Middle East Turmoil Leads to U.N. Action in Lebanon Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Lebanon’s 1943 National Covenant was a compromise arrangement among parties whose identity was traditionally tied either to confessional groupings or to clan leaders. It demanded that no one group should play a predominant role in internal or international affairs. When domestic strains combined with inter-Arab pressures to “recruit” Lebanon to a more active Arab nationalist role in 1958, signs of nascent civil war were so alarming that Lebanon’s president Camille Chamoun sought U.S. intervention.

Summary of Event

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the order that brought U.S. forces to the shores of Lebanon in July, 1958, he was responding not only to the threat of imminent civil war in Lebanon but also to a series of developments in the Middle East since January that made the situation in Lebanon appear to reflect a much larger challenge to stability in the region. At least two very large issues—one beginning with the formation of the United Arab Republic United Arab Republic (UAR, an alliance between Egypt and Syria established in February, 1958) and the second occurring in Iraq only days before the U.S. landings in Lebanon—played a role in U.S. decisions. Operation Blue Bat Lebanon;foreign troop deployments in Nationalism;Lebanon Pan-Arabism[PanArabism];Lebanon National Covenant (Lebanon) United Nations;peacekeeping [kw]Middle East Turmoil Leads to U.N. Action in Lebanon (June 11-Dec., 1958) [kw]U.N. Action in Lebanon, Middle East Turmoil Leads to (June 11-Dec., 1958) [kw]Lebanon, Middle East Turmoil Leads to U.N. Action in (June 11-Dec., 1958) Operation Blue Bat Lebanon;foreign troop deployments in Nationalism;Lebanon Pan-Arabism[PanArabism];Lebanon National Covenant (Lebanon) United Nations;peacekeeping [g]Middle East;June 11-Dec., 1958: Middle East Turmoil Leads to U.N. Action in Lebanon[05840] [g]Lebanon;June 11-Dec., 1958: Middle East Turmoil Leads to U.N. Action in Lebanon[05840] [c]Government and politics;June 11-Dec., 1958: Middle East Turmoil Leads to U.N. Action in Lebanon[05840] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;June 11-Dec., 1958: Middle East Turmoil Leads to U.N. Action in Lebanon[05840] Chamoun, Camille Jumblatt, Kamal Chehab, Fuad Murphy, Robert Daniel

The U.S. action was justified by what had been proclaimed, early in 1957, to be the Eisenhower Doctrine. Eisenhower Doctrine This plan came after an unsettled climate followed a joint Israeli, French, and British attack in Egypt’s Suez Canal Zone late in 1956. Suez Canal crisis (1956);and Eisenhower Doctrine[Eisenhower Doctrine] The Eisenhower Doctrine was based on congressional authorization for President Eisenhower to use funds and possible military intervention to assist Middle Eastern countries that might face a threat of “international communist” Communism;Middle East interference in their internal affairs.

Although the wording of the Eisenhower Doctrine established a channel for U.S. military, economic, and political assistance to regimes menaced by communism, a somewhat “wider net” could encompass any movement committed in opposition to pro-Western regimes, such as that of Iraq’s Nūrī al-Saՙīd N{umacr}r{imacr} al-Sa{ayn}{imacr}d[Nuri alSaid] (prime minister fourteen times between 1930 and 1958, during the British Mandate), Iraq’s “cousin” monarchy in Jordan, or, very important, the presidency of Camille Chamoun in Lebanon.

The possibility of invoking the Eisenhower Doctrine was thrust forward suddenly following a military coup in Iraq on July 14, 1958. Although no one was in a position to know what was behind the events in Baghdad—particularly whether the UAR (led by Gamal Abdel Nasser) either had fomented the coup or was set to take advantage of the events to join Iraq to the radical UAR camp—regimes oriented toward the West lost no time in preparing themselves for the worst. Those most worried, specifically the besieged government under President Chamoun in Lebanon, may have seen in the Eisenhower Doctrine a means of shoring up their regimes. The possibility that a “wider net” might be extended to opposition parties in Lebanon became a very real consideration in the first half of 1958. By early spring, a combination of maneuvers involving a bid to alter the constitution (to enable Chamoun to have a second presidential mandate) fueled growing confrontations between opposing factions. Some assumed that (Muslim) “Arab nationalists” would seek support from the UAR. Others, championing Chamoun’s (Christian) leadership, began to clash with supporters of Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt’s Jumblatt, Kamal opposition front (the Druze Druze sect were a minority Muslim sect). It did not matter if the latter were seriously linked to “international communism”; Chamounists would try to convince outside observers that they were.

Even though it was difficult to identify a clear pattern in the sporadic violence that ensued, Maronite Maronite Christians backers of President Chamoun seemed convinced that a combination of Druze and other Muslim supporters of Jumblatt’s opposition front were intent on using violence, not only to topple the government but also to prepare the way for a pro-UAR coup. The general aura of paranoia intensified when the Maronite editor of Al Telaghraph, an anti-Chamounist paper that itself espoused a more openly pan-Arab role for Lebanon, was assassinated.

In June, 1958, the U.N. Security Council decided that events in Lebanon justified sending in the international United Nations Observation Group in Lebanon United Nations Observation Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL), made up of nearly six hundred troops. UNOGIL staffed forty-nine observer posts in Lebanon. UNOGIL’s dual task was to monitor both impending clashes between local factions and any signs that arms or clandestine forces were entering Lebanon from Syria.

Even though the situation in Lebanon was deteriorating steadily in the early summer of 1958, it took an extraordinary and largely unexpected event elsewhere in the Middle East to precipitate interventionist action on a massive scale to try to bring order to the troubled republic. That event was the July 14 military coup in Iraq. Revolutions and coups;Iraq Iraqi revolution of 1958 Although pronouncements from Baghdad would soon show that there was no direct connection between the new military junta and the radical “Nasserist” axis that had proclaimed the founding of the UAR earlier in the year, an immediate reaction set in among those who had a political interest in claiming such a connection. Foremost among these was President Chamoun in Lebanon, who knew he had very little time left before even stronger currents of discontent with his presidency would lead to open civil war. This is what gave birth to Operation Blue Bat, launched soon after Chamoun assembled several Western ambassadors to seek promises of support if the coup in Iraq sparked dangerous repercussions in Lebanon.

Almost immediately, on July 15, a contingent of some fourteen thousand U.S. troops landed in Lebanon. Their symbolic task was to secure both the international airport and Beirut’s main port facilities. There was almost no fighting. One U.S. death by sniper fire was followed by three other fatalities from accidents. Indeed the main impact of the U.S. presence was felt locally—not on the checkerboard of civil disturbances and violence but at a higher political level, when Eisenhower’s personal envoy, Robert Daniel Murphy, succeeded in defusing the situation. He accomplished this goal by persuading Chamoun to step down and preparing for his replacement by the highly respected commander of the army, Maronite general Fuad Chehab. By late October, after most signs of internal turmoil had subsided, U.S. forces left Lebanon, UNOGIL was disbanded, and the process later dubbed the Chehabi Way began to take hold in Lebanese politics.

Significance

Although the early stages of Lebanon’s independence after 1945 from France appeared to be promising, a number of potential contradictions could be seen, not only in the political compromises implied by the National Covenant, or mithaq, but also in the climate of nascent Arab nationalism in the countries surrounding Lebanon. First was the fact that Syrian nationalists, who had gained formal independence for Syria Nationalism;Syria in the same year as Lebanon, never willingly admitted that the French mandate (a temporary League of Nations mandate to oversee Lebanon’s movement to independence) had the “right” to foster two separate countries. A certain amount of jealousy must have been felt, seeing that Lebanon had been “primed” for independence much earlier than Syria. This fed suspicions that the French were anxious to keep Lebanon in a “favored sphere,” with attractive benefits for both, possibly at the expense of other Arab countries that did not have a prominent Christian minority population, as did Lebanon.

When external pressures began to mount for Lebanon to play a more active role in Arab regional politics (in 1948 of course and then after the 1956 Suez crisis), earlier, essentially dualistic perspectives—based on Syria on one side and France on the other—stood to be transformed into a much broader framework. Thus, when Lebanon’s internal political situation declined during the first half of 1958, various “new” parties were bound to take an interest in the outcome. The UAR obviously saw a role that it might play by adding its weight to one side or another in the emergent situation of civil war in Lebanon. However, because the West and the United States in particular viewed any such involvement by the UAR as a possible camouflage for the growth of Soviet influence in the Middle East as a whole, this issue was not solely an inter-Arab question.

Although the existence of this specific Cold War factor in the crisis of 1958 did not extend to later, even more dangerous, periods of civil war that would paralyze Lebanon in the last quarter of the twentieth century, one can say that a precedent was set that carried over into the twenty-first century: Everything that happens in Lebanon breeds potentially dangerous international reactions from parties beyond its borders, be they friends or opponents of the pre-independence assumptions of mithaq. Operation Blue Bat Lebanon;foreign troop deployments in Nationalism;Lebanon Pan-Arabism[PanArabism];Lebanon National Covenant (Lebanon) United Nations;peacekeeping

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beshara, Adel. Lebanon: The Politics of Frustration. New York: Routledge Curzon, 2005. A detailed reexamination of the first signs, coming in an attempted coup backed by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party in 1961, that more instability would follow the Lebanese events of 1958.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Malik, Charles H. Lebanon in Itself. Translated by George Sabra, revised by Kenneth Mortimer. Louaizé, Lebanon: Notre Dame University Louaizé, 2004. A translation of the political memoirs of one of the most influential Lebanese statesmen and men of letters during the first decades of Lebanon’s experiment as an independent democratic republic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphy, Robert D. Diplomat Among Warriors. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964. Personal and political memoirs of the key envoy sent by Eisenhower following the U.S. troop landings in Lebanon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ziser, Eyal. Lebanon: The Challenge of Independence. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2000. Examines the important historical background to the Lebanese mithaq, or (national) covenant, the general political agreement that came out of the period (1920-1946) of the French mandate.

Egypt Attempts to Nationalize the Suez Canal

Eisenhower Doctrine

Syria and Egypt Form the United Arab Republic

Iraq’s Monarchy Is Toppled

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