When we were there, they were led by a pop eyed little weasel named Walid Jumblatt. He didn't have it in for the multinational peacekeeping forces, but he didn't mind killing them for the hell of it either.
When Israel first wrote it's laws for mandatory military service, the Israeli Druze (Druze living inside the borders of Israel) were exempted. But the Israeli Druze elders were incensed. They demanded their young men be drafted for military service. (The Druze pride themselves on being warlike) So the Israeli Druze serve in the Israeli Army. They do it well, largely in elite units like the border guards, are highly respected, and have no compunction about killing other Druze in the course of duty. Nobody understands the Druze.
The guy on the far right below is one of Major Saad Haddad's Southern Lebanon Forces. Haddad was a rebel Army officer who set up his own fiefdom in Southern Lebanon, with Israeli help, and fought the PLO. His troops were Israeli trained and supplied, and were actually pretty good.
The Israeli navy operated off the coast of Lebanon. They had patrol boats, like giant PT boats but much more capable. I can remember being on the signal bridge of the Puget Sound one night. It's an open air bridge on the ships superstructure. The Israeli patrol boats were exchanging fire with someone ashore (God knows who), and we watched the tracers , green and red, floating back and forth between the Israeli patrol boats and the terrorists around the beach. Tracers look really slow flying through the air, but if they are aimed at you they speed up a lot. These exchanges usually ended with big explosions ashore because the Israelis would call in artillery from their forces ashore and that would be that. The Israelis were good at interdicting terrorist movements along the shore, but with warships from Israel, America, Britain, Italy and France just off the coast it was a real goat rope. Unknown groups in the city would occasionally take pot shots at the ships, with everything from artillery to small arms fire, even through they could not have had any idea who they were shooting at.
Imagine flying a helicopter into the Marine position ashore. Everybody and their dog in the city had assault rifles , machine guns and RPG's if nothing else once you crossed the beach. And there you'd be , in a low, slow helicopter up in the air. I talked to one crew chief whose aircraft had taken small arms fire, and he told me his ass was biting washers out of the canvas seat cover the whole way in. I knew what he meant.
These are Israeli troops as they looked in Lebanon in 1982-1983. Elite units like the paratroopers were very impressive. Israelis fought well. They are a reserve army, in the sense that they have very small active duty forces, but they maintain reserve skeleton outfits and when they mobilize, just about every able bodied man is called up. They usually have vast numbers of older men, no longer subject to call up, who report to their old units anyway. After all, when the Israelis fight, their women and children and old people are literally right behind them. They don't have any "defense in depth" they don't have any ocean between them and the barbarians.
You cannot put military units in close proximity to each other without exchanging liaison officers. You can't even put U.S. Army and U.S. Marine units next to each other without doing that. You have to know what the other guy is doing, and you have to have someone with your commander, who can explain what his commander is doing and why. If you don't, there will be blood on the ground. The lowliest private knows this.
But we had Israeli troops right up to our wire, and we were not supposed to speak to them. Colonel Stokes, the commander of the Marines ashore who was eventually rotated out with his men, finally just ignored the State Department after some incidents with Israeli tanks coming into our perimeter. He set up a meeting with the Israeli General in the area, and they ironed all that out. But not before a lot of bad blood was stirred up between the Marines and the Israeli troops. And all because of our asinine politicians. The Israelis never shelled us, and it worked out thanks to the courage of Colonel Stokes (who, by the way, I did not like. He once embarrassed me at a big staff meeting . I was right and he was wrong, but that's a story for another time.)
There's something else, too. After the bombing, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) offered us the use of Israeli medical facilities for our wounded. 20 minutes by helicopter to the best medical facilities in the Middle East, staffed by doctors and nurses who were very familiar with battle wounds and trauma.
But the State Department told Reagan that we could not accept this offer, as it would "offend" Moslem countries. So instead, our wounded were taken to medical facilities on the ships, or flown to Cyprus or to Europe. People who could have been saved died because of this. Instead of twenty minutes, they spent hours getting to the hospitals. You know what the "Golden Hour" is? It's the first hour after you get injured. If you get to good medical care within that hour, you have a much better chance of making it than if you don't. I'm mad when I think about this and it's hard not to use bad language.
Then there was the multinational peace keeping force. USMC, French Foreign Legion, Italian San Marco Brigade, and a tiny detachment of British with armored cars.
CH-46 headed for the Beirut Airport, where the Marines ashore were forted up. This was the mainstay logistics and assault (i.e. troop carrier) helicopter of the Marine Corps in those days.
Directly behind the barracks was a CONEX box that had been converted into a long range communications terminal. I spent some time there. It was run by a fellow I'd known before over the years in the Marine Corps.
This picture was taken on the Thursday before the bombing. I was going out to the Puget Sound. She was going back to Naples, and the Colonel I worked for said I could go with her, spend the weekend with my wife, and come back when Puget Sound returned the following week.
Sunday morning , October 23, 1983 I got up early. My wife was still asleep. I made some coffee and went out on the balcony of our little villa, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We didn't have a phone. Only very senior officers had phones in their villas. Phones were scarce in Italy then.
I turned on the radio, and tuned it to the Armed Force Radio and Television Network, which was how most of us got our news. The announcer said there were reports of a large scale attack on the Marines in Beirut. I got dressed, took the car, and went into Naples to the AFSOUTH headquarters where my staff , COMSTRIKFORSOUTH, was located. Things went down hill from there.
And that's what I remember today.
You can stop people on the street (I've done it) and ask them if they remember the Beirut bombing, and hardly anyone has a clue what you are talking about. But that two year endeavor was big news in America 33 years ago.