Chapter 17:

The preparation of the rebellion in East Beirut.

Hobeika cleverly and successfully adopted Abdul Halim Khaddam’s motto, “Hold the land and you rule the decision”. That is why Damascus acknowledged Hobeika as the strong and trustworthy Christian leader, entitled to speak and decide in the name of the Christians. Hobeika secretly contracted with Syria, but he had gone too far in his generosity in connection with privileged relations. He granted the Damascus command more than it had ever dreamed.

Samir, sensed danger, staying on his toes and playing for time. In coordination with Amin, he was meticulously elaborating his counter attack. Hobeika’s close circle, had a feeling something serious was going to happen. For the first time since I my alliance with him, I felt that my “boss” was immersed in his venture, feathering his nest and completely forgetful of his environment and those persons around him. The whole affair was going to his head.

On September 9, 1985, Hobeika paid his first open and official visit to Damascus. His visit was filled with all the pomp and circumstance as the head of a delegation of loyalists including myself. They were received by Abdul Halim Khaddam and held a lengthy meeting at his office. Hostility and resentment was brewing deep down. It was just sour grapes for us boys, but the fact that we were allowed to keep our arms on, and blindly following orders, we sincerely believed we were high, mighty and unconquerable. I gathered from the look on the leaders faces after the meeting, the meeting went well.

On September 21, 1985, Hobeika paid a visit to Zahleh. Since September 8, 1985, Zahleh was under the control of the Syrian Special Brigades. Hobeika was accompanied by Michel Samaha and the Chief of Syrian Army Intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan. Hobeika became the first Lebanese Forces leader to set foot in the Bekaa Valley Christian town since 1981. He was invited to a banquet thrown in his honor. The Syrian command handed the Kataeb Party Headquarters over to him. The headquarters had been occupied by the Syrian troops and was returned to Lebanese Forces control as a token of confidence. This was further evidence that Hobeika was now the only acknowledged representative of the Christians.

Hobeika met with Monsignor Haddad, Elie Ferzli, the present Vice Speaker, and Khalil Hraoui. He received popular delegations from all walks of life. A few days later, the official talks between the three pro-Syrian warring parties opened in Damascus under Khaddam’s personal supervision.

In the meantime, nothing seemed to fit in Beirut’s Christian sector. Nothing was firmly known. So the moment concrete terms and solid information leaked out about the “agreement”, sharp criticism erupted. However, Hobeika remained, as usual tight-lipped and high-handed.

On October 4, 1985, a new battle broke out between Geagea and Hobeika’s partisans. Hobeika was much too close to his goal to let any such event weaken his position towards the Syrians. He overlooked the incident and moved on.

On October 13, 1985, he delivered his plan, in public, for the first time. He bluntly announced that his option was progressive abolition of confessionalism and sectarianism. Amin Gemayel considered it an insult in the framework of a slander campaign to destroy his position on the State level and within the Christian ranks. He had to strike.

Samir Geagea, the Lebanese Forces Chief of Staff, with his regular army of experienced, loyal, high-spirited and anti-Syrian troops knew he had Amin’s army on his side to do away with the Accord and Hobeika.

On November 21, 1985, the Lebanese Front political members, having expressed their rejection of the Accord during a session held in Awkar, compared Hobeika to Machiavelli, and accused him of imposing a military regime in the Eastern Democratic Regions. His rule dictated a solution that fitted only Hobeika’s ambitions. The political members received a trademarked answer, a boobie trapped van that went off in Awkar during the meeting resulting in many casualties.

On December 27, 1985, an enlarged Christian Congress called for by Hobeika was held at Bkerke, the Seat of the Maronite Patriarchate. It was held under the chairmanship of the Papal Delegate Monsignor Helou. Hobeika presented the Accord Agreements to the participants as an accomplished fact. It was “take it or leave it”, as he put it. He was dead set on carrying it through. The others were dead against it. Geagea tried to obtain a delay with no avail.

Regardless of the all out Christian opposition, on December 28, 1985, the Damascus Accord was signed and sealed in the Syrian capital. Hobeika was warmly received by Syrian President Hafez el Assad, who for the past 10 years had attempted to break down the Christians. Peace was agreed upon in a signed document between the three enemies, and war was on the kerb between natural allies. The damage was done, but we, Hobeika’s men did not come round to see it.

Earlier on the way to Damascus, driving in the vehicle were Hobeika, Michel Murr, Karim Pakraduni, and myself. Karim asked Hobeika, “What are you giving Samir in this agreement? How would you deal with Syria about him?”

Hobeika overbearing and full of his own importance answered with a smile, “We are through with Tony, Franjieh, and his feudalism, you want us to hamper ourselves by Samir and his feudalism.” This meant his popularity in his Bsharreh hometown. It was clear to me that he was set on eliminating him.

Hobeika had signed his death warrant. He had gathered against him, apart from Amin Gemayel, the Kataeb Party, and Geagea’s partisans, the power-base, and the traditional Christian politicians, distrustful and dissatisfied with the concessions made to the “Syrian enemy”, and dreading a “police-state” run by Hobeika.

On New Year’s Eve, 1985, Geagea and Amin, exasperated by Hobeika’s arrogance and maneuvers since he signed the Damascus Accord, decided to get rid of Hobeika. Around 9.30 a.m. on the 31st, pure hatred and cold blooded cruelty was unleashed. Two boobie-trapped cars and a commando force were dispatched to carry out an operation against Hobeika. The operation was indifferent about the dramatic human consequences. Eliminating Hobeika meant killing at least 12 young Christians in the Convoy, apart from innocent citizens passing. An innocent victim, a wife-to-be, was walking by when the attack occurred. She was killed instantly. Hobeika was not there.

We had driven from Hobeika’s house with René Moawad, his brother-in-law, to Junieh to register a piece of land he had acquired. We were delayed till about noon. Assaad Shaftary, his next-door neighbor left home with him, but preceded him to the office at the Karantina, cutting through Nahr Al Mott on the coastal line of the Northern Matn. At the same level coming the other way, a convoy of militiamen were driving up to Junieh to escort Hobeika back to Beirut. They fell into an ambush. Three of the guards were killed, three others badly wounded, among whom my own brother, Ernest.

As we drove back to the office, we spotted thick heavy smoke. I contacted Fadia, Elie’s private secretary, to inquire about what was going on. Beside herself with terror, she just shouted “Elie fell into an ambush”. She did not know that I was speaking from the car and that Elie Hobeika was safe, by my side. He had escaped the ambush. I hardly had time to reassure her of his safety when she hung up.

We immediately made a u-turn in the middle of the coastal highway, at the level of Aziz Grocery, and drove back home to Adma. We later learned that one of the boobie-trapped cars was supposed to go off before the armed attack, and the second after it, to make sure that Hobeika in his armored B.M.W. would be blown to pieces. The plan did not hit its intended mark.

No sooner had we reached home, than people started pouring in to congratulate Hobeika’s escape from the attack. Among the callers were President Chamoun, Father Boulos Naaman, and later in the evening, none other than Geagea and Pakraduni. Hobeika, in his usual self control manner, made the most out of the incident to boost his position.

On January 2, 1986, Hobeika seized all issues of the “AL Massira” magazine, Samir Geagea’s organ and burned them down. It had punched in a cover-photo headline: “The Bloody Accord”. Strangely enough the magazine’s reporters were on the spot just a few minutes after the attack or maybe before it.

Geagea answered back. He stormed Hobeika’s Al Joumouria daily paper whose office was located in Amin’s stronghold Northern Matn’s neighborhood of Mkalles.

On January 13, 1986, the President of the Republic paid an official visit to Damascus. The meeting with Assad was a flop. The Syrians no longer needed him. On January 15, 1986, at dawn, the “Intifada” was launched. The plan to launch was decided the day before, between Geagea and Gemayel.

Hobeika knew an attack was being prepared against him by Geagea. The question was why he did not let anybody know. The same night, he asked his brother Charles, who was the Commander of all the Intelligence military units, to lift the state of alert and dismiss the boys. So, when the assault was given, Hobeika was in his office with Elie Murr and Assad Shaftari, eating Lebanese pizzas. The Interior Security Commander Joseph El Asmar was fast asleep.

Just before dawn, one of my men, Zouheir Saleh, picked up one of Geagea’s officers, known as “Chicken”, from Ayn Remaneh and dragged him to the Karantina. He confessed under torture that the assault was scheduled for 6:00 a.m. It was too late. The attack was well underway, it had been pushed forward half an hour.

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