Country Listing

Lebanon Table of Contents


The May 17 Agreement

In April 1983, a terrorist attack destroyed the United States embassy, and the ambassador moved diplomatic operations to his official residence. The United States persevered in its efforts to broker an Israeli-Lebanese agreement, and Israel announced its willingness to negotiate. Although Israel had envisaged a treaty like the Camp David Agreements with Egypt, entailing full bilateral diplomatic recognition, it settled for mere "normalization." The military and security articles of the May 17 Agreement between the Israeli and Lebanese governments called for an abolition of the state of war between the two countries, security arrangements to ensure the sanctity of Israel's northern border, integration of Major Haddad's SLA into the regular Lebanese Army, and Israeli withdrawal.

The Israeli withdrawal was made contingent upon concurrent Syrian withdrawal, however. The United States had decided not to seek Syrian participation in the negotiations for the May 17 Agreement for fear of becoming entangled in the overall SyrianIsraeli imbroglio. Instead, the United States intended to seek Syrian endorsement after the agreement was signed. But Syria vehemently opposed the agreement, and because implementation hinged on Syrian withdrawal, Damascus could exert veto power. Although President Jumayyil made conciliatory overtures to Damascus, he also notified the Arab League on June 4 that the ADF was no longer in existence.

Syria responded by announcing on July 23, 1983, the foundation of the National Salvation Front (NSF). This coalition comprised many sects, including the Druzes led by Walid Jumblatt; Shias led by Nabih Birri (also seen as Berri); Sunni Muslims led by Rashid Karami; Christian elements led by Sulayman Franjiyah; and several smaller, Syrian-sponsored, left-wing political parties. These groups, together with Syria, controlled much more of Lebanon's territory than did the central government. Therefore, the NSF constituted a challenge not only to Jumayyil but also to his patrons, the United States and Israel. To emphasize their opposition to the May 17 Agreement, Syrian and Druze forces in the mountains above the capital loosed a barrage of artillery fire on Christian areas of Beirut, underscoring the weakness of Jumayyil's government.

By mid-1983 the mood of optimism that had flourished at the end of 1982 had disappeared. It became clear that the tentative alliance of Lebanon's rival factions was merely a function of their shared opposition to a common enemy, Israel. Terrorist activity resumed, and between June and August 1983, at least twenty car bombs exploded throughout Lebanon, killing over seventy people. Lebanon's prime minister narrowly escaped death in one explosion. Targets included a mosque in Tripoli; a television station, hospital, and luxury hotel in Beirut; and a market in Baalbek.

The May 17 Agreement had significant implications for the MNF. As a noncombatant interpositional force preventing the IDF from entering Beirut, the MNF had been perceived by the Muslims in West Beirut as a protector. As the Israeli withdrawal neared, however, the MNF came to be regarded as a protagonist in the unfinished Civil War, propping up the Jumayyil government. In August militiamen began to bombard United States Marines positions near Beirut International Airport with mortar and rocket fire as the Lebanese Army fought Druze and Shia forces in the southern suburbs of Beirut. On August 29, 1983, two Marines were killed and fourteen wounded, and in the ensuing months the Marines came under almost daily attack from artillery, mortar, rocket, and small-arms fire.

Data as of December 1987