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Lebanon Table of Contents


The 1958 Civil War

The 1958 Civil War was instigated by Lebanese Muslims and Druzes who were inspired by the February 1958 unification of Egypt and Syria and agitated to make Lebanon a member of the new United Arab Republic (see The Shamun Era, 1952-58, ch. 1). Although the war took a toll of some 2,000 to 4,000 lives, it was regarded by many as a comic opera, especially when 5,000 United States Marines were landed on the beaches near Beirut and waded ashore among sunbathers and swimmers. The Marines' role, in a situation described by the Department of Defense as "like war but not war," was to support the legal Lebanese government against any foreign invasion, specifically against Syria. The Marines were summoned because Shihab, believing that the army would mutiny and disintegrate if ordered into action, had disobeyed President Shamun's orders to send the army against Muslim rebels. Thus, Lebanon's army had once more proved unwilling to defend Lebanon's government.

Nevertheless, Shihab's reputation for evenhandedness was enhanced by his refusal to commit the army to ending the Civil War, and he succeeded Shamun as president. Shihab pictured himself as a military statesman like Charles de Gaulle. Although he relied heavily on the Deuxième Bureau (the military intelligence branch of the army), as his power base, he surrendered command of the Lebanese Army and did not rule as a military dictator. On the contrary, he was a reformer who made significant concessions to Muslims in an attempt to heal the wounds of the 1958 Civil War.

Data as of December 1987