October 13 1990, The invasion of the Presidential Palace.
On October 13, 1990, at 7:05 a.m., Beirut time, 6.05 a.m., Damascus time, Syrian Air force bomber/fighters in Soviet-built Soukhoi aircraft carried out the only air raid authorized in the Lebanese 16-year-old war. The Baabda Presidential Palace and Yarzeh Defense Ministry were the targets. The Lebanese Forces artillery, based in Ashrafieh, blindly pounded the General’s strategic positions and surrounding residential areas, slaughtering Christians with a furious joy.
An hour later, Aoun was leaving his Baabda bunker aboard an armored tank and headed towards the French Embassy in the vicinity. French Ambassador René Ala was waiting for him.
Half an hour after the raid had been launched, General Michel Aoun knew that the WAR was lost, that only a United States green light would allow such an unusual sweeping air raid. Lebanon’s sky light up as if, since the outbreak of the war, 16 years ago, it was an Israeli “game preserve”. The Syrians had been authorized only one single raid. It had to be strikingly efficient.
The fatal raid lasted 13 minutes, after which Hafez Assad’s Special Forces started rolling into Baabda. The armed forces were preceded by Hobeika’s watchdogs in civilian clothes. To identify them, they wore a white badge with a yellow-orange circle, and were set as scouts on Aoun’s demarcation lines to clear them of mines. They had neither specific references nor knowledge, nor were they bomb disposal experts. Who cared anyhow? They could be blown into pieces. It did not matter as long as Hobeika and the Syrians moved in onto safe grounds.
At 10.00 a.m., Captain Riad, commanding the Syrian Units that stormed Baabda, contacted Brigadier Ali to confirm proudly that he was in General Aoun’s office sitting at his desk. The armored tank units were then instructed to get ready to move in at 3:00 p.m.. Captain Riad and his men were given till 3:00 p.m. to loot, slaughter and burgle whatever they could lay their hands on.
Hobeika and I were at the Syrian headquarters following the evolution before our turn came to move in. I heard Brigadier Ali pressing his command for a second air raid, which was declined. He then turned to Elie Hobeika and told him, “If it weren’t for the return to winter time (one hour behind) the entire Syrian army couldn’t break through the Christian lines.”
Later, rumors circulated that if the General had held on just one hour in Baabda, the outcome of the Syrian assault would have changed. Aoun had ordered a cease fire, but the L.A. units in Dahr Al Wahsh strategic points continued their fierce resistance which resulted in a real butchery.
At 3:00 p.m., Brigadier Ali, Hobeika and I headed the convoy that moved up to Baabda. Gaby and Yoyo were in the tank with us. The convoy went down Lailaki/Hadath where corpses of Lebanese army soldiers were lying in the streets. On the way, the Hesbolla armed elements were in a state of maximum alert and highly strung, ready to throw themselves into the eastern regions to pour their hatred on the “remnant” Christians.
One of Hobeika’s lieutenants, Abdo Saade, smitten with remorse that stirred up the encrusted hatred for the Syrians and the Moslems, clashed with the Hesbollahi in a bloody battle in the Christian sector of Hadath. This battle forced them all back and out leaving 11 dead in the ranks of the Hesbollahi. Hobeika heard about the incident only when he was pressed by the Syrian command to order Saadd and his boys to evacuate the area, which he did lightheartedly, and sacked Saade.
We finally arrived and the world stood still. The butchery, looting and havoc we saw was staggering. It was a nightmare. Hobeika, cool and smiling, had no qualms. He was a conquering hero. Now I realize that Brigadier Ali was more honorable than my boss. The two men entrusted me with a mission and sat talking in one of the offices in the ruins of Baabda Palace.
While I was inspecting the building, wearing jeans but heavily armed, I heard shrieks of terror. I broke the door open and to my surprise, I saw Aoun’s wife and daughters, Abou Jamra’s wife and Captain Abou Rizk. Syrian Brigadier Mohsen Selman’s men were trying to rape the women to inflict a moral prejudice to Brigadier Ali known as a man of honor, and who, as far as I knew him, was adamantly opposed to corrupt practices and abuses.
When General Aoun’s daughter saw my Western weapon and my jeans, she had a hunch that I was Lebanese and begged me to rescue them. Since I was taking my orders from Brigadier Ali, I compelled Selman and his men out of the room, locked it up put a guard at the door and ran to Hobeika and Brigadier Ali to report the affair. They both dashed to the premises. Recognizing Hobeika, they begged him to save them. Brigadier Ali, a true gentlemen saluted them, set their minds at ease and said word for word, “General Aoun is a man of honor, you will be safely conducted to him.”
Two Range Rovers, one of them Louis Karam’s and the other Hobeika’s, were used to drive the families to the French Embassy. They joined General Aoun escorted by Hobeika in person. I carried on the inspection with the “boys”. What I saw was nightmarish. About 50 Lebanese army officers and soldiers stripped naked and executed kneeling down, hands up and with that the Lebanese Christians were not only brought to their knees but flat on their faces.
In another room, I discovered four girls, among whom was Kinda Elias, and a young man, in a state of utter shock were awaiting their death cowered in terror. I ordered a car to drive them safely to Ayn Remaneh. Right afterwards, I found Captain Abdel Nour who outlived the Lebanese officers massacre and was mad with grief and rage. The “Captain-hero” who refused to desert his post without orders from his commanding officers was now crying and wailing. I sent Yoyo to drive him to Ayn Remaneh safely knowing that in the mission entrusted to me, my prerogatives were unlimited as I was personally deputized by Brigadier Ali, to supervise the Baada recuperation operation.
I could not help flashing back eight years ago to a similar butchery in Sabra and Chatilla. Hobeika was Israeli General Ariel Sharon’s friend and ally and I, Cobra, the reliable man, General Sharon liked and trusted with similar missions. The Lebanese Christians were high-headed, and in safety, though heart-broken and wailing their supreme leader, warlord, and President elect Bashir, as our fiefdom was clean of Syrians, Palestinians or other ill-intentioned strangers.
What a dreary and wretched change. Was it the end of the Lebanese Christians? Were they to become the door mat upon which the conquerors would wipe their dirty shoes to gain momentum? I was so exhausted that I could not indulge in the luxury of finding proper answers to my questions.