Gemayel's power tested by foreign troops in Lebanon
Beirut — The symbols of Lebanese unity were unmistakable.
Celebrating their 39th year of independence, Lebanese witnessed their Army parading down a street in Beirut that used to divide the city into two armed camps. ''It has been eight years since the Lebanese Army felt safe enough to march in its own city,'' noted one source close to the government.
Lebanese also saw their new president, Amin Gemayel, standing in front of the reviewing platform and making a tough speech about freeing Lebanon of all foreign troops.
But the conflicts brewing and bubbling over in the two-thirds of Lebanon occupied by foreign forces spotlight how urgent it is for President Gemayel to go beyond speeches and parades as quickly as possible.
For example, on Nov. 21, armed men briefly occupied the town hall of the eastern city of Baalbek. The city of ancient Roman ruins is in Syrian-Palestinian held territory. The next day - Lebanon's independence day - unidentified armed men attacked the Lebanese Army barracks in Baalbek.
Also on Nov. 22, Israeli Defense Forces prevented Lebanese Army soldiers from returning to their barracks in south Lebanon after celebrating the day in Beirut.
These incidents are examples of muscle-flexing by the various parties still embroiled in Lebanon. And they illustrate the difficulties that Lebanon still faces in reuniting itself and getting foreign troops off its land.
Nevertheless, in his speech on independence eve, Gemayel stood his ground. ''We will not negotiate on the basis of anyone else's security nor will we give anyone through negotiation what he failed to attain through force or war.''
President Gemayel made his position clear not only by what he said but also by the way he said it. He vowed to liberate ''every inch'' of Lebanese soil and to rebuild the Lebanese Army into a body capable of protecting the nation's sovereignity.
Sources close to the government and political analysts point out that Gemayel delivered the speech at the Henri Chehab barracks. The Lebanese Army soldiers there had been frequently attacked by various militias that had put themselves above the power and laws of the central government.
The fledgling president also said Lebanon would lean on the United States for help until it could stand on its own.
''I feel that the sympathy of friendly Arab states and the cooperation of other friendly countries with us and the raised voices of our emigrants in the Western world, especially in the United States with its friendly people and its great president, assures us that we are not alone in the process of negotiation nor in the battle of dignity, freedom, and destiny.''
Not coincidentally, American diplomat Philip Habib arrived in Beirut two days before this public posturing began. Mr. Habib's mission primarily is to get going in earnest the negotiations for the withdrawal of the foreign occupation forces from Lebanon.
According to political and government sources here, American pressure and support is the only bargaining card Lebanon has to persuade to get the Israelis, Syrians, and Palestinians to quit the country.
''But he [Gemayel] has to prove to the United States that he is doing something to restore central authority (in return for American help on withdrawal),'' said a well-placed source close to the Cabinet. ''I would expect a major shake-up in the Army within days to prove just that.''
The government is anxious to have Lebanese believe that the disruptive incidents have been caused by foreign troops.
After the takeover of the Lebanese Army barracks in Baalbek, for example, the media controlled by the right-wing Christian Phalange Party pointed the finger at Iranians in Baalbek. The Iranians have been filtering into eastern Lebanon since the summer to fight with the Syrians and Palestinians.
However, witnesses in Baalbek said they saw no evidence that the armed attackers were Iranians. Government sources say the source of friction was Syria. ''Syria is proving to Gemayel that it can cause him trouble if the withdrawal negotiations aren't acceptable,'' one source explains.
In the Shouf mountain region southeast of Beirut, both Lebanese Christians and Muslims have accused Israel of stirring the sectarian violence plaguing the area.
Lebanese Prime Minister Shafik Wazzan publicly accused Israel of fueling the fighting. A Lebanese Army intelligence source said the Israelis had armed both sides and then shelled both simultaneously to provoke clashes.
The report by the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, that the Lebanese Army had apparently murdered 1,200 Palestinians in Beirut, was ignored by the Lebanese. Even Palestinians and PLO sources scoffed at the report.