1981, Houbeika banks on two horses, Israel and Syria.
By January, 1982, Bashir Gemayel was the undisputed and unique chief of the Christian fiefdom. His myth-making capacity had allowed him to sweep away the Independence Generation and every single person with enough ambition to stand in his way. Not only the Maronites, but the Christians at large were represented by one strong man, a “monster” whose errors and they were countless, were overlooked and even used to serve his goals. He stood for liberation, triumph, and reestablished Christian, the Maronite supremacy. His policy of “resistance” was later used and misused by his two lieutenants, namely Elie Hobeika and Samir Geagea, each of whom betrayed the Christian power base and slaughtered Christians to serve their own objective. Most Christian who followed were them lured into believing it was necessary in the practically besieged Christian ghetto as the liberated regions were called.
Bashir was the revolutionary idol every single person trusted or dared not distrust. He knew the data, he was qualified to deal with them. He had isolated his closest assistants, friends and relatives including his brother Amin. His allies, the Israelis who had blown hot and cold so often, remained his only salvation board especially since they had threatened to invade Lebanon and guarantee his political future in the very top job: President of the Republic. Nobody, however, can deny the Israeli backing in Bashir’s ascension.
At one time, Bashir was strong with the popular support and military control. He even thought he was powerful enough to apply his tactics with the Israelis. He triggered a competition between his presidential ambitions and his allies plans and views. He created frictions between the Israelis and their American allies.
Strong with Israeli support, Sheikh Bashir officially declared that the Syrian forces must first leave Beirut, then all of Lebanon, before the start of the summer election campaign. After his meeting with Mr. Menahem Begin in Nahariya, a meeting that looked more like a breaking off, he asked Elie Hobeika to make overtures with the Syrians.
That was when Elie Hobeika, jumped at the chance and grabbed his luck to put his personal schemes into effect. In 1981, after the war in Zahleh, H.K had already began to bank on two horses. Through the pro-Syrian Lebanese Army General and Commander of the “Arab deterrent forces” Sami Khatib, he managed to go to Damascus and hold a meeting with Syrian President’s brother Rifaat el Assad.
The first time we set foot in the Syrian capital, H.K. whispered to me: “Did you ever dream of carrying your arm on your hip and standing on the soil of the Syrian Capital? Now you carry your gun on you and your machine gun in the car conspicuously and you are in the heart of Damascus, on an official visit. How does it feel?” In fact, I thought I was dreaming. All along I said to myself, he is my chief, he knows best. It was the right thing to do. I was not aware that he was only bargaining with the lives and welfare of the Christian community. When he called on Rifaat El Assad at his luxurious office, it was only a few paces from Abdul Halim Khaddam’s, but we did not get to meet him. The meeting lasted for more than two hours after which we drove back to Lebanon under the cloak of night.
I sensed his deep satisfaction then. He was playing on his own, and I felt proud even though somewhat uneasy. In the back of my mind, I was wondering what he was cooking with our “enemy” and kept saying to myself “he knows best”. Vain, glory, submission and allegiance finally washed away doubt, and this nagging feeling of remorse.
I kept thinking “whatever he was hatching with our enemy must be for the best interests of the Christians because my boss is the shrewdest and mightiest”. A month later, H.K. told me secretly that we were going on a week long trip to France. As usual, he gave me no details. I had to be ready for departure at any minute. Strange enough in the particular conflict context, we left Beirut from the international airport in the western part of the capital, aboard a MEA plane, the only company that still used it.
I remember driving to Hadath/Laylaki crosspoint where a Lebanese military Range Rover, sent especially by Johnny Abdo, then Chief of Army Intelligence which took us to the airport and the Boeing safely. As the plane took off and he was relaxed, content and comfortable in the air, in his business class seat, he asked me to fetch his mistress of the moment named “Lola” (E.Kh) who was traveling with us but in economy class, and remain in her seat all through the trip until landing time.
We spent a week in Paris at the Concorde Lafayette Hotel moving around in taxi. While he was in the company of Rifaat and Jamil el Assad, I played ball! I did not stop for a minute to ask what they were doing or why, but deep down I felt confused, somewhat off color. Especially that evening when Rifaat el Assad invited him to dinner at the Raspoutine Nightclub in the Champs Elysdes. There were five persons including myself. The atmosphere was friendly, relaxed and overcast with complicity. The men chatted, and I attended, with great pleasure, to Lola. The following day we flew back to Beirut.