Lebanon is a nation located in western Asia, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and by Israel to the south. On Doomsday, it had been in the midst of a civil war since 1975, with international peacekeeping troops stationed in the capital of Beirut; and areas to the north and east occupied by Syria and to the south by Israel.
Over the centuries, Lebanon has been part of numerous empires because of its unique location on the Mediterranean Sea, the last being the French. This has also played a role in the diverse religious make-up of the country, which consists of some 18 different sects, among the prominent being Orthodox Christians, Maronite Christians; Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims; and the Islamist Druze. However, this same diversity has played a major role in the region’s sectarian problems, which have included frequent bloody clashes as far back as the 19th Century. Following the end of World War I, the League of Nations partitioned the Ottoman Empire, which led to the creation of the French Mandate of Syria, consisting of modern Lebanon, Syria, and parts of Turkey. In 1920, France established Lebanon as a separate country, angering many Muslims who now found themselves as part of a mostly Christian nation. Lebanon became a republic in 1926 and gained full independence from France during World War II. Due to the ongoing sectarian discord, the government was established as a parliamentary democracy based on multi-confessionalism, in that power was apportioned amongst religious lines. This grew out of the National Pact signed in 1943 by the leaderships of the Maronites, Shi'ites and Sunnis. Under these terms, the president must always be Maronite; the president of the National Assembly must be Shi'ite; the prime minister must be Sunni.
Prior to Doomsday, Lebanon was a nation which had undergone both prosperity and tremendous violence. Various factors would play a role in these problems such as sectarian conflicts, Arab nationalism, and the rise of Nasserism. However, the biggest factor would be the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Arab nations. Beginning in the late 1960s, Palestinian armed factions, in particular the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, began using Lebanon as a base by which to launch attacks against Israel. In 1970, with their expulsion from Jordan, these groups would move all operations to Lebanon, establishing terrorist camps in the south. Because of an agreement Lebanon was forced to sign in 1969, the PLO was granted control over the various Palestinian refugee camps throughout the nation and gave it access to their borders with. This allowed the PLO to become an increasingly powerful force in the country through which it created a de facto separate state, slowly usurping Lebanese authority.
In an effort to effort to stop Palestinian terrorist attacks from Lebanon, Israel frequently launched air and ground strikes into the country. The largest took place in June 1982, when the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) overran southern Lebanon and eventually besieged Beirut, shattering the PLO mini-state and destroying its terrorist bases. In an effort to preserve lives, an international peace accord allowed a multi-national peacekeeping force (MNF) consisting of American, French, and Italian soldiers to land in the capital in August 1982 and oversee the evacuation of the remainder of Palestinian forces before withdrawing. However, events worsened with the assassination of the Lebanese President, Bashir Gemayel, in September, followed by the revenge killings of hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese in two Beirut refugee camps two days later by members of his militia. In response, the MNF landed again, this time with a larger force, to prevent future attacks on Palestinians and give the Lebanese government time to recover. Prior to Doomsday, over 5,000 MNF soldiers from France, Britain, Italy, and the US were stationed in Beirut along with over 20 naval ships from their respective nations posted offshore. Additionally, although Israel had begun to withdraw, it still occupied a large portion of southern Lebanon.
At the same time these events were taking a place a violent civil war was ongoing. The delicate balance of power between the various sects had begun to unravel over time, as Muslims pushed for greater power in Lebanon using as leverage the presence of several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees who had taken up residence following 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Erupting in 1975 along sectarian lines, the civil war had been witness to heavy fighting between the government and various armed militias as well as among the militias themselves, including the Christian Phalange; the Shi'ite Amal Movement; the Sunni al-Murabitun; and the Druze. The war in turn led to an invasion in 1976 by 40,000 Syrian troops, ostensibly invited to help restore peace. Although Syria did impose some peace, it began to play a role in destabilizing the nation with the ultimate intent of reasserting control over an area still viewed as part of Syria proper. Although the 1982 Israeli invasion had inflicted serious damage on the Syrian force, by Doomsday they had rearmed, standing at about 25,000. In September 1983, the US contingent of the MNF had become involved in the civil war as well, when USN warships provided fire support to Lebanese military forces fighting Muslim militias outside Beirut.
By September 25, 1983, the civil war and the IDF invasion had shattered the nation’s infrastructure and left many areas of Lebanon, especially the capital, in shambles.
Lebanon was not specifically targeted by the United States or the USSR on Doomsday because it lacked any areas of significant importance to either side. However, because of Lebanon’s proximity to areas that were, i.e. Syria and Israel, it was inevitable it might be hit. As it was, at least four nuclear explosions occurred in Lebanon. [It should be noted since the country occupied the same time zone as Moscow; as such, events progressed at the same time.]
The first occurred when a Soviet nuclear device exploded approximately 45 miles offshore of Beirut, destroying the US nuclear aircraft carrier Dwight Eisenhower and several support ships. The aircraft carrier was part of the US Navy’s contribution to the MNF stationed in the capital. The device failed to airburst and instead plunged into the sea before detonating. As a result, a shock wave and a subsequent tsunami generated by the explosion caused damage to not only the MNF ships stationed in the immediate vicinity but also to areas of the city and parts of the nearby coast. It is believed approximately 1000 Lebanese were killed in addition to the estimated 10,000 MNF naval personnel. Since the attack occurred close to dawn, about 5:13 AM local time, many of the deaths either among those working on boats or working or living on the city’s waterfront.
The remaining attacks occurred in the Syrian occupied Beqaa Valley in the east. It is unclear if these attacks were deliberate or accidental as many devices had exploded in adjacent Syria. There is evidence the device which airburst over the city of Baalbek was deliberately targeted as it detonated over the Sheik Abdullah Barracks which was headquarters to a contingent of about 2,000 Iranian revolutionary Guards and the Hezbollah terrorist group that it was training to carry out attacks in Lebanon, one of which had been the April 1983 bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut. A second device exploded over Syrian troops and armor in Riyaq to the south. All together, approximately 20,000 soldiers, terrorists, and civilians perished. A final device exploded in the atmosphere over the valley, causing EMP damage to Syrian military equipment.
The limited direct impact of Doomsday aside, the greatest immediate damage to Lebanon came in the form of radioactive fallout in the days and months which followed. The nation experienced fallout from numerous areas, including the attacks on its own soil and those in the adjacent nations of Turkey, Syria, and Israel. Lebanon was fortunate in some respects due to its geographic profile. The nation was divided into four areas: the shoreline and coastal plains; the Mount Lebanon (West) mountains; the Beqaa Valley; and the anti-Lebanon (East) mountains. During the summer, winds blow inland off the Mediterranean during the day, reversing in the evening. Since most nuclear attacks on Doomsday occurred in the early morning hours, the winds pushed inland during the initial fallout for many hours. In the evening, when the winds reversed and began to blow from the atomized areas of Syria, the mountain ranges acted as partial barriers. As it was, the thousands of Syrians soldiers in the Beqaa Valley and the north were exposed to fallout.
In the first ten days following Doomsday, the government of President Amin Gemayel was in a state of near paralysis. Working with its military, the MNF, and surviving diplomatic legations, the government made attempts to assess the exact extent of the destruction. This was complicated due to residual static in the atmosphere caused by the nuclear explosions as well as the limited EMP damage inflicted on the country. Reports were gathered from radio stations still on the air, short wave radios, and scattered civil and military groups as well as survivors arriving in the capital from sea and air. On Doomsday, at least five commercial airliners suffering EMP damage tried to land at Beirut International Airport, which was closed due to damage from the civil war. Unable to turn them away, controllers, with the help of the American MNF contingent, tried to assist them in landing. One Turkish airliner crashed killing all aboard, but four others, one Egyptian, one American (TWA), and two Greek were able to crash land with few casualties. Several private and commercial ships had also arrived in Beirut, including one cruise ship, seeking safe harbor, since it was the largest functioning seaport of the western Mediterranean coast at the time. Additionally, British, French, and Italian warships of the MNF had managed to gather information during forays into the Mediterranean before turning back due to hostile attacks. Taken together, the information painted a bleak picture. Cairo, Egypt and Amman, Jordan were gone; Israel was reeling from multiple strikes; Syria and Turkey were devastated; and no word was coming from Europe. No one would be coming to help them for the immediate future and they were on their own for the time being.
Lebanon’s hurdles seemed insurmountable. The country’s infrastructure was in ruins because of the civil war and Israel’s invasion the previous year. By the time the last nuke had exploded, on September 26, 1983, the economy of Lebanon crashed with the evaporation of the tourism and banking industry. A major threat was how to feed its population of 3.9 million people plus the thousands of Palestinian refugees. No aid shipments would be coming from anyone anymore. Although Lebanon possessed the highest percentage of cultivatable land in the Arabic speaking world, it only constituted less than 12% of the workforce. Security issues had driven people from the land and crops had been abandoned to rot. They also had to contend with two foreign armies on their soil.
To be continued…