In his new book about the CIA's secret wars, Bob Woodward has resurrected from the dead a charismatic Lebanese warlord, Bashir Gemayel, whose violent death probably changed the history of the Middle East. Nine days before he was scheduled to be sworn in as president of Lebanon, an assassin's bomb brought a three-story building crashing down on his head.

Gemayel lived only a brief 34 years, yet already he had become a leader to be reckoned with in the disjointed, unruly Arab world. There was nothing menacing in his appearance. He had a baby-smooth, caring face, with large, intense eyes. His voice was soft, his manners gentle, his smile contagious. Yet there was an air of suppressed danger about him.

Woodward called him a "ruthless warlord" and "savage murderer" who had close, covert ties to the Central Intelligence Agency. But Philip C. Habib, the top U.S. diplomat in the Middle East at the time, described Gemayel as "a passionate man {who} felt strongly about his country, about his people, about his mission."

No Western reporter understood Gemayel better than did our associate Barbara Newman. In an earlier column, we told how she had gone to Lebanon to interview Gemayel and had stayed to become his confidante and lover.

She was aware of his violent side. She knew him to be a back-alley conspirator, urban mob leader, organizer of cabals, who had made himself the master of the labryinth of violent groups that had brought Lebanon to the brink of chaos.

But she also saw him as a unique leader, tough enough to smash his opposition, but visionary enough to end the cycle of violence and pull Lebanon back from the edge of ruin. He tried to explain to her the reality of Lebanon. He couldn't unite his country, he said, with "kisses and hugs."

Woodward reported that President Reagan signed a top-secret order in early 1982, authorizing $10 million in covert aid to Gemayel's militia. Newman confirmed that Gemayel not only received cold cash but raw intelligence from the CIA. In fact, she used to pass on to us CIA reports, including secret CIA profiles of all the top leaders in the Middle East, that she got from Gemayel.

Woodward contended that Israel's truculent former defense minister, Ariel Sharon, asked then-CIA Director William J. Casey to provide paramilitary support to Gemayel. From Gemayel, Newman learned Sharon's secret motive: he wanted Gemayel to support the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. After Gemayel became Lebanon's president-elect, Sharon pressed him to sign a treaty that would crack Arab unity and recognize Israel.

But the CIA wanted the new president of Lebanon to look to the United States, not Israel, for guidance, Newman said. The CIA, therefore, urged Gemayel to reject Sharon's requests.

The Israelis made a last effort to win over Gemayel just a few days before his scheduled inauguration. They persuaded him to sit down with Menachem Begin, then the Israel prime minister. But Begin made a poor impression upon Gemayel, repeatedly calling him "young man" and putting him down. Gemayel felt obligated to Israel for its past support, but after the secret summit meeting, he told Newman: "Begin has set me free."