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  by: : Tony Badran

Lebanon's civil war was a complex, multisided battle whose implications still shape the country's politics today. This article analyzes the forces involved domestically and the course of the war, drawing lessons that apply to the contemporary situation in Lebanon.

Lebanon's civil war has been one of the most complex, multifaceted wars of modern times due to its hybrid nature, multiple participants (both state and non-state actors), and its impact on regional, and even global balances of power.

The goal of this article is to identify the principal combatants during the various stages of the war, their equipment, and tactics, with an emphasis on urban warfare and military operations in built-up areas. In this context, the focus is on the Lebanese participants and not the regular, state armies involved: the Syrian Arab Army and the Israel Defense Forces. However, Syria and Israel were intimately involved in the war, and Syria in particular cannot be separated from various key battles that took place on its orders and/or through its direct intervention either with its regular armed forces or proxies.

In addition, since Palestinian military capabilities and preparedness have been covered far more than their Lebanese counterparts, they will not be addressed in extensive detail here.[1]

Finally, the 2008 Hizballah military operation in Beirut and the Shuf Mountains will be examined and compared with the civil war to see what lessons can be drawn today, especially in light of this crucial development.


The causes of the war remain a matter of contention in Lebanon scholarship. Was it a war of "others" merely fought in Lebanon, using the Lebanese as tools and proxies, as Lebanese publisher and veteran diplomat Ghassan Tueni put it,[2] or was it a "Lebanese civil war" that drew in external players?

It was both. The non-Lebanese factor was central, even determinant, especially in the way the autonomous Palestinian armed presence in Lebanon strained the Lebanese system to the breaking point,[3] but also in the simple fact that the sustainability of the war effort--namely the supply of arms and ammunition--was completely dependent on foreign sources, which patronized factions that advanced their regional interests. Certain factors within the overall course of the Lebanon War were primarily regional--Israeli-Palestinian, Syrian-Palestinian, and Syrian/Iranian-Iraqi--even if they involved Lebanese proxies and/or allies.

By the same token, Lebanese parties also had the ability to torpedo unfavorable resolutions and to create situations that further involved the regional actors. The crisis was so intricately tied to regional and international dynamics that it was virtually impossible to disentangle them. Further, as the power of the militias grew and animosities deepened, the war took a life of its own, whereby even low-ranking militiamen could break a ceasefire out of sheer boredom.[4]

From a military standpoint, a defining feature of the war was that the Lebanese combatants were unable on their own to overrun each other and no single group was able to score a decisive victory over the other.[5] In order to achieve a decisive military triumph, one camp had to overtake, control, and hold the other camp's enclave. With the exception of the fights in Beirut itself, that never happened in the main sectarian enclaves throughout the war due both to domestic and regional (especially Syrian and Israeli) constraints.

Therefore, as Paul Jureidini, R.D. McLaurin, and James Price noted about the war's earliest phases, "[t]he period of April 1975 through March 1976 was in essence one of static and positional warfare."[6] This also applied to the mid-1980s, after sectarian consolidation created what became known as "cantons" not penetrable by opponents.

The increase in intensity, fighters, and weapons did not change that basic fact. Echoing this conclusion, Samir Kassir noted that during the build-up in fighters and arms, which took place during the long ceasefire in the summer of 1975, "[n]either the introduction of new arms nor the mobilization of a growing number of combatants substantially modified" the war's static nature.[7]

In many ways, this characterization serves to describe much of the war in general, not counting of course the advances and territory seizures by regular militaries--Syrian and Israeli.

Since enemy enclaves could not be overrun and taken over, artillery and rocket bombardment of enemy areas was never followed by effective infantry deployment and was thus limited to inflicting damage. It did not alter the overall military balance.[8] This was one of the major, and enduring, lessons of the Lebanese war.

The examples are numerous, but perhaps the most dramatic was the attempt by the Lebanese Forces to move into and establish a military presence in the Shuf Mountains in 1983-1984, after the Israeli invasion. Despite its significant capabilities (and its alliance with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at the time), the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia was not able to hold its positions in the Shuf. One year later, it was also defeated in eastern Sidon, where it had attempted to establish a presence.[9]

Fighting over and control of supply, access, and strategic routes was a prominent feature of the war, and particularly significant in terms of the sectarian/political geography of Lebanon. Strategic routes were at the heart of a number of battles: the attacks on the Dbayya and Tal al-Za'tar Palestinian camps and the Quarantina shantytown, the spring 1976 mountain offensive against the conservative Christian parties (especially the battles over Kahhala and Bologna, the gateway to Kisirwan), the Palestinian attack on the Christian coastal village of Damur, the battle of Zahla, and so on. Control of checkpoints on such roads, such as the infamous Barbara checkpoint held by the Lebanese Forces would play a major role in the internal coup within the Lebanese Forces in 1985 that saw the rise of Samir Geagea to the command of the militia.

Directly related to this securing of strategic roads was the consolidation of areas of influence (mainly along sectarian lines), whereby potential or actual enemy pockets would be eliminated.

All these factors shaped the balances of power on the ground, which went through several phases; this cannot be isolated from the broader regional interventions, especially by the Syrians both in the second half of the 1970s and after 1984, and the Israelis in 1982. Still, it can be said that by the mid-1980s, the situation outside of Beirut had consolidated into sectarian "cantons" next to areas dominated by the Syrians in the east and the north, and Israel's security zone in the south. This status quo would remain until the Syrian invasion of the Christian enclave in 1989, ending the war and completing the military occupation of Lebanon--which lasted until April 26, 2005, when the Syrians withdrew their troops. The Israelis had completed their withdrawal five years earlier, in May 2000.


When the war broke out, the three main groupings on the scene were the conservative or status quo parties--often dubbed "rightist" or "rightist-Christian"--and the revisionist camp--often dubbed "leftist" or "leftist-Muslim"--along with the various Palestinian forces, who aligned themselves with the later camp and helped train, arm, and even man its various militias.

The exact number of fighters in each camp is difficult to ascertain given the significant divergence in available sources. This is compounded by the fact that many of the fighters were not full-time soldiers, and some left the fighting--or even the country--or even switched sides at different junctures during the war.

The Conservative Coalition

The conservative Christian parties consolidated under the banner of the "Lebanese Front," which was presided over by former President Camille Chamoun. This political coalition gave birth to a joint command for the front's respective militias. The united military body was called the "Lebanese Forces" and was comprised of the Phalangists, the "Tigers" of the National Liberals Party, al-Tanzim(the "organization"), and the Guardians of the Cedars.

The Phalangists made up the military backbone of the Lebanese Forces, and although each militia had two representatives in the joint command, the Lebanese Forces were clearly dominated by Bashir Jumayyil, son of Phalangist leader Pierre Jumayyil. By August 1980, the integration of fighting forces was complete.[10]

The largest and most organized of the Lebanese Christian parties were the Phalanges. They were also the primary and most fearsome fighting force of the conservative camp. Formed in 1936 by Pierre Jumayyil, a pharmacist by profession, their sphere of influence was Jumayyil's hometown of Bikfayya in the northern Matn region of Mount Lebanon.[11]

Fiercely nationalist, the Phalanges' mobilization and street action capabilities were its hallmark. It fought alongside President Camille Chamoun in the 1958 civil war and its influence grew markedly in the 1960s, as did its national reach (though only among Christians). Around 1969-1970,[12] especially after the 1969 Cairo Accord[13] and the 1970-1971 influx of Palestinian fighters expelled from Jordan, it began training paramilitary units to confront the increased armed Palestinian presence, which the state was not able to contain and which clashed with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).

This fear was sharpened especially after the clashes between the Lebanese Army and the Palestinians in 1973, which intensified the Phalanges' preparation for the inevitable showdown with the Palestinians.[14]

The estimated number of Phalangist fighters varies from source to source. A July 1975 Lebanese Army intelligence report cited by Farid el-Khazen lists 8,000 militia men, all armed with personal weapons.[15] It is unclear how many of these members actually participated in the fighting and represented the fighting core of the militia. For instance, during the Battle of the Hotels, buildings could be defended by a small number of fighters, and no more than 60 fighters would participate on any given day.[16]

The party's military wing was commanded by "The War Council" (al-majlis al-harbi) first headed by William Hawi, who was killed during the Tal al-Za'tar offensive, which he supervised. He was succeeded by Bashir Jumayyil. Hawi had been in charge of setting up and supervising training camps and oversaw the party's Regulatory Forces, which he had created.

The second major party was the National Liberals Party (NLP), formed by former President Camille Chamoun in 1959. Its immediate zone of influence was in the Shuf (Chamoun's birthplace was the Shuf town of Dayr al-Qamar) and southern Mount Lebanon (south and east of Beirut).[17]

Smaller and less organized than the Phalanges, the NLP nevertheless benefited from Chamoun's impressive charisma, wealth, and connections. It played a very important role in the early years of the war, especially in the battle of Tal al-Za'tar, and was the Phalanges' principal ally (though at times competitor) in the fighting.

Like the Phalanges, though lacking their paramilitary history, the NLP began training around 1970. In archival footage used by al-Jazeera's war documentary, Chamoun commented on the training of his followers to a Western reporter:

The presence of the [Palestinian] Fida'iyyin is something we don't want to have here in this country. As far as we are concerned, we are training because we don't have any military experience. And since we lack this experience, we have to handle that, because our youth has turned soft and needs training, physical as well as intellectual. That's the idea behind the military training and that's what we're doing now.[18]

The NLP's militia, the "Tigers" (al-numur), was named after Chamoun's father, Nimr (Tiger), and was led by his son Danny. Again, the exact numbers of fighters is difficult to ascertain. The same Lebanese Army intelligence report cited by El-Khazen lists 4,000 fighters, all armed with personal weapons. However, the core fighting force was most probably much smaller, as was perhaps evident from the total of fighters amassed for the Tal al-Za'tar battle.

The Tigers and Danny Chamoun took the lead in launching the Tal al-Za'tar offensive although it's been reported that the irregulars under his command were the least disciplined.[19]

On July 7, 1980, members of the Tigers militia were attacked and slaughtered by the Phalanges after Danny Chamoun resisted Bashir Jumayyil's drive to unify the conservative Christian militias under his command in the Lebanese Forces and after attempts to find a middle ground failed to satisfy Jumayyil. Danny was rushed to exile, while Camille accepted the reality of Jumayyil's military leadership and integrated the Tigers into the Lebanese Forces under Jumayyil's command. The Tigers tried to revive their militia after Jumayyil's assassination, but by that time they could no longer compete with the Lebanese Forces.

The Tanzim, while much smaller than both the Phalanges and the NLP, was an interesting, initially secret, organization, founded in 1969 after the first major clashes between the Lebanese Army and the Palestinians. Lewis Snider had the following to say about its inception:

It originated as a splinter group from the Katā'ib after its founders failed to persuade the Katā'ib leadership to support large-scale military training of Lebanese citizens in response to the expansion of Palestinian power in Lebanon and to Arab League pressure on the Lebanese government to neutralize Lebanese law in its application to the Palestinians. Therefore, the founding members decided to build a paramilitary organization to defend Lebanon and support the Lebanese Army....[20]

Since the Lebanese Army was against independent military preparations by private organizations, the Tanzim began secret military training programs in camps in the mountains. The rudimentary beginnings of this effort are suggested by the fact that wooden dummy rifles were used in the early stages of the program.

This military training program, which began in April 1969, was open to all Lebanese civilians who pledged to keep the source of their training a secret and to be ready to defend Lebanon in times of crisis, as the army could not do it alone. The Tanzim made its first "public appearance" in May 1973 during the prolonged clashes between the Lebanese Army and the Palestinian guerillas. The army indirectly called on the Tanzim for help when it announced over the radio for the Lebanese population to stop any "foreigners" from entering army-controlled areas. The "foreigners" in question were Palestinian guerrillas. From 1969 to 1975 the Tanzim claims to have trained 14,000 Lebanese. It did not become a truly separate and distinct organization until 1975.

With this background in mind, it is easy to see how Tanzim, Kata'ib, and NLP militia leaders could develop a close working relationship.[21]

The Tanzim was headed by the president of the Medical Association, Dr. Fu'ad Shimali, who was also a member of the executive board of the Maronite League and a founding member of the Lebanese Front (first known as the Front for Liberty and Man in Lebanon), which also included the head of the Maronite League, Shakir Abu Sulayman. There was speculation that the Maronite League financed the Tanzim.[22] Although small, the Tanzim was well-organized.

There is seemingly more to the organization, perhaps further explaining its secrecy. Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price explain: "Although small in number, the Tanzim... was the secret creation of high-ranking Christian Lebanese Army officers and represents the beginning of the disintegration of the Lebanese Army."[23]

The 1975 Lebanese Army Intelligence report cited by El-Khazen does not list the Tanzim or the number of its fighters. The Tanzim's numbers are hard to determine also because they trained both local volunteers as well as affiliates of other parties. Some of its fighters, especially at the fighting in Tal al-Za'tar, were army regulars in disguise.[24] They, however, counted in the hundreds, not thousands. At the Tal al-Za'tar battle, they reportedly contributed 200 fighters.[25]

The Guardians of the Cedars were another smaller militia that was integrated into the Lebanese Forces in August 1976. Formed in 1974 and headed by prominent Lebanese poet and writer Sa'id Aql, its militia was under the command of a former General Security (al-amn al-am) officer, Etienne Saqr (aka. "Abu Arz"), who recruited a small number of highly motivated ultra-nationalists.[26] An early and enduring ally of Israel, Saqr and his militia were vehemently anti-Palestinian.

The Guardians' fighters are often numbered at around 750-1,000. However, like all the militias, the actual fighting force is more difficult to assess. They contributed 100 fighters to the combined assault on Tal al-Za'tar in the summer of 1976.[27] Like the Tanzim, and unlike the Phalanges, the NLP, and other local militias, they were not tied to a particular region where they wielded political influence. Rather, as Mordechai Nisan notes, "they fought where they were needed."[28]

Notable among the small local groups was The Marada Brigade, which essentially was the private militia of the Franjiyya clan in the northern region of Zgharta, and its parochialism was evident in its original name, "Zgharta Liberation Army." The militia was commanded by President Sulayman Franjiyya's son, Tony, and it was said that President Franjiyya supplied it from the stocks of the LAF. In June 1978, after growing differences between Franjiyya and Bashir Jumayyil, the latter sent a Phalangist squad that murdered Tony Franjiyya in his home along with his wife and daughter. That was also the end of Franjiyya's alliance with the Lebanese Front.

As noted above, the LF was first born as the joint command for the aforementioned militias (excluding the Marada) under the command of Bashir Jumayyil. In 1979, as part of Bashir's ambitious rise, he formed a military force under his direct control that integrated military units independent of any of the parties and militias. The following year, all the militias were absorbed into the integrated units after Bashir attacked Chamoun's Tigers in July 1980 and incorporated their remnants.

After Bashir's assassination, the LF continued to grow and build on his legacy, becoming an impressive, sizeable, and very well-equipped fighting force (with an engineers corps, a mountain unit, an Israeli-trained special operations unit, a small navy, an artillery unit, an armored unit, counter-intelligence and security, etc.). It had a complex organizational structure (though without the use of traditional military ranks), diverse sources of income, and multiple functions in the areas under its control-- where it essentially took on the functions of a state authority.[29]

However, Bashir's assassination created a vacuum in leadership, which also led to an attempt by Bashir's brother, President Amin Jumayyil, to seize control of the powerful militia, but to no avail. Instead, a coup resulted in a joint command under Samir Geagea and Elie Hobeika. Hobeika then decided to enter the Syrian orbit with the Syrian-sponsored Tripartite Agreement, leading to yet another coup by Geagea ousting Hobeika, torpedoing the Tripartite Agreement and consolidating his command over the LF.

The LF was attacked by Army Commander Gen. Michel Aoun in the last two years of the war, severely weakening the Christian enclave (the last one outside Syrian control) and paving the way for the Syrian takeover in 1990.

The LF finally supported the Ta'if Accord that ended the war, and subsequently abided by its precepts concerning disarmament of all militias, handing over their arsenal to the army and the state in 1992. However, by 1994 the Syrians moved against Geagea and he was thrown in jail for crimes committed during the civil war, despite the existence of an amnesty law. The Syrians proceeded to tighten the noose on the LF, attempting several times to coopt it, without any success.

After the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, Parliament passed an amnesty freeing Geagea, who returned to the command of the LF, which is once again an active political force in Lebanon.

The Revisionist Alliance and the Palestinians

Grouping the revisionist camp with the Palestinians is due not only to the fact that they were allied until the Palestinian Liberation Organization's (PLO) expulsion from Lebanon, but because of the intricate political-ideological (including the common roots in the Arab Nationalist Movement) and military relationship that joined them. In fact, some of the groups in the revisionist camp were essentially Palestinian creations and mere Lebanese fronts for Palestinian activity. The best example is the short-lived Army of Arab Lebanon (jaysh lubnan al-arabi). The effect of the Palestinian Resistance Movement on Lebanese political life, especially on the power of the traditional Muslim leaders and their ability to control their constituents, was deep.

In 1972, the revisionists (also known as "the leftist and progressive forces") formed a front, which became known as The National Movement, under the leadership of Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP).

Although representing the small Druze sect in Lebanon (even while managing to attract some non-Druze followers), the PSP was without doubt the backbone of the revisionists, due to the towering figure of its founder. Jumblatt's charisma was the driving force behind the revisionist alliance, and he was its unquestioned leader.

Jumblatt founded the party in 1949, and the party revolved around his powerful personality. Based in the Druze enclave in southern Mount Lebanon and the Druze quarter of Beirut, the party participated in the fighting in 1958 against President Camille Chamoun. Jumblatt was a strong supporter of the Palestinian Resistance Movement in Lebanon and called for massive reforms in the Lebanese sectarian system. In 1970, as interior minister, Jumblatt legalized three parties which would become part of the National Movement: the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP), the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), and the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party.

The PSP fielded a small but potent militia, which would go on to play a major role in the civil war. The exact number of its fighting force is unclear, with some placing it at 3,000 fighters,[30] while others go as high as 5,000.[31] It is likely that the core fighting force was smaller.

The National Movement received a severe blow with Kamal Jumblatt's assassination on March 16, 1977, after his conflict with Syria's President Hafiz al-Assad had crossed the point of no return, leading the latter to liquidate him. The mantle of leadership was passed on to his son Walid, who still heads the party and the Druze community.

The second major party in the National Movement was the Lebanese Communist Party. The party traced its roots back to 1924 and had its first congress in 1943. It had a wide appeal due to its secularism and its attraction of the intelligentsia, but its popularity suffered in the heyday of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, especially when it maintained an unsympathetic attitude toward Arab nationalism. It underwent a significant shift in ideology at its second congress in 1968, when it decided to back the Palestinian Resistance Movement.[32] Its secretary general, George Hawi (who was assassinated in Beirut in June 2005), was a dominant figure in the war and a staunch ally of the Palestinians and of Kamal Jumblatt.

The LCP were part of the "Joint Forces" (al-quwwat al-mushtaraka), joining Palestinian and National Movement fighters in an attempt to achieve better command and control, a problem that was even more acute among the revisionists than among the conservative Christian forces.

The LCP would maintain joint forces with the PSP. Hawi explained that at one point, "[w]e were almost a unified force, meaning each battalion would have two companies from the Communist Party and two companies from the [Progressive] Socialist Party, especially in Beirut."[33] It fought on most fronts, but the actual number of its fighters is uncertain, with some listing the total number of militiamen at 5,000,[34] while others place the number of armed fighters at 1,000.[35]

Another important Communist group was the Organization for Communist Action (OCA), led by Muhsin Ibrahim, also a close ally of Jumblatt. The OCA's roots are in the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM) and the Socialist Lebanon Organization and had close ties with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), which had common roots in the ANM. The OCA drew support from intellectuals, students, and workers and together with the LCP was able to appeal widely to the Shi'a.[36] It had a small militia of about 100 fighters.[37]

The main Sunni militia in the National Movement was the Murabitun militia of the Independent Nasserites Movement led by Ibrahim Qulaylat. Qulaylat, a typical neighborhood enforcer (qabaday), began organizing the militia in his Mahallat Abu Shakir quarter in Beirut; he had allied himself with Jumblatt from the late 1960's, and like Jumblatt was against the Syrian intervention in 1976. The militia drew support from lower middle-class urban Sunnis. The militia participated in many battles during the war, especially in the Battle of the Hotels in 1975-1976.

The Murabitun were trained by the Palestinians and financed by Libya.[38] A former Sunni militiaman confirmed that the role of the Palestinians in the Murabitun couldn't be overstated.[39] In fact, he noted, that many a time, operations would be conducted by units led and manned by Palestinians, and supplemented by Lebanese elements for cover. This seems to be corroborated by the support the Murabitun received from Palestinian factions (Fatah, PFLP, and Sa'iqa) and Ahmad Khatib's Army of Arab Lebanon, a Palestinian-supported faction.[40]

The number of Murabitunfighters varies from source to source, but seems to have been in the low hundreds. The former Sunni militiaman expressed his conviction that, at most, the Murabitun had 100-150 fighters. This number seems to fit more or less with a Lebanese Army intelligence report quoted by El-Khazen, which lists them at 200.[41]

Though allied in the National Movement, the Murabitun clashed with the SSNP in 1981 over control of certain neighborhoods in Beirut. This was a common phenomenon in west Beirut, which highlighted the multi-polarity of the National Movement.

More significantly, however, was the termination of the Murabitun alliance with the PSP in 1985, which effectively ended its role in the war and in Lebanese politics. This was the result of Syria's drive to prevent a return of Yasir Arafat's influence to Lebanon. Syria used proxies and allies--in this case the Shi'i Amal militia--to attack Palestinian camps, positions, and assets--including deciding to eliminate the Murabitun in Beirut (and the Islamist harakat al-tawhid al-islami militia in Tripoli), using the SSNP and Alawite proxies.

However, reflecting a typical reality of the war, Amal proved incapable of routing the Murabitun on its own. In fact, Hawi noted that the balance on the field had been shifting against Amal. Hawi was contacted by Walid Jumblatt and he expected that Jumblatt would give the order for the PSP's and LCP's "Joint Forces" to enter the fray on the side of the Murabitun. To his surprise, Jumblatt's decision was to support the retreating Amal and defeat Qulaylat's Murabitun. "It was our and the [Progressive] Socialist Party's forces that decided the battle, and not Amal's forces," Hawi said.[42]

Qulaylat left Lebanon into exile and the Murabitun faded. There was a plethora of other small Nasserist, Arab nationalist, and socialist organizations--and their ubiquitous splinter movements--whose patronage was divided among the various radical states (Syria, Libya, and Iraq). Those included factions of the Ba'th Party (pro-Iraqi, based largely in Tripoli, and pro-Syrian), the Union of the Forces of the Working People (pro-Syrian), the Arab Socialist Action Party (formed by Palestinian leader George Habash), and the Arab Socialist Union (later split in two)--which was formed in the early 1970s and recruited from the poor quarters and operated in Ras Beirut, Ayn al-Mraysa and Basta. These militias were essentially neighborhood gangs whose control was over certain streets and quarters.

Another local group was the Sidon-based Populist Nasserist Organization led by Sidon figure Mustafa Sa'd, whose father, Ma'ruf, was a former MP and leading Nasserist activist in the Sidon region who was shot and killed at a public demonstration in Sidon in February 1975.[43]

Like the Murabitun, with which it was allied, Sa'd's militia was trained and supported by the PLO and financed by Libya. It played a somewhat significant role in the attack against the Christian coastal town of Damur (just north of Sidon on the coastal road) and was involved in the fighting in Jizzin and certain battles in Mount Lebanon. Sidon's importance was a port for supplies to the National Movement. Indeed, later in the war--during the mid-1980s--battles between Amal and the forces of the PSP and LCP, Sidon's port, and Sa'd's fishing boats were used to circumvent Amal's blockage of the Uza'i land supply route, transferring men and ammunition from Khalda to the waterfront Ayn al-Mraysa sector of Beirut.[44]

One last actor worth mentioning is the Army of Arab Lebanon (AAL, sometimes also referred to as Lebanon's Arab Army). The formation of the AAL was the result of a mutiny within the ranks of the LAF instigated by Lieutenant Ahmad Khatib in January 1976, and which drew strong support among units in the LAF. Khatib was first sought by the Syrians to join their own ill-fated splinter faction in the LAF known as "the Vanguard of the Army of Arab Lebanon," but they were not successful. Instead, Khatib was won over by the PLO (especially Ali Hassan Salama and Abu Jihad) and the Libyans.[45] The AAL participated in the spring offensive against Mount Lebanon in 1976 and attacked President Franjiyya's residential quarters in the Presidential palace in Ba'bda, forcing him to leave it for the rest of his term.

The formation of the AAL was in large part an element of the Syrian-Palestinian war in Lebanon, and the Syrians eventually arrested Khatib a year later in January 1977. He was subsequently released, withdrawing from all activity, and the AAL's role was finished. At its peak, El-Khazen estimates that the AAL commanded around 3,000 to 4,000 fighters. Yet by the end of 1976, he adds, it had dropped to a few hundred.[46]

Last, another important member of the National Movement was the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), formed in 1932 by Antun Sa'ada, a Greek Orthodox ideologue executed in 1949 for conspiring to stage a coup. The party was to attempt another failed coup in 1961 against President Fu'ad Shihab. Its hostility to Arab nationalism in the 1950s led it to fight alongside President Camille Chamoun in the 1958 war. After 1967, the party's orientation shifted, giving full support to the Palestinians. It was legalized in 1970 by then Interior Minister Kamal Jumblatt and joined the National Movement he formed in 1972.

The party suffered a split, but the main faction ultimately became a Syrian proxy militia, attacking targets of the Syrian regime (especially in the war against the Palestinians and their allies in 1983-1985) with Syrian officers involved directly in training, supplying, and supervising it.[47]

Its core area of influence was the Kura region in northern Lebanon, as well as the northern Matn, certain quarters in Beirut, and the south. The size of the fighting force is unclear, with the LAF intelligence report cited by El-Khazen placing the total number of militiamen at 4,000, and anonymous Israeli intelligence sources quoted by Ehud Ya'ari citing "a few thousand fighters, some of whom are reservists called up only in emergencies."[48] Ya'ari's observation about reservists is accurate and is reflected in Yussef Bazzi's account (the reservists were called "end of the month comrades" by the regulars[49]).

A former Sunni militiaman speculated that they counted in the hundreds but acknowledged that they could mobilize reservists from the northern Matn region (Dhur al-Shwayr). Indeed, Bazzi notes that in the fighting against the Murabitun in Beirut in 1981, the SSNP would amass about 200 fighters.[50] Bazzi also describes a "general mobilization" in 1986, which included calling on "reservists" to gather at a meeting point in order to head for Tripoli, for the battle with the Tawhid movement.[51]

As for the Palestinians, much has been written about them, and so they will not be covered in detail here. Briefly, the Palestinians in Lebanon consisted mainly of Yasir Arafat's Fatah, the largest and most important faction; the pro-Syrian Sa'iqa, led by Zuhayr Muhsin; and the so-called Rejectionist Front, which included radical Marxist factions, namely George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and a breakaway faction, Nayif Hawatma's Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). The PFLP had another splinter faction, the PFLP-General Command, headed by Ahmad Jibril, and was first under Libyan patronage, but then became a full-fledged Syrian proxy and remains so to this day. The decisions and participation in the war varied between Fatah on one hand, and the Rejectionist Front on the other.

Aside from the PFLP-GC, other Palestinian organizations were also proxies for Arab regimes, like the Arab Liberation Front, which was pro-Iraqi. Arab regime interests were also reflected in the various brigades of the Palestine Liberation Army, which was supposed to be the PLO's regular military arm. However, the PLO never had an overall command over the different PLA brigades. Instead, these units were under the command of the respective Arab armies in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The Syrians, for example, used their units in the Lebanon War to serve their own interests.

In terms of numbers of Palestinian armed fighters, estimates vary widely. Sayigh estimates that there were probably no more than 2,000 PLO regulars in Beirut at the time of the Israeli invasion in 1982, with a part-time force of 4,000 to 5,000. Elsewhere in Tripoli and the Biqa', the number did not exceed 1,000 regulars and 2,000 part-timers, according to Sayigh, with another 2,000 regulars in the south.[52]

The biggest fighting force was Fatah followed by Sa'iqa and the DFLP and PFLP.

The Shi'i Militias

Shi'a militias per sewere relatively late in joining the fray. Shi'i youths had joined the various leftist and Palestinian groups, and received training from the Palestinians like everyone else in the revisionist front. Hizballah commander Imad Mughniya himself had started off his career in Fatah's Force 17.

Yet the Shi'a were stuck in the middle of a dangerous triangle, between the Palestinians and the Israelis on one side, and the Palestinian-leftist front and the conservative alliance on the other. The Shi'i cleric Musa Sadr, the most towering figure in the Lebanese Shi'i community at the time, secretly began training a militia for his Movement of the Deprived. The militia's existence was discovered in 1975 due to an explosion in its Biqa' training camp, and was revealed as Amal, the acronym of afwaj al-muqawama al-lubnaniyya (the detachments of the Lebanese resistance).[53]

The militia was weak in the early years, and in 1976, when Amal supported the Syrian intervention, the National Movement and the PLO easily routed it from areas it controlled in Beirut. Sadr's ties with the Syrians and his deteriorating relationship with the Palestinians and the leftist groups are likely the reason for his disappearance (and presumably his death) during a 1978 trip to Libya, which was allied with Sadr's Palestinian enemies, including the PLO. He was succeeded first by Husayn Husayni then by Nabih Berri, who remains the party's leader to this day.

Amal remained Syria's ally throughout the war and indeed became its main proxy. However, Amal wasn't particularly well-organized and effective in battles against the Palestinians in the "war of the camps" and against their Arab nationalist allies as noted above, or against the PSP-LCP joint forces, or later against its Shi'i rival Hizballah in the final years of the war; it needed to be bailed out by the Syrians, from whom it also received weapons and training.[54]

Berri did, however, have an ally in the predominantly Shi'i 6th brigade of the LAF, together with which Amal rebelled against the authority of the U.S.-backed President Amin Jumayyil in the so-called intifada of February 1984, with Syrian backing. The army collapsed once again.

This period, starting in 1983, saw attacks against the U.S. and multinational forces deployed in Beirut, resulting in their pullout. It also saw the beginning of the infamous Western hostage crisis that continued throughout the 1980s.

The factions responsible for these acts--using the suicide bomber, a tactic that Shi'i militants would proceed to hone for the next two decades--were clandestine radical Shi'i Islamist groups with ties to Iran and under Syria's protection. These groups began to emerge in the Shi'i milieu due in part to disillusionment with Amal. A breakaway faction, Islamic Amal, headed by Husayn Musawi, had already split from Amal in 1982. Aside from the religious element, there was also a regional and clannish element at play in the split,[55] and Islamic Amal was based in the Biqa'. There it was soon joined by Iranian Revolutionary Guards dispatched via Syria. They set up base there after seizing an army barracks and created a zone of control in its vicinity in the Biqa'. The new Islamist organization was named Hizballah, "the Party of God."

Hizballah was and remains a militant Khomeinist Islamist movement that adheres to Khomeini's doctrine of velayet-e-faqih, rule by a cleric in an Islamist state. Its ties to Iran are organic, multifaceted, and complex. The exact number of Hizballah's fighting force, the Islamic Resistance, is not known with certainty. In 1997 one source[56] placed it at 5,000 while another gave estimates between 500-600 core fighters and a reservist force of about 1,000.[57] The number during the civil war was probably in the low hundreds. It did, however, attract defectors, including military commanders from Amal who were disillusioned with that party.

During the inter-Shi'i war that began in 1987, Hizballah was able to overrun most of Amal's positions in Beirut, as Amal pleaded with the Syrians to interfere. Finally a deal was reached between the Syrians and the Iranians and the inter-Shi'i war ended with the deployment of the Syrians in west Beirut, but with Hizballah's assets safeguarded.

As a result of another Iranian-Syrian agreement after the Ta'if Accord ended the Lebanese war, Hizballah was the only militia to be excluded from handing over its weapons under the pretext that it was a "resistance movement" fighting Israeli occupation. Since the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, and more so after the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, the fate of Hizballah's armed status (which has grown massively and developed doctrinally, ironically, after the Israeli withdrawal) is the central issue in Lebanon today.


Writing in 1979, Lawrence Whetten observed that both camps possessed essentially the same type of weapons, which only added to the overall stalemate of the war and its ultimately pointless destructiveness: "The war is likely to be classified as a war fought by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. No indigenous faction had an advantage in weaponry, all were equally dependent upon foreign sources."[58]

In the lead-up to the war and during its earliest weeks, many of the weapons used were mainly light, but also obsolete. A former Sunni militiaman noted that early on, the main weapons in their possession were the Simonov SKS semi-automatic carbine and the Degtyarev light machinegun.

The summer truce of 1975, as Samir Kassir pointed out, was used to procure more and better weapons and ammunition, with obsolete equipment being discarded.[59] During the period between 1973 and 1975, the main light weapons that would become the hallmark of the subsequent fighting were acquired from both the Eastern bloc and from Western sources.[60] These included Soviet AK-47s, U.S. M-16s, Belgian FN FALs (acquired with the help of sympathizers in the army),[61] West German G-3s, 50mm machineguns and DU 12.7s, RPG-6 and -7s, and light 81 and 82mm mortars.[62]

Phalangist official Karim Pakraduni described his party's initial weapons procurement and distribution process as follows:

The decision was the following: to propose that every household in our areas own a rifle, and we secured through some Eastern European countries... the purchase of weapons from Bulgaria. Each Kalashnikov rifle, arriving into Beirut with its ammunition, cost 200 Lebanese Pounds. We would distribute it for 300 Lebanese Pounds, and so, with the difference of 100 Pounds it meant that with the distribution of three rifles we would secure another rifle for the party."[63]

On November 6, 1975, a freighter was discovered delivering ammunition and weapons to the Phalanges at the Aqua Marina port in Juniya in preparation for another round of fighting even as a (twelfth) ceasefire had been declared barely five days earlier. Prime Minister Rashid Karami at the time asked Army Commander Hanna Said to confiscate the weapons and the ship, but the army did not take any action, leading Karami to threaten to resign.

Conservative Christian parties made use of the help of sympathetic Army officers in receiving weapons arriving at the port and airport listed as intended for the LAF.[64] Moreover, the role of the army, especially after its disintegration, was crucial in significantly upgrading the fighters' capabilities, know-how, personnel, and equipment--including armored vehicles (Panhards, AMXs, and Staghounds) and personnel carriers (M-113), as well as communications gear (including the army's telephone system), from which the conservative Christian camp benefited more.[65] The collapse of the army also escalated heavy weapons procurement.[66]

Ahmad Khatib's rebellion and his takeover of several LAF barracks also added heavy weaponry, including armor and artillery, to Fatah's bounty.[67] Meanwhile, the barracks in Fayyadiya (under the command of Colonel Antoine Barakat, a supporter of the Christian militias) and Sarba supported the Lebanese Front.

As noted earlier with the Tanzim, sympathetic Army officers had clandestinely helped train militia volunteers, and in the case of the final assault on the Tal al-Za'tar Palestinian camp--which was an in fact an army operation--supplied armored vehicles, communications and artillery support, and even provided disguised regulars.[68]

Once the Phalanges party established contacts with Israel, it began to receive shipments of weapons by boat at ports it controlled in east Beirut (the Aqua Marina in Juniya).[69] Phalangist official Joseph Abu Khalil describes his initial trip to Israel in 1976 as having come as a result of setbacks in the fighting in the commercial district in downtown Beirut, a shortage in ammunition, and advances by the National Movement forces--which had expanded the fighting into Mount Lebanon and the Matn (the "spring offensive"). Certain probing contacts had already been made and came back with positive results, relaying a willingness by Israel to supply weapons and ammunition. Those, according to Abu Khalil, were mainly from the stocks captured during Arab-Israeli wars.[70]

Chamoun had in fact preceded the Phalanges in reaching out to Israel, at first indirectly, for support, and became more and more dependent on it.[71] In 1976 Chamoun met secretly with then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin agreed to rush supplies of anti-tank weaponry and communications equipment.[72] He also agreed to provide Christian militiamen with training in Israel--something which would continue into the following decade with the Lebanese Forces. "Enlarged programs" were developed for training the Christian fighters--men and women--who reportedly impressed their trainers.[73]

Bavly and Salpeter noted that the rivalry between Chamoun and the Jumayyils complicated things for the Israelis who had to distribute the shipments, and the working manuals, evenly between the two.[74]

Bashir Jumayyil was not pleased with this state of affairs--what he dubbed the multiple "shops" of coordination with the Israelis. He moved to monopolize all contacts with the Israelis and made his move against Chamoun on July 7, 1980, and consolidated his control over the military forces of the conservative coalition.

The various groups in the revisionist camp relied on the Soviet bloc, the Palestinians, Syrians, Libyans, and Iraqis for weapons. The LCP's George Hawi summed up the procurement process:

[Arafat] sometimes used to handle transferring arms that would come to the National Movement, sometimes bought by Kamal Jumblatt's and our supporters; they used to pay for it. We would buy it from Bulgaria and Romania and it would be transferred, and Arafat would handle transferring it from Damascus, and he would sometimes delay its delivery and sometimes the delivered weapons would be old.[75]

The Libyans financed and supported a number of the Nasserist groups, most notably the Murabitun and the short-lived Army of Arab Lebanon. The Libyan role receded by the mid-1980s, and the Syrians and their Shi'i allies moved to neutralize the Iraqi assets as well. It was in the last phase of the war, after the end of the war with Iran, that Iraq began sending weapons to the forces under Gen. Michel Aoun's command as well as to the LF--both of whom were fighting the Syrians at the time.

The Palestinians had access to Arab money and weapons and had good ties with the Soviet bloc from which they received their weapons. Bavly and Salpeter list the inventory captured by the IDF as of October 13, 1982: 1,320 armored combat vehicles, including several hundred T-34, T-55, and T-62 tanks--some damaged; 82 field artillery pieces, 122mm, 130mm, 155mm, and 25-pound guns; 62 Katyusha rocket launchers; 215 mortars, 60mm, 81mm, 82mm, 120mm, and 150mm; 196 anti-aircraft weapons, including 43 AA machine guns and 153 AA guns, 20mm, 23 mm, 30mm, 37mm, 40mm, 57mm, and 100mm; 1,352 antitank weapons, including 1,099 personal weapons, 27 anti-tank missile launchers, 138 recoilless rifles, and 88 antitank guns; and 33,303 small arms. "Thousands of pieces of communications and optical equipment were captured as well."[76]

During the Israeli invasion, the Palestinians opened their caches and shared them with the leftist and Muslim militias.[77] The Palestinians had received training from Jordanian regulars, although they suffered from a number of the same problems that plagued the Lebanese militias--such as lack of proper doctrine as well as other conceptual and technical problems.[78]

After their evacuation from Jordan, the Palestinians handled the training of the revisionist militias, and the Palestinian camps themselves became the main training ground for the leftist and Muslim militias. A former Sunni militiaman related to me how before the breakout of the war in 1975, Fatah officers would hold yearly summer training camps for as many as 300 youths. This militiaman's own training was in the Sabra and Shatila camp. He, along with about 150 others, was trained for three months in light weapons use, as well as RPGs, explosives (including mines), mortars, and recoilless rifles.

Later, as the war intensified, time for training became sparse, and so, as the militiaman explained, training was restricted to quick familiarization with light weapons and RPGs. Quick on-the-spot training in specific weapons systems also sometimes took place.[79] Moreover, as Yussef Bazzi's account shows, training rounds for pro-Syrian proxies took place in secure areas (under direct Syrian control). These included training in field artillery.[80]


Much of the war was urban warfare, involving fighting at close distance in built-up areas from one quarter to the next or even from building to building.

The basic fire-teams were small infantry units of four to six fighters. The unit leaders were often simply the most imposing and prominent persons in the group, who could command respect and maintain discipline. A former Sunni militiaman noted how it was mainly these leaders who took charge in "storming" operations (iqtiham)[81] against target buildings (often depending on the availability of ammunition).[82] These leaders did not have any formal rank. Discipline and command and control were weak points among all the militias.[83]

The former Sunni militiaman explained how especially early on, before the upgrade in weapons procurement, each small unit would have only one AK-47. This then evolved when AK-47s became the standard personal weapon, which also helped unify and integrate ammunition (tawhid al-dhakhira). The unit then also came to include an RPG launcher.

Eventually, the small units became roughly standardized, equipped with assault rifles (mainly AK-47 but also M-16), backed by a medium machine gun (FN MAG, Kalashnikov PKM, or M-60), along with a rocket launcher (mainly RPG 7 but sometimes also shoulder-held recoilless rifles).

Mechanized support was also added, whereby a unit would sometimes be backed by a jeep or pickup truck mounted with either recoilless rifles (106mm, M40 or B-10) or medium or heavy machineguns (Gorjunov SGM, DShKM 12.7 "Dushka"). Sometimes instead of a jeep or truck, a medium tank (Super Sherman) or light armored car (Panhard, AMX, Staghound) was used, which proved quite effective in urban warfare due to its maneuverability,[84] including in anti-tank operations, especially against Syrian armor.

Adaptability and conversion were hallmarks of weapons use during the war, given the limited means and access. For example, all combatants relied extensively on anti-aircraft guns converted for ground-support and direct ground fire roles.[85] The high rate and high caliber of the fire made the anti-aircraft gun a very effective and fearsome weapon, both defensively--in stopping infantry advances--as well as offensively--especially against fixed positions, where the damage inflicted would render the position virtually indefensible.[86]

Vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft guns were also very common. There were even ad hoc innovations to increase accuracy over longer ranges. The Phalangists, for example, added cameras and small monitors to their ZU anti-aircraft guns, which proved most effective and was used both in urban and rural settings in Mount Lebanon.[87]

Another innovation was the conversion of the air-to-ground Sneb rockets to surface-to-surface rockets. This proved another highly effective anti-tank weapon especially during the 1978 battles in east Beirut between the Phalanges and the Syrian Arab Army. Fired from a pipe that had been cut in half vertically, with 28-volt batteries, it was used for direct fire at distances of about 350 meters.[88] Along with other anti-tank weapons (jeep-mounted 106mm recoilless rifles, B-10, anti-tank 76mm guns, and also HEAT and TOW rounds), this allowed the Phalanges to maintain control of key towns in east Beirut and to prevent the Syrians from penetrating them.

Like the anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank systems were also converted for direct ground fire roles, especially for breaching defensive positions.[89] They were particularly effective when mounted on jeeps/trucks and mobile platforms as they were able to deliver fire and quickly take cover. Rocket launchers were similarly effective, only not in direct fire roles but for their ability to be mounted on mobile platforms and to deliver heavy and rapid concentration of fire.

Field artillery also played a role in the war and was mainly used for suppressive effects as well as for its destructive power--especially against reinforced concrete defensive positions in buildings immune to light mortars.[90] It was also used for random shelling of enemy civilian areas for maximum destruction and psychological effect.[91]

It was a central weapon in the mountain battles (during the 1976 "spring offensive"), especially on the Farayya-Uyun al-Siman front, along with heavy mortars.[92] Together with rocket fire (Grad and Katyusha), it was also used in assault operations--providing cover and softening targets (from positions on hills overseeing the target area) for advancing and/or retreating infantry units.[93]

A tactic often seen throughout the war involved small infantry units taking cover behind corners of buildings, sometimes two parallel buildings on opposite sides of the street with the adversaries doing the same further down the street from inside or behind buildings.

The unit would take cover behind the corner of the building with the machine gunners taking turns running out to deliver rounds of suppressive fire and taking cover again. The soldiers armed with rocket launchers would take turns coming out, firing at the target (the opposing building or barricade), and then quickly return to cover. Similarly, the armed vehicle would emerge from behind the building (often on a cross street), fire, and proceed to take cover behind the parallel building. The tank or armored car would similarly emerge from behind the corner of the building, fire, and roll back for cover.

The corner of the buildings could be extended with sandbags, sand-filled barrels, and/or concrete fortification. Or sometimes the street could be blocked entirely with landfill and/or sandbags allowing the fighters to take cover behind it, standing up occasionally to fire over the barricade. Trenches could be dug behind the barricades to allow safe movement of troops and light supplies. Tunneling--including inside the Palestinian camps and inside buildings--was a standard practice during the war, especially in situations of siege and when exposed to sniper fire.[94]

This tactic was seen in particular early on in the war between the Phalangists and the National Movement forces; it was recurrent all throughout, including in the mid-1980s between rival factions of the Lebanese Forces. This was toward the end of the war in 1988--during the inter-Shi'i wars between Amal and Hizballah in Beirut and south Lebanon--after Elie Hobeika had signed the Syrian-sponsored Tripartite Agreement and was overrun by Samir Geagea.


Almost 40 years after the Cairo Accord and 33 years after the start of the civil war, Lebanon continues to face the basic problem of having a revolutionary militia with regional extensions operating independently as a state beyond the state, in pursuit of armed conflict with Israel, sparking similar tensions among the various Lebanese communities.

In this case, the militia in question is Hizballah, which--unlike the Palestinians--draws its rank and file from one of the main Lebanese communities but simultaneously represents a regional dimension and poses a direct threat to the state thus causing a fundamental imbalance in the Lebanese system.

In May 2008, this contradiction, which had been building up especially since the 2005 Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, reached its peak--or perhaps inevitable conclusion--when Hizballah and the other communities clashed militarily.

The episode carries a number of avenues for comparison with the civil war era to see what, if anything, has changed about the dynamics of war in Lebanon, and what lessons from that war remain valid today.

On May 7, Hizballah launched a military assault on west Beirut from its Shi'i neighborhoods mainly in the southern parts of the city. Hizballah--aided by its allied Shi'i militia Amal and the SSNP pro-Syrian militia--quickly took over west Beirut without organized military resistance to its encroachment. This was the result of a political decision made by Sunni leader Sa'd Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt not to contest the advance in an area, which they did not control.

Hizballah then decided to expand its operations to the Druze Shuf Mountains. What ensued allows us to draw a number of lessons in comparison with the military situation during the civil war.

During their assault on Beirut, Hizballah and its allies used standard civil war-era tactics and types of weaponry, namely assault rifles (AK-47s and M4A1s) and rocket propelled grenades (RPG-7s).

In the months before the assault, reports about armament and Hizballah-provided training in the pro-Syrian camp abounded. Raids by the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces confiscated weapons caches and shipments. One such example was the raid against the SSNP which uncovered a large cache of civil war-era weaponry and explosives (suspected to be intended for assassinations).[95] Unverified statements by March 14 politicians constantly claimed that weapons for urban warfare (especially mortars and RPGs) were being smuggled to the pro-Syrian groups.

Similarly, intercepted shipments--intended for Hizballah--revealed the same type of urban-warfare weaponry, which only increased the suspicion of the governing March 14th movement that the pro-Syrian camp was preparing for an assault. One truck shipment intercepted in February 2007 contained forty-eight 60mm mortars, sixty 120mm mortars, 52 Grad rockets, and 118 cases of mortar shells.[96]

While a pro-Hizballah paper claimed that the battle plan was drawn by the slain Hizballah military commander (killed in February 2008), Imad Mughniya,[97] the offensive tactically mirrored the preferred strategy for built-up areas detailed above: small units with assault rifles and RPGs tag-teaming from behind building corners. The fighters with the rifles spring out first and deliver cover fire to be followed by the RPG launcher.[98]

Communication between the fighters was carried mainly through cellular phones and short-range walkie-talkies. On one occasion during the Beirut offensive, Hizballah used supportive mortar fire in the Nuwayri neighborhood, indicating perhaps a stiffer resistance than elsewhere.

Another standard civil war feature of urban warfare was the extensive use of snipers on both sides. Sniping is an effective defensive measure, as a single sniper can cripple an offensive advance within his area of control.

On the other hand, support sniper fire was also used by the attacking Hizballah-Amal militias against defenders in residential buildings in the Sunni neighborhoods. One incident involved a sniper on the fifteenth floor of an unfinished building (owned by a business partner of Amal's leader, Nabih Berri) on the Ayn al-Tina corniche, who had a line of fire against several Sunni defensive positions in residential buildings.

Kidnappings, another grim hallmark of the civil war, also quickly resurfaced as both sides took hostages. The release of some was secured after a series of contacts between the leaderships, but others were not so lucky, either being tortured or slaughtered.

However, it was the situation in the Shuf Mountains that was of most interest for comparative analysis.

Hizballah launched an assault on the Druze stronghold from multiple fronts: Shwayfat from the west on the coast, right above the Beirut airport, Baysur from the south, and the Baruk hill from the east, as well as from the two Shi'i towns Kayfun and Qmatiya, south of Alay.

As was the case in the civil war--indeed in any war--controlling strategic and access roads is crucial. Thus, in scenes very reminiscent of the civil war, rubble and sand barricades littered the streets of Beirut as Hizballah proceeded to surround Sa'd Hariri's headquarters and the Beirut residence of Walid Jumblatt and to cut off all roads surrounding the prime minister's headquarters in the Grand Serail.

Similarly, Hizballah was trying to link the Shi'i towns of Kayfun and Qmatiya to the base of operation in the southern suburbs of Beirut (Dahiya) through the road which links the Dahiya to Shwayfat-Aramun-Dawha-Dayr Qubil-Aytat and Kayfun, and Qmatiya, so that it could establish a pocket supported by access routes and prevent the Druze from surrounding the two Shi'i towns.

The very use of these Shi'i towns to launch operations seemed to confirm suspicions and fears that Hizballah was attempting to create demographic bridges--indirectly buying land or building residential apartments--in order to link up its non-contiguous areas. This was much in the same fashion as with its fiber optic telecommunications network, which was at the heart of the May 2008 controversy, and which penetrated non-Shi'i areas in order to link up Hizballah positions in the south, Beirut, and the Biqa'.

However, the attempt in the Shuf failed. In drastic contrast to the situation in Beirut, Hizballah's infantry units were not capable of penetrating the Shuf villages. As a result, we saw the use by Hizballah of mechanized units--the civil war hallmarks: trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles, and anti-tank guns--as well as mortar and rocket fire. Yet it was to no avail, as this support did not facilitate ground infiltration, and a number of Hizballah's vehicles were successfully destroyed, and both infantry and mechanized units were ambushed.[99] The Druze villages also used mortars in their successful defense. Of note were the extensive reports that fighters loyal to the Hizballah's Druze ally, Talal Arslan, had joined the other Druze and Jumblatt's PSP in their defense against Hizballah, including in Shwayfat.

It is unclear, however, what the ammunition situation was and how long the Druze could have maintained this defense. This may have been one reason why Jumblatt moved, after the Druze made their point, to absorb and neutralize the attack by inviting the army to move into the Shuf and secure it. This would have placed Hizballah in the face of the army. Should Hizballah have decided to persist in its attempts at storming the Shuf, the army would either have had to respond or splinter. Already there were reports that 40 senior officers (many of whom were Sunnis) had threatened to resign in protest of the army command's handling of the situation.[100]

Hizballah's failure to enter Alay--specifically the Ras al-Jabal hill overlooking the airport and the Dahiya--and to take the Baruk and the strategic "three 8s" hills, meant that Hizballah, in an all-out war situation would leave its positions in the Dahiya and the Biqa' as well as the south exposed to artillery, mortar and rocket fire. Moreover, it means that the PSP, along with Sunni allies on the coast and in the middle and western Biqa', can effectively cut off access between the non-contiguous Hizballah areas-- something that was seen back in January 2007, during Hizballah's riots, when PSP supporters and Sunni allies cut off the Na'ma coastal roads, in an unambiguous message to Hizballah.

Hizballah's control of the airport road, as well as its de facto control of the airport, which lies in its zone of influence, is of significance. It led to a government decision to rehabilitate the Juniya port, as well as to the resurgence of calls to habilitate properly the Ren? Mu'awwad airport in Qlay'at, in order to have options not under Hizballah's direct threat.


Several of the lessons of the civil war were confirmed once again during Hizballah's offensive.

The most significant recurring lesson was that regardless of military capabilities, militias were not really able to take over and/or hold positions in hostile territory, outside its direct area of influence. This was a feature of the civil war, and it was seen, for example, with the failure of the well-equipped Lebanese Forces in the Shuf Mountains and later in East Sidon to hold their advanced positions. Such positions are not sustainable or defensible, and "outsiders"--even well-trained and equipped ones, like Hizballah--can be repelled and made to sustain significant casualties.

The weaponry did not change much from the time of the war. The same type of weapons remain in use today, even if in newer versions (e.g., the M4A1): assault rifles, RPGs, sniper rifles, mortars, truck/jeep-mounted recoilless rifles and heavy machine guns, as well as rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns.

Battles to control strategic and access routes will continue to remain central to the fighting, especially with Hizballah's need to link up its three non-contiguous areas of influence and the ability of its opponents to block that access.

Also, access to secure ports would be crucial if war were to break out again, as evident from the calls to rehabilitate the Juniya port--which played a central role for the Christian militias in the civil war--and the Mu'awwad airport.

Finally, as with the civil war, the role of regional actors and the international community will likely be decisive. Syria and Iran would continue to support Hizballah and Amal and their smaller allies. Meanwhile, the potential exists for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan to support the March 14 Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition. What the effect of such presumed regional roles will be cannot be stated with certainty. What role Israel might play is also unsure. Would Israel insert itself in a conflict in Lebanon? It is most likely safe to assume that the countries contributing to UNIFIL in southern Lebanon would withdraw their troops.

The role of the Palestinians, however, will be markedly different. The Syrians still maintain the armed proxies of the PFLP-GC and Fatah Intifada, which maintain bases in the Biqa' and in the southern coastal town of Na'ma. They are likely to play a supporting role alongside Hizballah, Amal, and the SSNP. What role Fatah and other smaller Islamist organizations decide to play is unclear. Sunni Islamists would also be a wildcard in such a conflict.

The biggest question, however, is whether all these elements could once again ensure that a renewed war in Lebanon would be another stalemate, or if the unitary state would survive at all this time.

*Tony Badran is a Research Fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Lebanon and Syria. His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Middle East Quarterly, and Beirut Daily Star, among other places. He also authors the weblog, "Across the Bay" and is the editor of the Syrian Opposition Portal, a website tracking the news of the Syrian opposition movements. Mr. Badran is currently completing his doctorate at New York University.



[1] For more detailed studies on the Palestinians, see, for example, Yezid Sayigh, "Palestinian Military Performance in the 1982 War," Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 12, No. 4. (Summer 1983), pp. 3-24.
[2] Ghassan Tueni, Une Guerre pour les Autres (Paris: Editions Latt?s, 1985).
[3] For a good study from this vantage point, see Farid El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon 1967-1976 (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000).
[4] See the various anecdotes in Yussef Bazzi's Yasser Arafat Looked at Me and Smiled (Diary of a Fighter) (Beirut: Dar el-Kotob, 2005).
[5] Lawrence L. Whetten, "The Military Dimension," in P. Edward Haley and Lewis W. Snider (eds.), Lebanon in Crisis: Participants and Issues (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1979), p. 88."Military expediencies required the enlistment of foreign military forces to advance the respective belligerents' goals."
[6] Paul Jureidini, R. D. McLaurin, and James Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, 1975-1978, Aberdeen, MD: U.S. Army Human Engineering Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Technical Memorandum 11-79, (June,1979), p. 7.
[7] Samir Kassir, La guerre du Liban: De la dissension nationale au conflit r?gional, 1975-1982 (Paris: Karthala/Cermoc, 1994), p. 150.
[8] Michael F. Davie, "Comment Fait-on La Guerre ? Beyrouth?" H?rodote, 2?me & 3?me trimestre, No. 29-30 (Geopolitique au Proche Orient), 1983, p. 41. "Cette situation ‘extr?me' a un but essentiellement politique et non militaire: elle ne sert qu'? imposer une conduite politique ? son adversaire en d?truisant son infrastructure ou son moral, mais sans entrer dans son territoire."
[9] Davie echoes a similar remark in 1983: "Les combats ont dur? pendant huit ann?es: Ils n'ont ‘servi' ? rien, puisque le seul but ?tait de tuer, ? partir de positions bien prot?g?es. La pens?e militaire derri?re ces op?rations ?tait nulle: il n'a jamais ?t? question de prendre d'assaut les positions de l'adversaire." Ibid, p. 38.
[10] Lewis W. Snider, "The Lebanese Forces: Their Origins and Role in Lebanon's Politics," Middle East Journal, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Winter 1984), pp. 1-33.
[11] The definitive study on the Phalanges' organizational structure in the years before the 1975 war remains John P. Entelis, Pluralism and Party Transformation in Lebanon: Al-Kata'ib, 1936-1970 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974).
[12] In his book on the Phalanges, Hazem Saghieh writes: "serious training and running [training] camps did not begin until 1969, the year of the April 23rd demonstration after the clash between the army and the Palestinian Resistance. However, the split of the Phalangist elements that went on to form the Tanzim, as we saw, suggests that this training was still limited and far from satisfying the more radical youth." See, Ta'rib al-kata'ib al-lubnaniyya: al-hizb, al-sulta, al-khawf (Beirut: Dar al-Jadid, 1991), p. 163. Translation by this author.
[13] Veteran Phalangist official, Joseph Abu Khalil, described it thusly in his autobiography: "On the other hand, arms had begun to spread in people's hands, rather, the Phalanges had begun to arm themselves and to encourage the people to arm themselves since 1969--specifically after the state was forced to recognize the armed Palestinian presence and its right of movement in the infamous Cairo Accord. Since then, the Phalanges had been preparing themselves for a resistance that seemed, to them, necessary after the crippling of the army and removing it from its military and security duties." Joseph Abu Khalil, Qissat al-mawarina fil harb: Sira dhatiyya (Beirut: Sharikat al-Matbu'at, 1990), pp. 17-18. Translation by this author.
[14] Saghieh, Ta'rib al-kata'ib al-lubnaniyya. "In 1972, the ‘P. G.' company was born and became ‘the only real regular company which could be considered as the nucleus of the Lebanese Forces.' The following year, the training became more serious, and that was the year that saw the May confrontations between the army and the [Palestinian] Resistance. In 1975, with the breakout of the war, each party local section [qism] would handle the confrontation in its district, except for the ‘P. G.' central company, which moved between sections." Translation by this author. "P. G." stood for Pierre Gemayel, but later came to stand for Bashir Gemayel. Both letters P and B are represented by the same letter in Arabic.
[15] Farid El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, p. 303.
[16] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, p. 6.
[17] See Itamar Rabinovich, The War for Lebanon, 1970-1985, revised edition (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989), p. 65. See also, Marius Deeb, The Lebanese Civil War (New York: Praeger, 1980), pp. 25-28.
[18] Harb Lubnan [The War of Lebanon], "al-infijar" ["The Explosion"], Episode 3, al-Jazeera Productions, 2001. Transcript gleaned from the audible parts of the audio in English and translated from al-Jazeera's dubbed-over Arabic translation.
[19] Dan Bavly and Eliahu Salpeter, Fire in Beirut: Israel's War in Lebanon with the PLO (New York: Stein & Day, 1984), p. 52.
[20] Snider, "The Lebanese Forces," pp. 6-7, footnote 4.
[21] Ibid, pp. 6-7, footnote 4.
[22] Deeb, The Lebanese Civil War, p. 29.
[23] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas,p. 57, note 1.
[24] Ibid, p. 15.
[25] Ibid.
[26] See Mordechai Nisan, The Conscience of Lebanon: A Political Biography of Etienne Sakr (Abu-Arz) (London: Frank Cass/Taylor & Francis, 2003). See also, Mordechai Nisan, "Dossier: Etienne Saqr (Abu Arz)," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 1 (January 2003),
[27] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, p. 15. They provide the total number of "c. 750" in Appendix A, Table 2. Nisan, "Dossier," provides a total of "about 1,000."
[28] Nisan, "Dossier." "In March 1976, they confronted Palestinian and leftist forces in West Beirut. A Guardians unit was also dispatched to Zaarour, above the mountain road to Zahle, to support Phalangist forces. In April, Guardian fighters defended a line in the area of Hadeth, Kfar Shima, and Bsaba, south of Beirut, against a coalition of Palestinian, PSP, and SSNP forces."
[29] For a detailed look at the LF circa 1982, see Snider, "The Lebanese Forces."
[30] Walid Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon: Confrontation in the Middle East, fourth printing (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Studies in International Affairs, 1984), p. 77.
[31] El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, p. 302, based on the same 1975 LAF intelligence report.
[32] Deeb, The Lebanese Civil War, p. 66.
[33] Harb lubnan, "al-fawda" ["Chaos"], Episode 12. Translation by this author.
[34] El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, p. 303, based on the 1975 LAF intelligence report.
[35] Deeb, The Lebanese Civil War, p. 66.
[36] Ibid, pp. 66-67.
[37] El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, p. 303.
[38] Ibid, pp. 332-33.
[39] Private conversation, May 2008.
[40] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, p. 6.
[41] El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, p. 303. Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price list their force size at 300, although they point out that during the Battle of the Hotels, "60 [fighters] were committed on any given day." Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, p. 6, and Appendix A, Table 2. Walid Khalidi cites a higher number of 500, which is probably too high. Conflict and Violence in Lebanon: Confrontation in the Middle East (Cambridge, MA: Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, 1983), p. 77.
[42] Harb lubnan, "al-fawda" ["Chaos"].
[43] For more on these groups, see Deeb, The Lebanese Civil War, pp. 68-69.
[44] As related by George Hawi in Harb Lubnan, "awdat dimashq," [Damascus Returns], Episode 13.
[45] El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, pp. 332-35.
[46] Ibid.
[47] See Bazzi, Yasser Arafat Looked at Me and Smiled, pp. 13-14, 45, 50, 52. Bazzi, a former SSNP militiaman himself, offers an excellent, tragically comical account of his days with the militia, providing detailed insights into the militia's involvement in the war, its armament, and its command structure. In many respects, the picture that emerges contrasts quite significantly on many of details (e.g., when it comes to discipline) with the account offered by Ehud Ya'ari in his article "Behind the Terror," The Atlantic Monthly, June 1987,
[48] El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, p. 302. Ya'ari, "Behind the Terror."
[49] Bazzi, Yasser Arafat Looked at Me and Smiled, p. 52.
[50] Ibid, p. 7.
[51] Ibid, p. 52.
[52] Sayigh, "Palestinian Military Performance in the 1982 War," pp. 17-18. For lists of numbers based on LAF intelligence reports from 1975-76, see El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, Table 22.1, 22.2, and 24.1.
[53] See Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon (London: IB Tauris, 1986), pp. 168-75.
[54] Both Walid Jumblatt and George Hawi were summoned to Damascus and given a stern message that Amal was a "red line" and that the PSP-LCP campaign against it should stop immediately. Jumblatt and Hawi personally related this incident in harb lubnan, "awdat dimashq" ["Damascus Returns"].
[55] For more on these aspects and their role in the organizational structure of Hizballah, see Magnus Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis (New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997). See also Martin Kramer, "Hizbullah: The Calculus of Jihad," in M. Marty and R.S. Appleby (eds.), Fundamentalisms and the State: Remaking Polities, Economies, and Militance (The Fundamentalism Project, Vol. 3) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 539-56,
[56] A. Nizar Hamzeh, "Islamism in Lebanon: A Guide to the Groups," Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 3 (September 1997).
[57] Nicholas Blanford, "A Testing Time," The Middle East, December 1997. "Hizbollah is estimated to have between 500 and 600 hard core fighters--trained originally by Iran's Revolutionary Guards--and can draw upon a further 1,000 part time volunteers." See
[58] Whetten, "The Military Dimension," p. 88.
[59] Kassir, La guerre du Liban, p. 148. The P.pS.H. is the Soviet World War II-era submachine gun, PPSh-41, aka. Shpagin.
[60] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, p. 1.
[61] Kassir, La guerre du Liban, p. 149.
[62] Whetten pointed out that "the problems associated with the diversification of weapons was partially compensated for by the readily available new sources and a gradually widening range of arms." Whetten, "The Military Dimension," p. 87.
[63] Harb Lubnan, "al-infijar" ["The Explosion"]. Translation by this author.
[64] This is according to the account of an anonymous former Christian militia commander (seemingly in the NLP's "Tigers" militia) interviewed for the al-Jazeera documentary. "I used to see the boats unloading weapons in the Beirut port, and even in the Beirut airport, on the basis that these weapons were for the government, and they would be distributed to some parties." Harb Lubnan, "al-infijar" ["The Explosion"] . Translation by this author.
[65] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, pp. 41-47, and Appendix A, Table 4.
[66] Whetten, "The Military Dimension," p. 87.
[67] El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, pp. 332-35.
[68] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, pp. 15, 18, 46-47.
[69] Bavly and Salpeter, Fire in Beirut p. 53. "Periodically, an Israeli missile boat or a smaller Dabour-class gunboat would arrive at the bay of Junieh, towing a barge full of arms. The arms would be handed over and the empty barge would be towed back to its home port."
[70] Abu Khalil, Qissat al-mawarina fil harb, p. 61. See also Davie, "Comment Fait-on La Guerre ? Beyrouth?" p. 23.
[71] Bavly and Salpeter, Fire in Beirut, pp. 44-45.
[72] For a detailed discussion of the communications equipment, see Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas.
[73] Bavly and Salpeter, Fire in Beirut, pp. 45-46, 54.
[74] Ibid, p. 53. "Each item and each publication had to be supplied in duplicate."
[75] Harb lubnan, "al-infijar" ["The Explosion"]. Translation by this author. Hawi went on to relay an anecdote of how once Jumblatt protested to Arafat that the shipment was of old weapons. Arafat told him "well, you know the Soviets always give us old weapons and the Bulgarians give us from their old stocks," to which Jumblatt replied, "yes it's true, but they don't write on their guns abu al-mawt and abu al-jamajim and abu al-hawl!'" Translation by this author.
[76] ???, p. 93. See also the 1975 LAF intelligence report cited by El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, p. 302. See also Yezid Sayigh's discussion of the Palestinian move toward "regularization" during the 1970s, as well as his survey of their arsenal by 1982. Sayigh, "Palestinian Military Performance in the 1982 War."
[77] This is also recounted by Bazzi, Yasser Arafat Looked at Me and Smiled.
[78] Sayigh, "Palestinian Military Performance in the 1982 War," pp. 22-24.
[79] Bazzi describes how a Syrian officer headed a mortar unit, instructing SSNP fighters without any previous training how to set up the launching platform, including the trenches and ditches. Bazzi, Yasser Arafat Looked at Me and Smiled, pp. 13-14.
[80] Ibid, p. 52.
[81] Bazzi offers an example of these types of urban assault operations from the SSNP's battle with the Murabitun in Beirut in 1981. Ibid, pp. 6-7.
[82] This is substantiated in Bazzi's account of the command structure in the SSNP militia. See Bazzi, Yasser Arafat Looked at Me and Smiled.
[83] Ibid, p. 41.
[84] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, p. 54.
[85] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price list "the U.S. M-42, the Soviet ZU-23 and ZU-57, the Swiss Oerlikan, and the Hispano-Suiza 30." Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, p. 53.
[86] Ibid. "These weapons were employed against outside walls with devastating effect; they denuded structures with their high volume of firepower. In addition, used in a direct-fire capacity by firing the length of streets, AAA was a strong deterrent to assaults."
[87] Ibid, p. 40. "The zoom lens allowed Christian gunners to focus in on buildings and windows of buildings where the enemy was located. At distances from four to eight kilometers the ZU-57 proved very effective." For a picture of the monitor-equipped ZU in action in a rural setting in Mount Lebanon, see Joseph G. Chami, Lebanon, Days of Tragedy 75-76 (Transaction Books: London and New Brunswick, 1984), p. 190.
[88] Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military Operations in Selected Lebanese Built-up Areas, pp. 51-52.
[89] Ibid, pp. 53-54.
[90] Davie, "Comment Fait-on La Guerre ? Beyrouth?"pp. 41-42.
[91] Ibid, p. 41.
[92] Chami, Lebanon, p. 195.
[93] See Bazzi's description of the SSNP assault on Tripoli. Bazzi, Yasser Arafat Looked at Me and Smiled,p. 53. The SSNP stronghold was in the Kura hills overlooking Tripoli. Also, a former Christian militiaman had related to me how artillery fire was used to provide cover for a small special operations unit on a sabotage mission that was pulling out from enemy territory. Private conversation, summer 1994.
[93] Ibid, p. 52.
[94] For a report with pictures, see al-Mustaqbal, December 23, 2006,
[95] "Lebanon's Army Will Keep Hizballah Seized Arms to Fight Israel," Ya Libnan, February 20, 2007.
[96] Al-Akhbar, May 10, 2008,
[97] The Guardian, May 10, 2008,
[98] The PSP claimed on its website (link no longer available) that at least 36 Hizballah fighters were killed. Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah admitted to 14 casualties in his speech on May 26, 2008.
[100] "Lebanon: 40 Sunni Officers Threaten to Resign," Asharq al-Awsat (English edition), May 15, 2008,