An article Feb. 8 incorrectly said that most of the hundreds killed in the September, 1982, massacre at two refugee camps in Beirut were women and children. There is no agreement on the number killed; estimates range from 328 to several thousand. Lebanese and Israeli investigators generally agree that most of the dead were adult males.
Syrian officers arranged the assassination of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982, according to intelligence officials in the United States and Israel.
Communications intercepts and surveillance reports show that the young Lebanese man who placed the bomb that killed Gemayel was directed by a Syrian intelligence captain who reported to the head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. The reports show that Syrian Army and Air Force intelligence officers were aware of the planned bombing.
Some Israeli officials say they have evidence implicating Syrian President Hafez Assad himself in the Gemayel murder, which was a central event in a series of terrorist acts and reprisals that have devastated Lebanon in recent years. The Israelis, however, decline to specify the intelligence upon which their conclusion is based.
"The Bashir Gemayel assassination was at the initiative of the Syrians," said Yehoshua Saguy, who was chief of Israeli military intelligence at the time of the bombing with the rank of major general. "It is based on hard evidence that President Assad initiated it. It was done through the intelligence officer of the Air Force."
Since Israel is facing Syria in their mutual occupation of Lebanon, its intelligence might be inclined to overstate Syrian involvement in the Gemayel murder. But the claim is backed up by senior intelligence officers in the United States, whose relations with Syria are more flexible.
"That assassination could be traced with hard intelligence evidence right to the top of the Syrian government, but we are not about to do it publicly ," said one senior CIA official last week. Another U.S. intelligence official, while not disputing that Assad was aware of the assassination plan in advance, said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove what his exact role had been.
Syrian officials have denied any role in terrorist bombings and assassinations. They say that the massive Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 is the primary cause of the current chaos in the country.
In the terrorist arsenal, political assassination is the weapon with the gravest consequences, setting in motion a chain of events that can reverberate unpredictably and uncontrollably through many nations. The murder of Bashir Gemayel is a case in point. Today, nearly 18 months later, it is clear that some very large portion of the disarray in Lebanon stems from that deed.
Less than one week after the assassination, Phalangist units of the Lebanese Army entered two refugee camps in Beirut, Sabra and Shatilla, and slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians, most of them women and children. The massacre led to an anguishing investigation by an independent Israeli commission, which concluded that Israeli leaders should have anticipated that the revenge-minded Phalangists they allowed into the camps would go on a killing rampage. This report precipitated a shake-up in the Israeli government and military leadership, including the resignation as defense minister of Ariel Sharon and the removal of Saguy as military intelligence chief.
In turn, the Gemayel assassination and refugee camp massacre brought the U.S. Marines back to Lebanon as part of the multinational peace-keeping force.
Robert McFarlane, President Reagan's national security adviser, last week cited the Gemayel murder as the event that triggered the return of the Marines. In an article entitled, "Why the Marines Are in Lebanon," he wrote: "Following the assassination of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel, the entry of the Israeli Defense Forces in Beirut and the tragic massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps, U.S. forces were reintroduced."
The first Marines returned to Beirut Sept. 29, 1982, and their continued presence there has become a source of great political and strategic controversy in the United States and in Lebanon, where the government of Bashir's brother, President Amin Gemayel, teeters.
Bashir Gemayel was a strong leader who showed some promise of controlling the intense political and religious forces in Lebanon. His brother Amin, elected president one week after the assassination, has been unable to bring stability to the country.
The 53-year-old Assad and his intelligence agents have played a key role in undermining the Gemayel government in neighboring Lebanon. Assad has ruled Syria since 1970 when he seized power in a coup and aligned his country with the Soviet Union. His government has been called a police state. In 1982, his forces brutally crushed a rebellion in Hama, Syria's fifth-largest city, killing at least 10,000 residents. Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, says that Syria has jailed thousands without formal charges and regularly engaged in physical torture including beatings, electric shock and sexual abuses.
At times Assad has used western-style diplomacy, such as when he released the American shot down and captured by Syrian forces in Lebanon, Lt. Robert Goodman, to the Rev. Jesse Jackson. But intelligence reports on the Bashir Gemayel killing show a different side of Assad and his agents.
It has been known for some time that the bomb that killed Bashir Gemayel was placed by Habib Chartouny, a 26-year-old member of the Syrian People's Party in Lebanon. Intelligence reports from agents and communications intercepts indicate a deeper Syrian connection. Chartouny's "operator" was named as a Captain Nassif of the Syrian intelligence service, who is said to have convinced the young man that the bomb would scare rather than kill Gemayel.
Nassif reported in 1982 directly to Lt. Col. Mohammed G'anen, who at the time was in charge of Syrian intelligence operations in Lebanon, the reports show. From there the intelligence reports say that both Syrian Army and Air Force intelligence were involved in or aware of the planned bombing. In addition, Assad's brother, Rifaat Assad, who heads the country's security forces, allegedly had some degree of awareness, according to the reports. And, said Israel's Saguy, the former military intelligence chief, ". . . that means President Assad. . . .even his brother Rifaat wouldn't dare do it without his knowledge."
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens said he could not confirm that the assassination was initiated by the Syrian president. But Arens said he is convinced that Assad was aware of the assassination plan in advance and approved of it.
In an interview in Tel Aviv on Jan. 23, Arens said: "I think we know with certainty today that the assassination of Gemayel, the president-elect of Lebanon, the attack on the American Embassy in Beirut [on April 18, 1983] the attack on the Marine compound in Beirut, the attack on the French military position in Beirut [both on Oct. 23, 1983]--all of them were carried out with the knowledge of the Syrian establishment.
"There's little doubt that with the knowledge and approval at least, if not more, of the president of Syria violent acts were committed against the U.S. armed forces. As far as we know, nothing gets done in Syria without Assad's approval--nothing of any consequence gets done in Syria without Assad's approval or disapproval. I don't know if there's another state in the world today that is run by one man to the extent that Syria is . . .
"His control is so total in Syria. It's really very difficult, the line beyond which [someone] doesn't have to get his approval goes much farther down than you might ordinarily think."
When asked to address the larger question of whether terrorists gain their political objectives, Arens said: "It depends on the texture and the strength of the society against which it is directed. In the case of Lebanon it certainly works. They killed Bashir Gemayel and it's not the same Lebanon anymore. I don't mean to say if he were alive there wouldn't be any problems in Lebanon, but there's no doubt that the problems have been compounded very significantly by his death.
"There's no doubt that the threat of the use of terrorism has its effect on the Lebanese body politic. There's no doubt that the threat of the use of terrorism has its effect on the Arab population. . . . People know that they can get knocked off and they are very careful about what they say and what they do in fear of getting knocked off.
"If you look at the problem of Lebanon, it has been influenced a very large measure by terrorism. I would say every one of the leading personalities in the Lebanese political scene today is affected by his fear of terrorism and probably would be acting differently, each in his own way, if you could somehow by magic wand remove that fear that he'd be knocked off if he steps out of line.
"I think that's true for the president of Lebanon Amin Gemayel . I'm sure that's true for the prime minister of Lebanon. I think that's true of Mr. Jumblatt [Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt]. That's true of Nabih Berri [the Shiite Amal leader] and all these people going right down to the people in the villages who are being held in line or being pushed in a certain direction by the knowledge that is transmitted to them that you either walk the line or you get knocked off."
A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official said that Jumblatt once told a group of Israeli officials: "If I do not do what you Israelis want, we will have a dispute, but if I do not do what the Syrians want, I will get killed."
Jumblatt, much like Amin Gemayel, finds himself in command by virtue of murder. His father, Kamal Jumblatt, who had fought for a united, socialist and secular Lebanon, was killed in March 1977 when Walid was 28.
Walid, known as a fun-loving graduate of the American University in Beirut, was comfortable in jeans and upon taking command of the Druze faction still had a cutout of Brigitte Bardot on his apartment wall. He had never been active in politics, which had already taken its toll on his family with the political assassination of his aunt, grandfather, and several other ancestors.
He said then that his main mission would be to fight against the partition of Lebanon, observing, "My father was an obstacle to partition, and that's why they killed him." Of his own tenuous position, he said: "I have to live with death. One of the first things I have to do is to make my will."
Israel's Saguy said terrorism in Beirut has been effective in putting increasing pressure not only on the internal leaders but also on the United States and Israel. He added this note of caution: "I think it would be counterproductive for the United States to find evidence of terrorism by Syria . . . . The United States has to deal with them in a plan to get out of Lebanon. If not, the United States will have to deal with the Soviets on that issue."
The next article in this series will appear Friday.