Elie Hobeika

Background

Lebanon becomes independent on 22 November 1943. The country's political environment is characterised by conflict and upheavals almost from the outset. The proclamation of the independent state of Israel in May 1948 and the subsequent War of Independence between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations is particularly destabilising.

Palestinian refugees from Israel soon begin to arrive in Lebanon. Among the refugees are Palestinian guerillas committed to winning back their homeland. As the number of Palestinian refugees increases, Lebanon's Christian community begins to fear that the country's demographic and religious balance will be compromised. The Phalange Party formed by Peirre Gemayel in 1936 wants the refugees to leave Lebanon and is prepared to use violence to achieve this aim. The Phalange is a Christian party modelled on the fascist organisations that emerged in Germany, Italy, and Spain prior to the Second World War. More background.

Mini biography

Born in 1956 in the Lebanese village of Qleiaat (also spelt Kleiat). He is a Maronite Christian. Hobeika joins the Phalange in his early teens. He becomes a friend of Bashir Gemayel, the eldest son of Pierre Gemayel.

1967 - On 5 June Israel launches a preemptive strike against the Arab states of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, which are threatening to launch their own attack. Israeli forces overwhelm the Arabs during the following Six-Day War and occupy the Gaza Strip, the Sinai, East Jerusalem, most of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Golan Heights.

1968 - Following the Six-Day War, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) begins to use Lebanon as a base for its guerilla operations against Israel. The PLO is led by Yasir Arafat.

Israel retaliates with counterattacks. The Lebanese Army also becomes engaged in periodic clashes with the Palestinian guerillas.

1969 - Arafat and the Lebanese commander-in-chief sign a cease-fire agreement allowing the PLO to remain in Lebanon but setting limits on its operations. Palestinian guerilla groups begin to move to bases in southern Lebanon that are better located for attacks against Israel.

1970 - Renewed clashes break out between the Lebanese Army and the Palestinians. The situation becomes more volatile in late 1970 and 1971 when large numbers of Palestinians are expelled from Jordan and enter Lebanon. Confrontations occur between right-wing Lebanese groups and the Palestinians. Other sectors of the Lebanese community demonstrate in support of the PLO.

1973 - Clashes between the army and the Palestinians spread. Martial law is declared and a new agreement is negotiated to limit guerilla activity.

1975 - On 13 April gunmen kill four Phalangists during an attempt to assassinate Phalange Party leader Pierre Gemayel. The Phalangists retaliate by attacking a bus carrying Palestinian passengers, killing 27. The Phalangists are Christians. The Palestinians are Muslims. Fighting between Christians and Muslims starts in earnest. The Lebanese Civil War has begun.

Two distinct groupings emerge as the principal antagonists. Those favouring the maintenance of the existing political system (principally the Maronite Christians) come to be known as the Lebanese Front. Those wanting a change to a more truly representative system (Muslims, Druze, leftists, and sections of the PLO) are referred to as the Lebanese National Movement (LNM). The Lebanese Front totals about 30,000 troops. The LNM numbers about 20,000.

The Phalangist militia join the Lebanese Front. The militia is led by Bashir Gemayel, the son of Pierre. It consists of about 2,000 full-time recruits and about 3,000 reservists.

Meanwhile, an alliance is formed between the Lebanese Christians and Israel soon after the start of the war, with the Israelis supplying significant aid, including arms, uniforms and training. On the Lebanese side the alliance comes to be dominated by the Phalangists. On the Israeli side the Institute for Intelligence and Special Assignments (Mossad) is the principal coordinating agency, although the intelligence branch of the Israeli Defence Forces is also involved.

1976 - In January a coalition of Christian militias begins a siege of Tall Zatar, a Palestinian refugee camp in East Beirut. When Tall Zatar eventually falls in August thousands of Palestinian refugees are killed during a "clean up" ordered by Bashir Gemayel. The Lebanese Front also overruns and levels Karantina, a Muslim quarter in East Beirut.

In response, the PLO's armed wing, the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), joins the LNM. The LNM's numbers are further boosted when Muslim troops in the Lebanese Army mutiny and defect.

The LNM now takes the ascendancy in a conflict characterised by bitter revenge killings, including the massacre by the PLA of hundreds of Christians in the town of Damour to the south of Beirut. Hobeika's fiancee and members of his family are among the dead. Hobeika is said to be deeply affected by the murders.

A LNM victory in the war seems likely until Syria intervenes on the side of the Lebanese Front at the end of May. By late July, the LNM has been subdued. A peace conference held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 16 October formally halts the war but does not bring it to an end.

This first stage of the conflict has left between 44,000 and 100,000 dead and about 180,000 wounded. Beirut has been divided into Muslim and Christian sectors, separated by the so-called Green Line. Much of the city has been destroyed. The situation throughout Lebanon remains volatile.

A 30,000-strong Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) is created by the Arab League and deployed to Lebanon to maintain calm. Syrian troops make up about 90% of the ADF.

Palestinians take virtual control of the country's south. They face tough opposition from Christian militia, leading to the migration of about 200,000 people from the region.

Christian militias begin to come together under a joint command council known as the Lebanese Forces. By July 1980 the Lebanese Forces are controlled by the Phalangists and led by Bashir Gemayel.

Hobeika becomes a key member of the Phalangists and the Lebanese Forces. He is made military commander of the Phalangist's southern sector then promoted to head of the third division of the Phalange in charge of special operations. In 1979 he is made head of the Lebanese Forces' Security Agency (Jihaz al-Amin), a position in which he develops close ties the Israeli military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He travels to Israel often and receives training at Israeli military bases. He also attends a training course at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In 1980 he coordinates a bloody operation against a rival Christian faction that cements the Phalangist control of the Lebanese Forces.

The Lebanese Forces begin to challenge the ADF, leading to open conflict and a four-month long bombardment of the Christian sectors of East Beirut by the ADF during 1978. When the United Nations (UN) Security Council calls for a cease-fire and Israel threatens to intervene on behalf of its Christian ally, the pro-Syrian ADF withdraws.

1980 - Renewed fighting breaks out between the ADF and the Lebanese Forces in town of Zahlah in the middle of December. Zahlah lies about 15 km west of the Syrian border and 50 km from Damascus. In April 1981 Bashir Gemayel further provokes Syria by sending 100 Phalangist militiamen into Zahlah.

After Gemayel tells the Israelis that Syria plans to retaliate by attacking Lebanon's Christian heartland, Israel again intervenes on behalf of the Phalangists, shooting down two Syrian helicopters on a mountain overlooking Zahlah. In response Syria brings surface-to-air missiles into Lebanon, causing a regional "missile crisis".

The fighting to control Zahlah lasts until 30 June 1981. At the urging of the United States and the Saudi Arabians, Bashir Gemayel subsequently agrees to Syrian demands to sever ties with Israel.

Hobeika, who has already begun to cultivate ties with the Syrians, is asked by Gemayel to continue the dialogue. He travels to Damascus and France for numerous meetings with senior Syrian office holders. Hobeika later receives personal protection from Syria.

The security situation within Lebanon continues to deteriorate. West Beirut, Tripoli, and southern Lebanon are constantly rocked by violent conflicts. Shia Muslim militia such as Amal clash with their Sunni Muslim rivals such as Fatah. Muslim and Christian leaders become targets for terrorist attacks. Shia terrorists inspired by the Islamic revolution in Iran further increase the level of violence.

Meanwhile, Hobeika marries Gina Raymond Nachaty. The couple have a son. A daughter dies while a baby.

1982 - In a bid to halt PLO rocket attacks on its northern border districts, bolster its Phalangist allies and squash Syrian influence in the region, Israel invades Lebanon on 6 June.

The only initial resistance the Israelis face comes from the PLO. Lebanese Shia Muslims, Christians and the Druze all welcome the advancing Israeli forces.

The Israelis approach Beirut but are temporarily halted by Syrian troops. After the Israeli Air Force crushes the Syrian Air Force and air defence system without a single loss, the Syrian ground forces become exposed. On 11 June Israel and Syria agree to a truce.

The Israelis now turn their attention to PLO and Syrian forces inside West Beirut, laying siege to the city for 70 days. With the assistance of their Phalangist allies, the Israelis hope to drive the PLO out of West Beirut and reunite the capital.

West Beirut is subjected to periodic Israeli bombardment from the air, sea and land. Eventually PLO leader Yasir Arafat agrees to evacuate his fighters from the city.

Beginning on 21 August and ending on 1 September approximately 8,000 Palestinian guerillas, 2,600 Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) regulars, and 3,600 Syrian troops leave West Beirut for Cyprus, Tunisia and Syria.

However, the Israelis are not convinced that all PLO guerillas have left the city. They estimate that about 2,000 remain in Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut, along with a large cache of arms.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon and subsequent siege of Beirut has left about 17,825 Lebanese dead and 30,000 wounded. Hundreds of Syrian soldiers have been killed and over 1,000 wounded. About 1,000 Palestinian guerillas have perished and 7,000 have been captured. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have sustained 344 dead and over 2,000 wounded.

Meanwhile, Phalange Party leader Bashir Gemayel is elected president of Lebanon on 23 August. Gemayel has the backing of the Israelis.

Three weeks later, on Tuesday, 14 September, Gemayel dies along with 26 others when a bomb levels the Phalange Party offices in Ashrafieh in East Beirut. Initially it is thought that a Palestinian had planted the bomb. Eventually a Lebanese Christian Maronite and alleged Syrian agent is identified as the assassin. Hobeika is later accused by his former security chief, Robert Hatem, of conspiring in Gemayel's assassination in order to serve Syrian interests.

Gemayel's younger brother, Amin, becomes the new president.

On the night of Gemayel's assassination, the Israeli's decide to enter West Beirut in order to, in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin, "protect the Muslims from the vengeance of the Phalangists".

However, Israeli Minister of Defence Ariel Sharon and IDF Chief-of-staff Lieutenant-general Rafael Eitan agree that the IDF will not enter the Palestinian refugee camps in area. Instead, and according to an official operational order, "searching and mopping up the camps will be done by the Phalangists/Lebanese Army".

Eitan then flies to Beirut and tells the Phalangists that they will be responsible for the operation within the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Hobeika, who by now is the Lebanese Forces' principal military liaison officer to the IDF, is to be the overall commander of the Phalangist militia.

Ariel Sharon arrives in Beirut on the morning of Wednesday, 15 September. He approves Eitan's arrangement with the Phalangists then meets with the Phalangists personally to confirm the plan. Sharon then returns to Israel.

According to Hobeika's former bodyguard, Robert Hatem, Sharon orders Hobeika "to guard against any desperate move, should his men run amuck". However, Hatem claims, "Hobeika gave his own instructions to his men: 'Total extermination ... camps wiped out'."

The IDF completes the occupation of West Beirut on the morning of Thursday, 16 September. The Sabra and Shatila camps are surrounded and sealed. The Sabra camp covers an area of about 300x200 metres and is thought to contain about 56,000 people. The Shatila camp is about 500x500 metres in size.

The Israelis allow about 200 Phalangist militia under the command of Hobeika to enter the camps at about 6 p.m. on the evening of Thursday, 16 September. Over the next 38 hours, the Phalangists brutally massacre hundreds and possibly thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children.

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates a death toll of 2,750. Palestinians claim that up to 3,000 are killed. Other estimates place the figure from 700 to 800 and up to 1,700. Many women are also raped. The Phalangists encounter few PLO guerillas, face little resistance, and suffer few casualties.

Hobeika does not enter the camps himself but directs his troops from an Israeli forward command post on the roof of a five-story building overlooking parts of the area. Israeli officers supervise the operation from the same forward command post. The IDF also monitors the Phalangist radio network and fires flares from mortars and aircraft to light the area throughout the night.

When one of the Phalangists in the camps radios Hobeika to report that he is holding 50 women and children and ask what he should do with them, Hobeika is overheard by an IDF officer to reply, "This is the last time you're going to ask me a question like that. You know exactly what to do."

On Friday, 17 September, following reports of the killing of up to 300 guerillas and civilians in the Shatila camp, the IDF orders a temporary halt to the operation. However, the Phalangists are allowed to remain in the camps and later the same day are given the go-ahead to "continue action, mopping up the empty camps" and to use bulldozers to demolish buildings. Hobeika orders that the bulldozers be used to try to cover up evidence of the massacre.

Ariel Sharon first learns of the killings in the camps on the Friday evening during a telephone conversation with Chief-of-staff Eitan.

Meanwhile, having heard of the killings, the US Special Envoy to the Middle East, Morris Draper, sends a message to Sharon.

"You must stop the acts of slaughter, they are horrifying," the message says. "I have a representative in the camp counting the bodies. You should be ashamed. The situation is absolutely appalling. They're killing children! You have the field completely under your control and are therefore responsible for that area."

The massacre continues until about 8 a.m. on Saturday, 18 September, when the Phalangists leave the camps.

Soon after, a semblance of calm is restored in Beirut by the intervention of a multinational force sent in to separate the IDF from the city's Lebanese population.

The massacre at the camps is roundly condemned throughout the world. In Israel, Sharon comes under stinging criticism from his own parliament.

On 25 September, 300,000 demonstrators gather in Tel Aviv to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Menahem Begin and Sharon as well as the establishment of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the massacre.

Defending himself, Sharon says, "Not for a moment did we imagine that they (the Phalangists) would do what they did. They had received harsh and clear warnings. Had we for one moment imagined that something like this would happen we would never have let them into the camp."

On 16 December the UN General Assembly condemns the massacre and declares it to be an "act of genocide".

1983 - A subsequent Israeli judicial commission of inquiry (the Kahan Commission) finds that "the massacre at Sabra and Shatila was carried out by a Phalangist unit, acting on its own but its entry was known to Israel".

"No Israeli was directly responsible for the events which occurred in the camps," the report of the commission says. "But the Commission asserted that Israel had indirect responsibility for the massacre since the IDF held the area. (Prime Minister) Begin was found responsible for not exercising greater involvement and awareness in the matter of introducing the Phalangists into the camps. Mr Sharon was found responsible for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge when he approved the entry of the Phalangists into the camps as well as not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed. (Minister of Foreign Affairs) Shamir erred by not taking action after being alerted by Communications Minister Zippori. Chief of Staff Eitan did not give the appropriate orders to prevent the massacre. The Commission recommended that the Defence Minister (Sharon) resign, that the Director of Military Intelligence not continue in his post and other senior officers be removed."

Sharon had "made a grave mistake when he ignored the danger of acts of revenge and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population in the refugee camps".

"Responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defence for having disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps, and having failed to take this danger into account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps," the commission finds.

"In addition, responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defence for not ordering appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre as a condition for the Phalangists' entry into the camps. These blunders constitute the non-fulfilment of a duty with which the Defence Minister was charged. ...

"We have found ... that the Minister of Defence bears personal responsibility."

Full copy of the Kahan Commission report.

Sharon subsequently resigns as Minister of Defence, although he remains in the cabinet as a minister without portfolio.

On 17 May Lebanon and Israel agree to the conditions for the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon, provided Syria also withdraws its forces. However, Syria rejects the proposal and instead founds the National Salvation Front, a coalition of Druze, Shias, Sunnis, and Christian groups that together control more of Lebanon than the central government.

The security situation in Lebanon once again begins to deteriorate. Fighting continues between Phalangist, Druze, Shia and Sunni militia. Shia militias group together to form Hezbollah (Party of God) and receive backing from Iran and Syria.

The Lebanese Army loses control of West Beirut to the Shia Amal militia in February 1984. The Green Line partitioning the capital is reestablished. Syria again becomes the dominant force in Lebanon. Israel launches air raids against Palestinian guerilla camps.

Terrorist attacks escalate. On 18 April 1983 a suicide attack at the US Embassy in West Beirut kills 63. On 23 October 1983 a truck bomb explosion at the headquarters of US and French forces kills 298.

Hobeika later organises an attempt to assassinate Hezbollah leader Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, the suspected mastermind behind the bombing of the US and French forces headquarters. It is reported that Hobeika is acting at the request of the CIA.

The assassination attempt ends in a massacre of innocents. A car bomb planted near Fadlallah's house kills dozens of bystanders but leaves its target unharmed. Following this bloody failure the CIA reputedly terminates its relationship with Hobeika.

Hobeika also falls out of favour with Lebanese President Amin Gemayel after he endorses a Syrian plan to end the bloodshed and legitimise Syria's presence in Lebanon. Hobeika is forced into exile in Damascus, barely escaping with his life after an attack by rivals in the Phalange. He later returns to Lebanon to lead a pro-Syrian faction of the Lebanese Forces.

1985 - The IDF withdraws from all but a 15 km-wide "security zone" along Lebanon's southern border, equivalent to about 8% of the Lebanese land mass.

1987 - Syria takes decisive action to stop the anarchy in Lebanon, sending in 7,500 troops in an "open-ended" operation designed to halt militia rule. In 1988 the Syrians set up a proxy government in West Beirut. The existing government subsequently launches a "war of liberation" against the Syrians and their allies.

1989 - The Arab League appoints a committee to try to find a solution to the conflict. In September and October Lebanese parliamentarians come together in Ta'if, Saudi Arabia. On 4 November the parliamentarians approve the Ta'if Agreement for a National Reconciliation Charter.

Under the charter, the Lebanese constitution is amended to give Muslims increased power. Parliamentary seats are divided equally between Christians and Muslims. The Shia speaker becomes part of the executive, along with the Maronite president and Sunni prime minister.

The agreement also states that "Lebanon is linked to Syria by distinctive ties deriving strength from kinship, history, and common interests".

Under the supervision of the Syrian military, the parliament elects Syrian sympathiser Elias Hrawi as president.

1990 - Lebanon's 14 years of civil war finally comes to an end on 13 October.

The war has left 144,240 killed (including 129,816 civilians), 197,506 wounded, and 17,415 missing.

3,641 car bombs have been detonated during the war, killing 4,386 people and wounding 6,784.

950,000 have left the country, and 800,000 have been internally displaced.

The country is in political and economic ruins, with the destruction of infrastructure and buildings estimated to total US$25 billion to US$30 billion.

Thousands of Syrian troops occupy Lebanon. Between 160,000 and 225,000 Palestinians remain in the country. Hezbollah guerillas continue to operate in the south, launching attacks on positions in the Israeli-controlled "security zone".

Meanwhile, under Syrian patronage Hobeika returns to Beirut and joins the government. He is appointed as minister of the displaced in October 1991. His portfolio is extended to minister of social affairs and the displaced in November 1992.

Hobeika is appointed as minister of electricity and water resources in May 1995. He remains in the position for over three years. However, his time in this role is marked by frequent power shortages. He is also accused of massive corruption.

1991 - The country's various militias are disbanded, although Hezbollah continues to operate in the south.

Syria's grip on Lebanon is further tightened with the imposition of several bilateral agreements, including The Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination, and The Defence and Security Agreement.

1992 - Lebanon holds its first parliamentary election since the outbreak of the civil war. Hobeika wins a seat in the parliament, and does so again at elections held in 1996.

1999 - Hobeika's former bodyguard and confidant Robert Hatem (A.K.A. Cobra) publishes his autobiography, 'From Israel to Damascus'. As well as providing details of Hatem's activities with the Phalange, the book documents Hobeika's "betrayal of his country to Syria". The book is banned in Lebanon. Hobeika threatens to sue anyone who uses the information.

The book links Hobeika to the assassination of rival Christian militia leader Tony Franjieh in 1978, the assassinations of several rival figures in the Lebanese Forces, an attempt to assassinate Druze militia leader Walid Jumblatt, the execution of four Iranian diplomats abducted by the Lebanese Forces in 1982, the assassination of Bashir Gemayel in the 1982, and the attempted assassination of Selim al-Hoss in 1984.

2000 - In February the Lebanese judiciary opens an investigation into the 1984 attempt to assassinate Selim al-Hoss. The investigation is expected to implicate Hobeika.

Hobeika is already under scrutiny in investigations opened into the 1978 assassination of Tony Franjieh and a 1985 car bomb attack that severely injured Sidon MP Mustafa Saad and killed his daughter, Natasha. An investigation is also opened into corruption at the ministry of electricity and water resources.

The IDF withdraws completely from the "security zone" in the south of Lebanon on 23 May, finally ending its 22-year occupation of the country. At the same time, Israel severs all contact with Hobeika, believing him to be a Syrian agent.

Coincidentally, Syria also begins to back away from Hobeika, withdrawing their patronage and protection.

With his reputation in tatters following the publication of 'Form Israel of Damascus' and the broadcast in Britain of a BBC documentary on the Sabra and Shatila massacres, Hobeika loses his seat in elections held in August.

2001 - Syria withdraws its troops from Beirut and the surrounding area in June. However, about 20,000 Syrian troops remain in Lebanon.

Further trouble also begins to brew for Hobeika on 18 June when 28 relatives of victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre file charges against Ariel Sharon in Belgium, using a law that allows Belgium courts to try crimes against humanity no matter where they have been committed.

Hobeika quickly announces that he is willing to testify before the court, saying he has "evidence of what actually happened ... which will throw a completely new light on the Kahan Commission report". The evidence is never revealed.

2002 - On 22 January Hobeika confirms that he will provide evidence at the trial of Sharon in Belgium.

Two days later, on 24 January, he is killed by a car bomb outside his home in Beirut. A previously unknown group called Lebanese for a Free and Independent Lebanon takes credit for the killing, but are never heard of again.

Some believe the bomb was planted by Israel to prevent Hobeika testifying at the Belgian inquiry. Others think Syria was responsible. Hezbollah, Palestinians, and Hobeika's enemies within the Lebanese Forces and the Phalange have also been identified as suspects.

Postscript

2003 - On 12 February the Belgium Supreme Court rules that Sharon and others can be indicted for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. However, the case is dismissed after legislative changes alter the circumstances under which the Belgium courts can bring charges against foreign nationals.

2005 - When former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri is assassinated in Beirut on 13 February, domestic and international pressure mounts on Syria to finally withdraw all its troops from Lebanon.

The withdrawal is completed on 26 April, bringing to an end Syria's 29 years of continuous military presence. However, some Syrian intelligence agents remain in the country.

Comment

This profile has focused on Elie Hobeika. It could just have well dealt with any other of a number of Lebanese warlords. People like Pierre Gemayel, Bashir Gemayel, Amin Gemayel, Walid Jumblatt, Samir Geagea and Nabih Birri.

According to one report, when Walid Jumblatt asked Syrian Vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam why he was negotiating with "this murderer" (Hobeika), Khaddam replied, "Who in Lebanon is not a murderer?"

It's a sad but true statement, as the 144,240 killed during the Lebanese Civil War testify. It's worse still that most of these people probably died for no good cause, just the deathly rage that comes from the toxic mix of religious sectarianism, machismo, greed, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance, blind ambition and wilful stupidity.

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