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Major Haddad, militia leader in south Lebanon, eyes larger role

Some day, it is said, the victorious Christian-led soldiers of maverick Lebanese Maj. Saad Haddad will surge beyond this scruffy remnant of a once picturesque mountain village.

They will link up with their patriotic brethren helping "liberate" the rest of Lebanon from the grip of Palestinian guerrillas and Syrian regular troops.

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Such is the vision of Major Haddad, the controversial commander of the Israeli-armed Lebanese forces, popularly known as "the militiamen of the south."

It probably will be a long time before the requisite events can take place, if ever they do, and in the interim, the light-hearted, but visibly uncomfortable, Ghanaian troops stationed in between Palestinian, Syrian, Christian, and Israeli guns must cope with the dangers of being zeroed-in from all sides.

The hapless United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), of which the Ghanaians are a competent, can barely keep the belligerents apart. Nor does its intelligence branch find it easy to keep abreast of the hostile parties' ever-changing deployment.

The plastic-topped maps on which UNIFIL, the Christian militia, and the Israeli forces indicate sites of Palestinian contingents vary as to their pinpointing of the various guerrilla locations.

But one feature is common to all: a permanent presence of at least 500 guerrillas within the sector south of the Litani River patrolled by UNIFIL since Israeli's 1978 incursion to the river's southern banks.

This situation, and the apparent concentration of a unit subject to the ultra-militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) on the river's northern bank (according to the UNIFIL map), causes great dismay to Major Haddad.

He sees the problem of an effectively partitioned Lebanon as begging for a solution, namely, "the withdrawal, by force if necessary, of all non-Lebanese elements -- especially the Palestinians and Syrians."

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He has enlisted as sizable number of Shiite Muslim residents of southern Lebanon (60 percent of the militia-controlled enclave is Muslim and only 40 percent is Christian). This fact is summoned up to reenforce his "Lebanon for the Lebanese" argument.

He takes pride in the camaraderie of Christian and Muslim fighting men under his direct command and in the excellent relationship his forces and the civilian population it defends have with the predominantly Jewish Israelis.

The Haddad-Israel liaison is not quite as smooth as a superficial observer might assume, however.

Repeatedly, the Israeli press has expressed reservations about the dangers of the Jewish state being drawn into a conflict with Syria over the Palestinian foothold in south- central Lebanon. It could come at a time that was inconvenient to Israeli's military or political strategists.

The most recent critic is the military analyst of the independent daily Haaretz, Zeev Shiff. He points out that Major Haddad's contempt for UNIFIL, based on its inability to prevent Palestinian guerrilla bands from infiltrating en route to Israeli, can also be turned against Major Haddad himself.

Mr. Shiff notes that the gruff but highly personable major admitted that his own forces cannot be expected to intercept every Israel-bound squad of Palestinians dispatched on self-confessed terrorist missions.

Some consider the major as a vestigial cold warrior, seeing the PLO units and the almost exclusively Syrian Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) as extensions of the Soviet Union -- and Lebanon as a proxy confrontation between East and West.

Now that the United States seems more willing to stand firm against Soviet encroachment on the strategic Middle East, Major Haddad is casting a hopeful glance in the direction of Washington. He believes that President-elect Ronald Reagan will approve of a pro-American offensive in Lebanon that would not only rid the embattled republic of unwanted foreigners, but also improve the West's position on the fringes of the region's oil fields.

Israel's attitude is much less tough.

No doubt, its Air Force is under standing orders to shoot down any Syrian warplanes that interfere with Israeli air attacks against PLO bases in Lebanon.

But the Israeli government is not interested in provoking the Syrians on the ground as long as they stay above the mutually agreed "red line" somewhere between the Zaharani and Litani rivers.

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