT FROM THE SHIA, WHO ARE 
RIDING HIGH AT PRESENT.  THUS THE CABINET CRISIS 
MIGHT BECOME A DRAWN-OUT AFFAIR. 
 
------------------------ 
FORMING A NEW GOVERNMENT 
------------------------ 
18.  AS FOR THE FORMATION OF A NEW GOVERNMENT, WE 
SEE TWO PRIMARY OPTIONS.  THE FIRST, A SMALL 
CABINET MUCH LIKE THE OUTGOING "NATIONAL UNITY 
GOVERNMENT," APPEARS DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE UNDER 
PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES.  BASICALLY THE SAME 
PERSONALITIES WOULD BE INVOLVED, AND THE SAME 
ANIMOSITIES WOULD REAPPEAR.  IN SUM, THE 
DIFFICULTIES FACED BY THE KARAMI GOVERNMENT ARE 
PROBABLY TOO DEEP TO BE SIMPLY PAPERED OVER, 
ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE RISE OF SHIA POWER VIS-A-VIS 
THEIR SUNNI CORELIGIONISTS.  THE SECOND, AN 
ENLARGED GOVERNMENT, RUMORS OF WHICH HAVE BEEN 
CIRCULATING FOR SEVERAL MONTHS, MIGHT PROVE A MORE 
FEASIBLE OPTION.  IN THIS CASE, WE WOULD POINT OUT 
THE REPUTATION OF FORMER PRIME MINISTER TAKIADDIN 
SOLH AS A CONCILIATOR PRESIDING OVER LARGE 
GOVERNMENTS (THOUGH AGAIN, WE RECALL KARAMI'S 
PHOENIX-LIKE QUALITIES). 
 
BARTHOLOMEW 

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