The first intifada, March 12th 1985 at dawn.
On March 12, 1985, at dawn, a military force led by Samir Geagea moved forward from Jbeil, Byblos and rolled down the coastal line to Nahr el Kalb Tunnel, hatch to Beirut and barely a few kilometers from the outskirts of the Northern Matn. Northern Matn was under Amin Gemayel’s Force 75 vigilant control.
On his way, Geagea took over all of the Kataeb and Lebanese Forces’ barracks, posts and checkpoints formerly held by Fuad Abu Nader’s men. The take over without resistance and without human nor material losses. The only serious opposition came at the level of Nahr Ibrahim late in the night of the 12th. A post held by Joseph el Zayek, Elias’s brother, fought a battle despite the odds against him. He was a fervent and loyal supporter of the Kataeb Party. Fuad Abu Nader and was in control of his own birth place, Ghazir in the Kessrouan. Joseph el Zayek was immediately arrested, imprisoned and tortured for two weeks before being released, a broken man.
Hobeika and Joseph were considered “Zaims” (chieftain) in Ghazir and had all upper Kessrouan at their beck and call. Even Hobeika, a Beirut, not very popular in the mountain and Butros Khawand, held them in high esteem, even feared them, but did not like them. Kfar H’bab, where Hobeika had moved, was a residential area, at the foot of Ghazir and close to the Zayek’s quarters.
Hobeika and his loyal Elite Force stormed the Baabda district and Ashrafieh, mostly faithful to him. The knot was knotted. The Lebanese Forces full control of the Christian fiefdom was achieved successfully. Lebanon’s Interior Minister Michel Murr, the concealed godfather of the insurrection, was a Christian who vowed hatred for the Gemayel's and the Kataeb Party. His hatred began in the early sixties. He “offered” the Lebanese Forces insurrectionists, ships filled with weapons of all calibers. Murr wanted Amin Gemayel’s head and the “New Lebanese Forces were his artillery. Murr had an intense aversion for the Kataeb Party and Amin Gemayel in particular because Amin has always lucked out. Amin had taken Murr’s seat in Parliament when his uncle Maurice Gemayel died. He has never been able to win over the Kataeb Party members in the Matn region. Moreover, Murr served Hobeika, Geagea and Pakradunis’ greed for power and money which he provided lavishly, not giving a damn about Lebanon or the Christians. The main Lebanese Force’s obsessive fear was that Amin would lay hands on their precious National Fund worth millions of dollars.
There were “secret meetings” at Michel Murr’s beach chalet at Halate Seaside Compound, in the months preceding D-Day. There were always Samir Geagea, Elie Hobeika, Michel Murr and some of their close Counsels. We, the personal security guards would stand outside the Chalet, along the Beach and at the main entrance for hours, freezing in the winter cold.
With the stunning success of the Intifada, the Lebanese Forces laid hand on and secured the Kataeb Party’s properties, real estate, businesses and media. Radio Voice of Lebanon and Al Amal newspapers organs of the Kataeb Party were seized. The radio station, situated in Ashrafieh-Sassine, fell without any resistance. The director, General Joseph El Hashem and his girl-friend Maggui Farah earlier appointed Editor-in-Chief were fired from their jobs, and showed out within minutes, with a suitcase, by Percy Kemp. Kemp took over and placed his own men at the radio station to run the place. The regular staff was kept on as they accepted most willingly to abide by the new rules out of fear or conviction.
With regard to Al Amal newspaper the action was more drastic and violent. Hobeika’s men burst in the offices in the Karantina area, arms in hand, placed Joseph Abou Khalil, the Editor-in-Chief Director General, under arrest and appointed Sejaan Azzi to replace him.
Soon afterward, however, the party secretly managed to issue a new Blue-labeled Al Amal to counter the Lebanese Forces’ Red Labeled.
Hobeika and Murr were not quite satisfied with how the paper reported their political opinions and guidelines. With Murr money, Al Joumhouria’s paper was completely funded and vested to Hobeika, but ran by Elie Murr, Michel’s son, appointed President Director General.
The Intifada was a success. Hobeika was reaching his goal, but Amin was still unbeaten and his area of influence, the Northern Matn, more than ever still loyal and staunchly devoted to him. I remember that Hobeika, Amin’s mortal enemy, could not set foot there and we would get back to Kessrouan by sea, or spend the night at Michel Murr’s residence in Ashrafieh.
The Troika’s new objective, therefore, was to annihilate Amin Gemayel and refrain him from getting any closer to Syria. Syria, the “ally” everybody was after, and the race to Damascus had to be won!
“The Christian Decision Movement” as the Intifada was called, was now strongly supported and applauded by the large majority of the Christian people and the militia men. Amin was indeed isolated. Even his promise to the Syrian command on his first official visit to Damascus, to put an end to the “mutiny” in one month, failed.
At that time, Hobeika, the winner of this venture, estimated rightly that the time was not ripe to get rid of Geagea whom he contemptuously named the “Goatherd”. Leaving him aside, he raced down to the Syrians through a mediator, Michel Samaha, who oddly enough was Amin Gemayel’s Counsel for Media Affairs and President Director General of the Lebanese official Television Network.
At this particular time, all of the Christian leaders, knowingly or unknowingly, played into Syria’s hands! All of them, without exception, placed their own selfish interests above any other consideration.
The Executive Committee of the Lebanese Forces was obviously a “Front” used by Hobeika, Geagea and Pakraduni. Now there was only one prey, Amin Gemayel, the President of the Republic, who was becoming a dangerous competitor. His Achilles’ heel was the Northern Matn. The decision was therefore taken to cold-hammer him there, in a quick, sudden and efficient blow.
Michel Zouein led a force of 150 Intelligence Organism militiamen storming the area on Horsh Tabet at Amin’s private residence. They were deployed without clashes or resistance even from Lebanese army troops stationed in the vicinity. Amin Gemayel was in Damascus with Hafez Assad. The Coastal Northern Matn was now “neutralized, the junction with the other Christian areas made and Amin Gemayel paralyzed.
The plotting machinery was in full gear to grab the leadership of the Lebanese Forces and the Christian decision. There was an inter-barracks war, physical illuminations, supporters to buy off, each action of which Hobeika and Geagea tried to impose himself, incite the “boys” and set them up against each other.
To appraise and consolidate their personal popularity, they threw big parties. Geagea started the series with a dinner party in Mayfouk attended by Elie Hobeika and all the Lebanese Forces big shots. The rumpus came to its height when Hobeika showed up. Thundering cheering, “H.K., H.K” or “Hakim, Hakim”, burst out with a well marked split in supporters cheers and adulation as to which of the two was The “One and Only”, which of the two held land and men.
Another event came to confirm my fear. Toto Bridy invited Samir Geagea and Elie Hobeika to a reception at the Lebanese Forces Artillery Base in Ashrafieh sector known as Sursuk Foreign Ministry. We drove in the same car, Hobeika, Geagea and Nader Succar, from the Karantina to the base. On the way, the two men hurled reproaches, harsh remarks, and warnings at each other, in connection with their attempted hegemony over military or Intelligence forces.
Nader Succar intervened, apparently to patch-up things. Strangely enough, he was adding fuel to the fire. It was obvious their mutual hatred was too deeply rooted to be washed out. I felt that something serious was bound to happen, an ominous crack in the wall. At the door, as we were getting in, each of them tried to exploit the situation and impose himself as the real leader.
Meanwhile, fighting broke out. At the slightest sparkle and for no serious reason, the boys at two contiguous barracks in the Karantina compound pulled their weapons and battled for over an hour. Hatred between the boys, supposedly of the same rank, settled in resulting in casualties. Although, for selfish ends, the case was quickly hushed up, each of the two men shied away from the other. Geagea turned to Amin Gemayel, to gain a new ally and cut the ground from under Hobeika’s feet. Hobeika stuck to Michel Murr and Michel Samaha and openly carried through his plans to squash his opponents and win over Syrian support.