The final report of the Kahan Commission shows the extent to which the Lebanese Phalangists and Major Sa’ad Haddad’s “Free Lebanon” forces are little more than hired hands in the eyes of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the intelligence agency, Mossad. The Israeli government decides and the Phalangists perform. The Kahan report is quite unambiguous about this hierarchical relationship. It states quite matter-of-factly, for instance, that “pursuant to IDF orders, Haddad’s army did not proceed north of the Awali River.” Again, after Bashir Gemayel was killed on September 14, 1982, the Israeli “chief of staff…went to the Phalangists’ headquarters, where…he ordered the Phalangist commanders to effect a general mobilization of all their forces.”
According to the Kahan report, Israel began to aid the Phalangists directly during the 1975 civil war.
In the course of time, this link grew stronger, from both the political and military standpoints. The Christian forces were promised that if their existence were to become endangered, Israel would come to their aid. Israel extended significant aid to the Christian armed forces, supplying arms and uniforms, and also training instruction. Over the course of time, a considerable number of meetings were held between leaders of the Phalangists and representatives of the Government of Israel and the IDF. In the course of these meetings, the ties between the leaders of the two sides grew stronger.
Eventually, Mossad, which is responsible for “foreign intelligence collection, political action and counter-terrorism,” was put in charge of liaison with the Phalangists. Mossad was well aware that the Phalangists carried out “atrocities and massacres” during the time when they were getting arms and training from the Israelis. When the Mossad chiefs met with Bashir Gemayel before he was elected president, “they heard things from him that left no room for doubt that the intention of this Phalangist leader was to eliminate the Palestinian problem in Lebanon when he came to power” even if that meant, as the Kahan Commission phrased it, using “aberrant methods against the Palestinians in Lebanon.” Other Phalangist leaders “did not conceal their opinion that it would be necessary to resort to acts of violence in order to cause the exodus of many Palestinian refugees from Lebanon.”
Israeli military leaders did not consider the Phalangists to be reliable military allies during the 1982 invasion itself. Originally, the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan, ordered the Phalangists not to get involved in the fighting because he feared that “if the Phalangists’ force got into trouble while fighting, the IDF would be forced to come to its aid, thereby disrupting the IDF’s plan of action.”
Israeli Military Intelligence did not think much of the Phalangists as a military force either. According to the Kahan report, Military Intelligence had much less direct contact with the Phalangists than Mossad; instead, it “specifically dealt with drawing up evaluations on the Phalangists.” The Israeli government had evidently found it expedient to use the Phalangists after 1975 to terrorize progressive Lebanese forces and the Palestinians. When it came down to actual military operations, though, Military Intelligence considered them weak. Mossad “vigorously rejected” that assessment. When asked to explain the wide discrepancy between the findings of the two intelligence agencies, the head of Mossad admitted that his agency’s much more favorable assessment might be due to “the development of subjective feelings by representatives of the Mossad who were in constant contact with the leaders of the Phalanigsts.”
The Israeli cabinet decided on June 15 that the IDF was not to enter West Beirut: “This job was to be done by other forces with help they would be given by the IDF.” It appeared that Mossad’s assessment of the Phalangists as reliable allies had prevailed. In fact, the Israeli government had been caught in the web of its own propaganda about the “great Phalangist allies.” The Israeli public could not understand, writes the Commission, why most of the fighting in Lebanon was done by the Israeli army: “There was amazement that the Phalangists were not participating in the fighting…. The feeling among the Israeli public was that the IDF was ‘pulling the chestnuts out of the fire’ for the Phalangists.” It was this public sentiment which forced Prime Minister Begin to leave the battle for West Beirut to the Phalangists, despite consistent Military Intelligence reports that the Phalangists couldn’t be counted on and despite Mossad officers’ knowledge “that in the event that the Phalangists had an opportunity to massacre Palestinians, they would take advantage of it.” (Mossad had reports “of Phalangist massacres of women and children in Druze villages, as well as the liquidation of Palestinians carried out by the [Phalangist] intelligence unit of Elie Hobeika.”)
The invasion of West Beirut which was contemplated in mid-June never took place because of the determined PLO resistance and later negotiated withdrawal. But after Bashir Gemayel was killed, Defense Minister Sharon and other Israeli officials met with Phalangist commanders. They decided to send a Phalange force, headed by Elie Hobeika, into the Sabra and Shatila camps. A Mossad liaison officer stayed at the Phalangist headquarters during the time Hobeika’s unit was in the camps, while Israeli military officers accompanied the Phalangists at their forward command post.
The Kahan Commission report address the question of what responsibility Mossad and Military Intelligence bear for the massacre in the refugee camps, but only in the context of the events immediately preceding the slaughter. The commission absolves the Mossad director of any responsibility because he supposedly learned about the decision to let the Phalangists enter the camps only on the day of the massacre. No mention is made of the responsibility Mossad bears as the Israeli government agency that trained and armed the Phalangists for seven years, and was in a position to issue them “orders.” This omission is even more striking given that Elie Hobeika, who led the attack on the camps, was the chief contact person between Mossad and the Lebanese Forces.
The Commission recommended that the head of Military Intelligence, Yehoshua Saguy, resign because of “extremely serious omissions…in discharging the duties of his office.” The Commission did not believe his claims that he was unaware of the decision to send the Phalangists into the camps, particularly since he was present at the command post during the very time that the decisive meeting was held there. The responsibility Military Intelligence bears for the slaughter would appear to be especially heavy: it was the government agency which had not accurately assessed the nature of the Phalangist troops and their propensity for “atrocities.”
Many questions about the role of Mossad and Military Intelligence are not even addressed in the final report. These relate primarily to the report’s summary conclusion that “the direct responsibility for the perpetration of the slaughter rests on the Phalangist forces.” Can we be expected to believe that the Israeli high command, by choosing Hobeika to carry out the incursion into the camps, did not know exactly what kind of slaughter his forces would perpetrate? There is one final question. Did the US Central Intelligence Agency play any role in these events? Hobeika was not only the Israelis’ “chief contact” with the Lebanese forces. He was also the chief contact in Lebanon for the CIA.