HL Deb 22 June 1984 vol 453 cc597-614

2.21 p.m.

Lord Kennet rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their present policy towards Lebanon.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper, may I say how distressed I am to see that the noble Lord. Lord Trefgarne, has to do everything this afternoon: to introduce the Second Reading of a Bill, to wind up the Second Reading debate, and then to take an Unstarred Question. He is doing all the Government's business from the Government Front Bench in one sitting day of this House. I have never known that to happen before. If I had known that it would happen, I should have offered to do what I could to prevent it happening and, frankly, I question the wisdom of the Government in allowing it to happen. No personal judgment is intended, but it is an exhausting thing for anyone to have to do.

Over the years there has been a demographic change in Lebanon, which the constitution and the political system of that country have not proved flexible enough to meet. It is rather like what has happened in Northern Ireland. The constitution was framed enshrining the Christian majority. There is no longer a Christian majority; there is a Moslem majority, and the state has gradually broken up into disorder and warring factions due to purely internal circumstances. Added to that there has been massive intervention by both its neighbours.

Over the years the state of Israel has suffered very much from the inability of the greatly weakened state of Lebanon to prevent the PLO establishing itself in the southern part of Lebanon and bombarding Israel across its legitimate frontier. Not all Israeli frontiers are legitimate. The frontier with the Lebanon is legitimate and Israel put up with bombardments over it for many years. During that period the disintegration of the Lebanon caused an invitation to be issued to its other neighbour, Syria, to come in and give military help to stabilise the northern end of the country.

Israel took the law into its own hands in June 1982. In order finally to put an end to the many years of terroristic bombardment across the frontier, Israel invaded southern Lebanon, thereby completing the hegemony over that part of the country which they had partially achieved through the agency of their dependant, Major Haddad, with his militias over several years, and, in the course of the invasion, walked over a small United Nations force which had been deployed there at an earlier time. The Israeli army continued to walk up the country, bombarded Beirut, and finished in a position where its guns covered Damascus, the capital of Syria, and there it remains.

At a certain point during the shambles the invitation to Syria from the Lebanese Government was withdrawn. The diplomatic situation remained stalled. One half of the country was under Syrian occupation, which was invited, and the invitation was then withdrawn; the other half of the country was under Israeli occupation, which was by right of invasion alone.

We come now to the Western intervention in Lebanon. I want to give a short account of the various reasons which have been advanced for it and to invite the Government to ponder on the undesirability of having discrepant reasons for putting their troops in other countries. I say in advance that I shall not be blaming our Government very much for this. They were rather consistent, but we were tagging along behind the United States Government which, as I shall show, did not know its own mind.

In July 1982 the United States, President Reagan, agreed to put American troops into Lebanon as part of a multilateral force to cover the evacuation of the PLO. The evacuation of the PLO had been the main object of the Israeli invasion, and in order to guarantee its peaceful evacuation the United States offered to put its troops in. President Reagan said that it would not be for more than 30 days, and he demanded guarantees for the safety of the United States forces. Unhappily, of course, that was quite unreal. If anybody could guarantee the safety of the United States forces they could have guaranteed the safety of the departure of the PLO in the first place. This was not tourism.

The forces were put in, the PLO was evacuated—on the whole peacefully—and American forces pulled out, and they came straight back in again when the President of Lebanon, the first President Gemayel, was assassinated. Only two months later, in September, President Reagan had committed US marines to the Lebanon until: all foreign forces are withdrawn [and until the Lebanese Government] can preserve order in its own country".

In October of that year President Reagan used the words: President Gemayel can rely on the help of the United States".

A week after that President Gemayel said, rather pointedly, that it would require 30,000 to 60,000 troops if order was to be restored in the Lebanon.

One month after that, in November 1982, we come to the first British statement of our intentions in getting involved in the Lebanon. Mr. Pym, as Foreign Secretary, said: We fully support American efforts to bring about a speedy withdrawal of foreign forces from the Lebanon which is the key to the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty and independence".

At that stage the British Government fully backed the American purpose of getting all foreign forces—meaning both Syria and Israel—to withdraw. After that, sobriety supervened in London and there was an exchange of notes with the Lebanese Government in January 1983 where our purpose in going in with the Americans and putting our tiny contingent of 100 ashore with their contingent of 1,600 or 1,800 was laid down as follows: To assist the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese armed forces in the Beirut area"—

mark, in the Beirut area— to restore Lebanese Government sovereignty and authority over the Beirut area, and thereby to further efforts of my Government"—

that is our Government in Britain— to assure the safety of persons in the area".

Mark the curious use of the word "persons". We are quite used to assuring the safety of British subjects, but this seemed to be assuring the safety of a rather wider group of persons than that.

We then come to the first appearance in this House of the matter when the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on behalf of the Government, said much later, on 11th May 1983, at column 459: the role of our contingent is to patrol undesignated routes and to report any trouble it finds to the Lebanese armed forces, who will of course deal with it as appropriate, it being in the Lebanon".

I think "undesignated" was probably a mistake for "designated", but we now see the British troops appearing in a quite different role: acting as scouts for the Lebanese Government and reporting trouble, which the Lebanese armed forces were presumably incapable of detecting on their own.

A week later there came the Israeli-Lebanon agreement by which Israel was to pull out. This was greeted with hope at the time. The hope was unjustified because the agreement allowed the Israeli armed forces to come back in on joint patrols with the Lebanese armed forces, and required the Lebanese Government to obtain Israeli agreement before flying military aircraft over their own territory in the Lebanon. So it naturally did not stand much chance of obtaining Syrian agreement, which by this stage was necessary to everything if it was to be any good.

By September last year the United States' language had changed. I quote President Reagan: Our mission has not changed, [that] of being a stabilising force as Lebanon tries to reinstate itself as a sovereign nation".

But of course their language had changed, because their original purpose was to ensure the departure of all foreign forces, as I have just reminded the House.

At this stage also we began to hear much of the right to self-defence enjoyed by the United States forces. By September that year there were United States bombardments in support of the Lebanese army which could not conceivably be related to self-defence by the United States contingent.

In September 1983 Secretary of State Schultz said that the United States forces were essential for: a kind of equilibrium which will encourage a ceasefire".

Here is a fourth definition of the United States role: a kind of equilibrium which will encourage a ceasefire".

This presupposes that the equilibrium is to be achieved by their propping up a minority which would otherwise be out of equilibrium; and the minority concerned was, of course, that of the Lebanese Government.

In October of that year President Reagan said that the American forces would be there: until the situation is under control".

He did not specify under whose control. Then he used the gloomy phrases: Lebanon is central to our credibility on a global scale", the struggle for peace is indivisible".

And he linked it to Grenada. There was a fifth justification for the presence of the American forces—United States credibility round the world.

A week later we had: vital interests in Lebanon"—

another United States specification—and: our actions in Lebanon are in the cause of world peace".

We now return to the sober voice of this country. Mr. Luce in the House of Commons said: The aim of the multinational force contributors is to help create the conditions in which national reconciliation and reconstruction can take place".

Good. Nevertheless, at the time we noticed that HMS "Fearless" and the Buccaneers were standing off in Cyprus. It might have been thought to be too much; or it might have been merely to cover our necessary retreat, which began to seem inevitable about this time.

In December 1983 Mr. Rifkind in the House of Commons said that we were there to help the, Lebanese Government restore stability and create conditions in which the Lebanese people can themselves sort out their differences free from outside interference".—[Official Report, Commons, 5/12/83; col. 19.]

So we were no longer in support of the Government, but for the Lebanese people who are by a majority Moslems, as all knew, and therefore against the present Lebanese constitution and against President Gemayel.

The same day Mr. Rifkind said in the House of Commons: We would not support the use of British or other forces in the multinational force for other than peacekeeping purposes".—[Col. 21.]

The voice of reason is getting stronger and stronger. On the same day Mr. Rifkind again said: The Government could not support the use of the MNF to remove the Syrians or anyone else from the Lebanon".—[Col. 22.]

The voice of reason is really getting very strong.

In January this year a new British justification appeared. This is only the third British justification to six or seven American ones. The function of the troops in Beirut is to provide physical evidence of the presence of the multinational force by patrolling in Beirut".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/84.]

The presence of the multinational force is now justified by its presence. The argument becomes completely re-entrant.

A month later, in February this year, Sir Geoffrey Howe—at last we begin to see a way out—said: The presence of our contingent during this period has helped to provide an opportunity for political reconciliation. Sadly that opportunity has not been taken".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/2/84; col. 887.]

The first paving stone is laid on the lines for the necessary retreat, which took place a month later in February 1984.

The United States battleship "New Jersey" went on bombarding defenceless villages for a few days after the withdrawal of the multinational force. I doubt whether anyone in Washington knew which villages or why, and I suppose the informed views of those very few United States diplomats who had remained in Lebanon were overruled—as has so often been the case with this American administration in other parts of the world. It was painful to see uninformed optimism turn to impotent rage, but it was not surprising. There is no substitute for information.

The moral, I believe, for Her Majesty's Government is that this country should have the courage of its convictions. I do not know whether we really wanted to keep out all along. I believe that we should have been wiser to do so; but, having once got in, we had good information, we had a good understanding of the Near East, and the Government are to be congratulated on not having put in more troops. That was wisdom. And they may also be felicitated in not having suffered the appalling loss of life which was suffered by the United States and the French troops. That, I think, was luck. We were lucky to get away in one piece, and we were lucky that it was a small piece that we got away with. I would give advice to the Government, if I may, as one would to a daughter: "Never tag along with anyone unless you are sure".

As to the future, the settlement of the Lebanese question depends, we all know, upon two things. It depends upon the agreement of Syria and the withdrawal of Israel, which will render possible the withdrawal of Syria. The question then arises: under United States auspices or not? I think it is clear that, if the United States has a role in this—and we must not forget that the Government of Lebanon has roundly declared that it has not—if it has a role, then so has the Government of the Soviet Union. If one super-power is to be in, then both have to be in. Once the position of the Soviet Union in this is admitted to any degree, then, plainly, it becomes, a United Nations situation and we might as well go at the same time for an overall settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict in a United Nations framework.

The United Nations approach is the coming approach, I believe. The Government agree, China agrees, incidentally (and it is quite interesting that that highly informed observer from far away should agree) and the Lebanese Government appears to be quite close to agreeing. Syria, of course, has been asking for it all along, as we know. I leave my Question there and ask whether the Government agree with much of what I have said; with little of it; with none of it, or even with all of it; and whether they can go a step forward in the wise things that they have already been saying about a United Nations settlement of this matter.

2.37 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, I warmly welcome this debate this afternoon initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. As your Lordships know, it has been postponed many times but, by an extraordinary chance, this debate is now taking place almost exactly two years after the last Unstarred Question on Lebanon asked in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, on 21st June 1982. I find to my surprise that I am the only noble Lord speaking in this debate who also spoke in that debate. When I spoke on that occasion, I came to the conclusion, very reluctantly but not without considerable thought, that there seemed no reasonable solution to the problems of the Lebanon other than some sort of federal or cantonal arrangement. Two years later, there is no end to the violence, the terror, the torture and the senseless slaughter; and we find in much of that lovely country, which I have known as a diplomat and a traveller for more than 40 years, that blood and tears are flowing more abundantly than milk and honey.

There is a faint hope, of course, even now, that a properly unified Lebanon may re-emerge, but my Lebanese friends tell me that so great has been the destruction, so strong the pull of fissiparous tendencies in the various tribal and religious groups, that any hope of reconstructing the Lebanon as it was is an unrealisable ideal. In fact, we may even have reached what one would call a "Humpty Dumpty" situation. Humpty Dumpty has had such a great fall that all the Christian horses and all the Arab men will never be able to put him back again. I hope, my Lords, that I am wrong.

Before considering the main point in this Question, which is of course Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the Lebanon, I should like to look at two aspects of the baffling kaleidescope of Lebanese politics which may not be well known but which are, I think, of considerable importance. The first is the position of the Shia Moslems. The point to make here is that, thanks to their very high birth rate, which I am told is higher than that of any of the other religious group, they are the largest denominational entity in Lebanon. There are now about I million Shia—there may even be 1.1 million—compared with 900,000 Maronites and about 600,000 Sunnis, who were formerly the largest Moslem group. Under their able leader Nabih Berri, about whom I shall speak briefly in a moment, the Shia have extended their influence very effectively in the southern part of Lebanon, so that most of the area south of Beirut now lies under Shia control and they are also gaining ground in the north. As an example of that, I would say that when Nabih Berri called not long ago for student demonstrations against the Israelis, he achieved considerable support in the northern part of Lebanon, which is of course essentially Sunni.

What of Nabih Beni himself as the new leader? He is leader of the Amal militia; he is a man of about 40; he has powerful links with the Druze; and he came to prominence not long ago—in fact, it was in February of this year—at the time of the Shia-Druze takeover of West Beirut. At that time he was able to curb the excesses of some of his followers. I should perhaps remark that there are among the Shia a number of extremists who follow Khomeini, but they are in the minority.

Nabih Bern has the rather remarkable title in the new Government of National Unity of Minister of State for South Lebanon and for the Reconstruction of Beirut and the Southern Suburbs. He has two brigades under his command and he seems to be exercising his command effectively. But his main aim is of course to achieve the withdrawal of the Israelis from Southern Lebanon. So much for Nabih Berri.

The second leader who has come to power recently, and about whom very much less is known, is a man called Antoine Land, who took over what I might describe as the ragtag and bobtail army, formerly led by Fuad Haddad. As Haddad grew sicker and weaker, so morale in that extraordinary force deteriorated. Haddad's men were generally described, particularly by the Israelis, as little better than bandits. These two men could not be more different. This is an important point to make. Haddad was of course an Israeli puppet. When one went to call on him in his office at Merj Ayoun, he was always flanked by two Israeli officers. On the other hand, Antoine Land seems to have kept his distance from the Israelis. His role seems to be rather more civil than military. He appears to be working to stabilise the situation in the south pending a takeover by the Lebanese army. But both these men—this is the important point—are working for the withdrawal of the Israelis.

There has been a lot of talk in the Arab press—the Arab League has made statements about it—and, indeed, there have been remarks even in the British press about the extent of Israeli aggression against civil institutions and places of worship in South Lebanon. I do not want to go into that; some of it is distortion. However, may I quote very briefly from an article which appeared in The Times on 29th March: Israeli troops stormed the southern Lebanese village of Jibchit with tanks yesterday and fired into a crowd of stone-throwing demonstrators, killing at least six…Among the six was a teenage girl who bled to death after Israeli soldiers refused to allow ambulances and Red Cross workers into the village. That is a report which we have to accept.

It is relevant and very important to our debate to consider the Israeli presence in the Lebanon. One of the facts which I regret greatly is that the resources of your Lordships' House do not run to a map. If they did, we should see that the Israelis are now in occupation of just about 20 per cent. of the whole country. They are in possession south and east of the Awali River, and some of their guns are only 15 miles from Damascus. There are 15,000 troops there, and their upkeep costs 1.3 million dollars a day.

There is a very considerable feeling in Israel in favour of the withdrawal of this force. As your Lordships may have read in the press, they have suffered very heavy casualties. It is reported that 583 have been killed in the last two years, and the total of the wounded exceeds the total of the Israeli wounded in the 1973 war. But the Israeli Cabinet seems to be unable to make up its mind. However, there has been a very interesting development: a statement by the leader of the Labour Party, Simon Peres, who is tipped to win the next election in July. He has said that if Labour get to power he will withdraw the Israeli forces and leave only small observation posts.

Although some of your Lordships may hold opposing views, I feel that whatever the Israeli Government may say they are unlikely to withdraw, for four reasons. First, there is the long-term Zionist (I must call it) aim, which goes way back before the foundation of the State of Israel, to expand north to the Litani River, which lies about 17 miles north of the Awali River, where the Israeli troops now are. That was enunciated way back in 1890. Linked with that is the Israeli desire to make use of the waters of the Litani.

Thirdly, and the most obvious point of all, the Israelis want to counter the PLO activities in the south and ensure that they are no longer in a position to bombard the Galilee settlements. Fourthly, and finally, one could say, looked at from the Israeli side, that Syria is vulnerable and that Southern Lebanon represents an ideal springboard. I feel very strongly that the Israelis are likely to stay on. If I may be a little flippant, I am reminded of that chorus in The Pirates of Penzance when the policemen are being urged to leave. They keep on saying, "We go, we go", and the chorus comes back immediately. "But you don't go".

As for the other occupying forces, I can deal with them briefly. The Syrians are fairly unpopular in much of Lebanon. But there are close ethnic links between the Syrian Sunnis and the Lebanese Sunnis, and there is quite a useful dialogue emerging between the Syrians and the Maronites. Their role—this is an important point—is to try to recreate a unified Lebanon and to promote stability. The Palestinians are only there to counter the Israelis. Several Palestinian leaders have told me that, and I think we can accept it.

What of Her Majesty's Government's attitude? The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has spoken of the defence aspect, and I should like to touch on other areas where Her Majesty's Government can play a useful role. The presence of our small force, by far the smallest of all the four, was greatly welcomed and we have achieved over the years a great deal in the way of developing cultural relations with Lebanon. I hope that those may be continued. There is of course the possibility of expansion of aid—a very important area—and trade, too. Perhaps I could mention that there is now in Beirut a school for teaching English which was established way back in 1964, exactly 20 years ago, by British initiative and. despite all the trials and tribulations and alarums and excursions, that school is still going strong.

I should like to end on a slightly different note. I should like to remind your Lordships of the genesis of the present troubles. The escalation of violence began after an incident on 13th April 1975, when a Maronite boy of only 14 held up a bus containing Palestinians at a little village called Ain al Rummaneh. He made them get out from the bus, he mowed them all down and 27 were killed. Those are the facts.

I mention that incident because I believe that that 14 year-old boy was no different from any 14 year-old boy among the sons of your Lordships, but he had been corrupted. His mind had been twisted and corrupted by the terrible escalation of terrorism. It is a situation which we find not only in Lebanon. We find it in Iran, for example, where teenage children are being dragged into the army. We see it among the Palestinians—the so-called ashbal, wolfcub guerrillas. The same situation applies in parts of Africa and in Latin America, too. I feel that at some time or other someone has got to try to examine what it is which causes this terrible escalation of terrorism and the corruption of the minds of the young. In other words, we should examine what it is that turns a man into a monster and a boy into a beast.

2.53 p.m.

Lord Weidenfeld

My Lords, on the day that I first saw mention of this debate, for which we are so greatly indebted to my noble friend Lord Kennet, I distinctly noticed six headings on the front page of my morning paper, all focusing on the Middle East: news of horror, terror, war in the Gulf, the West Bank, Southern Sudan, the edge of the Sahara, Chad, the streets of London, and of course the Lebanon—a grim reminder of the polycentric and indeed hydra-headed turmoil in the Arab world. This observation is relevant to our approach to any individual crisis in the area, and thus to any discussion of how Her Majesty's Government and the European Community should view the Lebanon. For we must focus on each problem on its own merit and not persist in that obsessive notion epitomised by the hapless Venice Declaration, that all ills in the area stem from, lead to and pale before the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestian issue.

In a more recent article in The Times, Sir Anthony Parsons contrasts the hectic and panicky reaction of the West after the 1973–74 war and oil scare, with the calmer, more aloof and even-handed approach to the current Gulf crisis. Calm, aloofness and evenhandedness must be our order of the day in the present phase of the Lebanese tragedy.

No student of the Lebanon would disagree that the campaign of 1982 is but an episode in the seemingly unending horror story which, like some bloodthirsty soap opera, has gone on so long that the viewers seem to have forgotten where it began; 1975 perhaps, or 1958, or 1941—or, perhaps more relevantly, in 1918? But as in any continuous series, it is unfair to take one episode out of context and cast one's villains, saints and sinners with an air of stentorian self-righteousness. History will judge much more conclusively than we can today the true significance of Israeli intervention. History will judge also the wisdom of America's action and inaction in the pursuit of her goals.

But there are certain issues that are less of a danger to peace and stability today than they had been before June 1982. I submit that the destruction of the menacing military infrastructure of the PLO in Lebanon was a positive move. To have removed a band of pyromaniacs from a powder keg has been not only an act of pre-emptive self-defence but a service to the cause of peace in the region.

The other fact that is clearly beyond all doubt is that the Lebanese themselves—of every persuasion and provenance—wish to be left alone; Moslems as well as Christians. They may not get on wih each other but they do not want outside domination. But, of course, each one being too weak to achieve success alone, they form tactical alliances with outsiders—Syrians, Israelis, Americans, Iranians, and Europeans. Then they get trapped into commitments and try to jettison and replace them with breathtakingly sudden reversals of alliances. Such, at any rate, has been the habitual cycle of Lebanese politics.

Our interests in the West converge with those of the majority of Lebanese people. The West needs a free and sovereign Lebanon, not one whose governing personnel and policies are dictated and directed from Damascus, Jerusalem, Washington, or Riyadh. That Lebanon is part of the Arab world is, of course, a truism. She trades with, she borders on, and she has strong cultural ties with other Arab countries. Half of her people have religious links with the two main strands of the Islamic family, but Lebanon's role and wish is to be neutral—and a neutral must not be dragged into the feuds and passions of the litigants.

Lebanon has every reason to be friends with Syria and not to harm Syrian interests. But she has also on her southern border Israel—a country with which she genuinely wants to converse and trade, and this should be encouraged by all peace-loving parties in the West. To deny her this right and this opportunity is a blatant infringement of her sovereignty.

In Europe we have three neutrals who are, unquestionably, Western and democratic, both culturally and politically. Yet they feel free to deal with East and West while scrupulously avoiding military entanglements with either bloc. The majority of Lebanon's population wants to be as neutral as Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. That also must be Europe's and Britain's wish and declared aim.

It must be one of our main endeavours to urge that all foreign armies be withdrawn, within a reasonable space of time, from Lebanese soil. To single out the Israelis for unconditional withdrawal confers unwarrantable legitimacy on Syria's claims. It is of course true, as the noble Viscount said, that in 1975 an embattled Lebanese Government, through the Arab League, called in the Syrians, but successive Lebanese governments and presidents have made it clear that they want the Syrians to leave. No one could begrudge Syria far-reaching security arrangements, but President Assad refuses to negotiate even the principle unless the Israelis leave first. To concede to Syria a special relationship which confers historic claims and historic rights in Lebanon would not be wholly dissimilar from conceding, for instance, to a German nationalist a rightful aspiration to Alsace-Lorraine, or from sympathising with an Italian nationalist who is still chanting, "Savoia, Nizza, Corsica!" That is about the measure of the legitimacy of the Syrians' claim to the Lebanon and other parts of that Greater Syrian Empire which in their minds encompasses both Jewish and Arab Palestine.

We talked about the May agreement of 1983. I do not quite agree with my noble friend or, indeed, with the noble Viscount, that this agreement gave Israel an unfair advantage. It must be repeated that although she would have had certain special rights, the Israelis made it clear, and the Americans made it clear, that they would invite a similar symmetrical deal with the Syrians to safeguard their interests. Quite a few people in Europe and Britain saw this agreement as an obstacle to reconciliation in Lebanon and its cancellation as the removal of a road-block to peace. But now that it has been unilaterally cancelled, what has changed? Murder still stalks the streets of Beirut. Disunity abounds. Syria shows no sigh of withdrawing. She still occupies 60 per cent. of Lebanese territory and employs every method of brutal pressure to force her will on the Lebanese leaders.

Let us not forget that it was Syria who allowed hundreds of Iranian military and religious shock troops to enter Lebanon to convert and subvert the population, making their strongholds in the Bekaa a front line of the Iranian revolution in the Arab world. Now, whereas the Syrians still see as their goal continued domination, the present Israeli Government and, without doubt, any alternative Israeli Government in the future, would wish to withdraw lock, stock and barrel from the Southern Lebanon as soon as adequate security arrangements could be achieved.

I had the opportunity recently of talking to Israeli Government Ministers and opposition leaders, and, to my mind, there is unanimity about one point. I want to assure the noble Viscount, in all sincerity, that Israel has no heart nor stomach for continued physical presence in the Lebanon a minute longer than is necessary. There is unanimity in Jerusalem today that both Syria and Israel have a right to adequate security and that, as soon as both these countries withdraw behind international frontiers, regional or bilateral arrangements should be made to ensure continued calm. A peaceful Israeli handover of the northern part of Southern Lebanon to the Lebanese army, with safeguards for the local population, is essential. A hasty, disorderly withdrawal of Israel would mean endangering the 15,000–17,000 Christians, and some Moslems, including Palestinians, who are still resented by a large part of the indigenous population.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Kennet that there is a positive role to be played by UNIFIL as well as the Lebanese army. The establishment of order in the southernmost part of Lebanon would be best served if the Lebanese army could be immediately strengthened by forces which could induce some trust in the local population.

Since we have a situation in which both Syria and Israel are entitled to security on their borders, but given the mosaic of political currents and ethnic and religious traditions, these Lebanese military elements destined to guard the country's borders must not be out of sympathy with the respective neighbouring power. Thus, the Lebanese army in the Bekaa must include pro-Syrian elements. In Southern Lebanon, the South Lebanese forces under General Lahad—and here, again, I agree with the noble Viscount that General Lahad has proved a very worthwhile and important influence, and his recruiting drive among the Shia, as well as the Christian population, has recently met with much more noticeable success—are in a key position because he entertains correct, if not friendly, relations with the Israelis.

I believe that Europe has an important though discreet role to play. After all, it was two European powers, Britain and France, who were responsible for the order or, if you like, disorder in the Levant in the wake of two victorious world wars.

Since Europe is today militarily, economically and psychologically neither able nor willing to intervene in force and with conviction, it must remain in the wings, compassionate and even-handed. Europe should, specifically, reiterate its view on four basic issues: it should urge the cessation of communal bloodshed and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon, it should offer to help Lebanon to achieve true sovereignty and be heard and seen to oppose Syrian hegemony.

Europe's attitude towards Israel has—so it is noted in Jerusalem—undergone a slight yet discernible change to the better—perhaps a more realistic perception of Israel as the strongest regional power, and one with a political system that is both stable and flexible—stable in its institutions, and flexible in its capacity for policy changes, thanks to the democratic process. Perhaps it has become evident that to antagonise Israel, to seem to want to split her from her American ally or, conversely, to try to tilt America away from that alliance, can no longer be a main goal of Europe's Middle East policy.

Equally, there has been a sobering realisation of the limited influence of the conservative Arab regimes in resolving conflicts. The Saudis have been disappointing mediators, and I think always will be, for their mercantile prowess is not matched by military or diplomatic clout. The King of Jordan has his hands tied by fear of Syria and ambivalence towards the Palestinian revolution, which is still devouring its own children. While the Gulf is aflame, the Lebanon will not tempt Arab rulers into risky and costly new initiatives. That is why I think that for those in the West who have the true interests of the Arab cause at heart this may well be the moment for a reappraisal of their basic psychological approach.

To nurture illusions and to raise false hopes of decisive intervention is dangerous, and indeed indecent. The best friend is a frank friend, and a frank friend must counsel in the present circumstances a much more realistic attitude to the problems, processes and attainable objectives of peace. I believe that European policy should move away from romantic mirages—the Fata Morgana of facile formulas—and, if I may say so, instead undergo an evolution along Darwinian lines—from prostration and genuflection to an upright stance of friendly equals, striving for a solution in the Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East which can ensure the survival of the species.

3.7 p.m.

Lord Caradon

My Lords, our debate has lessened our public support in this House, and we cannot claim that what we say is going to carry great weight among those on the other side of the House or on this: but, nevertheless. I think that the short debate which we have had this afternoon has been of real value, well-timed and indeed most necessary.

Perhaps I might first of all refer to the remarkable speech to which we have just listened. I think that what has been said has been of very great importance. As I listened I went back in my experience to the time when I went up with a British and Free French army into Damascus and Beirut years ago, and worked with the people of the Lebanon in the hope that we could establish a free Lebanon, capable of administering their own affairs. I remember those days, and I wish to say—if I may, with great respect—that the call given to us just now for a declaration from every side that the Lebanese should be free, and enabled to administer their own affairs without conflict and bloodshed for the first time for a long time, is I think of very great importance indeed.

I wish to thank my noble friend for his intervention this afternoon, which I think has given increased hope and expectation to us all. We were certainly fortunate in the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who knows this subject so well and who gave us an excellent historical introduction. Then we had another speech from an expert, the noble Viscount who knows this subject so well and so intimately. So it may be that, late as we are in our timing, the debate may have been of real value.

I wish to put to noble Lords one main point on this subject. It is certainly clear to me and has been for a long time that there are obviously three purposes to be pursued in the Middle East: first, that the Lebanese should be independent; secondly, that the Palestinians should be free in their own homeland and, thirdly, that the State of Israel should be secure. Yes, security in Israel can come only if there is independence in the Lebanon and freedom for the Palestinians; they go together. Without achieving all three of these objectives you cannot achieve any one of them. That is a basic fact which it seems to me is obvious but also absolutely necessary at this time.

Over this weekend there is the possibility that the Lebanese will be able, with all the effort that has been made, to come together with their new cabinet and to agree on processes for establishing peace and security in the Lebanon. It could happen. It is dependent on the withdrawal of Israel from Southern Lebanon. Of course that cannot be immediate, but there should be a real expectation that that withdrawal can take place, and soon. If that can happen, then the coming together of the Lebanese in their new cabinet can be strengthened and they can be given a new opportunity of uniting that lovely country. At the same time there can be a greater hope that the Palestinians in their own homeland—small though that hope may be—will have an opportunity of taking their own decisions about their own future. So there is a hope that all three can go forward: the freedom of Israel; the freedom of the Palestinians and the independence of Lebanon, and that those three purposes can be achieved. If one fails—if, for instance, there were to be a determination by Israel to dominate, to control Southern Lebanon in Tyre and Sidon—then, even with the other two purposes being achieved, there will be no hope of security for Israel.

At the moment we have the worst of all worlds. We have a situation in southern Lebanon which, as we read in the papers, is encouraging violence day by day instead of giving an opportunity for a new understanding between Israel and the Lebanese cabinet. There could be an understanding. There could be a gesture now from Israel, which might say, "We will certainly withdraw. We have no desire"—as my noble friend has indicated this afternoon—"to stay for a minute longer than necessary and we will work out an arrangement whereby we can withdraw". Then this could be the beginning of new developments in the Lebanon, in Palestinian lands and in the security of Israel which would be to the benefit of everyone.

I believe there is an opportunity. This weekend they are meeting in the new cabinet in the Lebanon, anxious, ready and eager to see at any rate this main advance as an encouragement for their future. There is also an opportunity for our country and for France to contribute, because, as has been indicated, our country and France have, historically, special obligations in that part of the world. At the moment I do not think the Americans have much to contribute, but I hope that that may change. But there is the opportunity for the English and the French, who have ties, and confidence, in the Lebanon and in the rest of the Middle East, to take over now the leadership in international affairs and not just to accept everything that the United States says.

There is an opportunity for us to take a determined line of our own to insist that the present opportunity is not lost. Yes, I think that could be. I believe, therefore, that we in this country have a very special obligation at this time. It is not an obligation to say, "Me, too," and to go along with what other people say. No, we have something to say for ourselves, along with the French. I believe. Now could be the time, this weekend. I read in my newspaper this morning of talk of closer association between the various representatives of the Lebanese cabinet, of the insistence on one prerequisite—the withdrawal of Israel from their southern territories.

I believe that at this time we could take a lead which would, God willing, in the end, restore to these lovely countries—we think particularly of the Lebanon today—their self-respect. They are extremely intelligent people, and I have great hopes that they will be able to find a way forward if they are allowed to proceed without foreign intervention.

3.16 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I welcome the chance to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet's Question, for recent developments in Lebanon, especially the formation of a new government of national unity, hold out some prospect at last of movement towards restoring peace in that unhappy country. It is right, therefore, that we should review at this point what we and others in the West, sympathetic to Lebanon and to the plight of the long-suffering Lebanese people, can do to help the new government in the daunting tasks which they face. I should like to review, briefly, some aspects of the conflict in Lebanon and of our policy in this area, and then look to the future and comment on what Lebanon's friends might be able to do to help.

The renewed fighting which broke out in Lebanon in February this year was only one more twist in the Lebanese tragedy which has inflicted so much suffering there for the past nine years. We have now passed the ninth anniversary of the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon, which was the start of a cycle of appalling violence which has left thousands dead and injured and even greater numbers of Lebanese living without a roof over their heads.

There are some horrifying statistics which give some idea of the scale of the suffering. It has been calculated, for example, that over 100,000 Lebanese have been killed or wounded since the start of the civil war in 1975. As so often in these conflicts, the civilian population has borne the brunt of the suffering. Few people in Lebanon have been untouched by this disaster. I mentioned the year 1975. I recall that that was the last occasion on which I had the privilege of visiting that country. I recall, too, that my noble friend Lady Trumpington was with me on that occasion.

The Government, and many in this House, have followed these events with dismay. Peace initiatives have come and gone. Periods of calm have lasted just long enough to raise hopes that Lebanon was on its way back to peace and prosperity, only to give way to renewed bouts of savage, and often senseless, fighting. We have watched these events closely, not just out of compassion, but because what happens in Lebanon matters to Britain and the West. It is in our interests that stability should be restored to Lebanon. A Lebanon in perpetual crisis will continue to attract the attention, and sometimes active intervention, of other countries in the region, making even more remote the prospects for establishing a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and threatening at any moment the escalation of a local conflict into a major crisis not only involving Lebanon's neighbours, but even bringing the super powers to a dangerous confrontation. That is why we continue to take a close interest in developments in Lebanon. That is why we welcome the formation of the new government of national unity under Mr. Rashid Karame.

The new Government face daunting tasks. The immediate ones are to establish an enduring ceasefire in the Beirut area and elsewhere, to reopen more crossing points between East and West Beirut, to end Lebanon's beleagured state by re-opening the international airport and seaports, and to ease the restrictions on communications within the country. At the same time, the Government are pledged to begin to tackle the fundamental problems which come under the broad heading of national reconciliation—those issues of power-sharing among Lebanon's many communities which have aroused so much passion and violence. It is encouraging that the Government have been able to agree in broad terms on a programme for their work, and that this was endorsed by the Lebanese Parliament on 12th June.

Since, as I have indicated, our interests are affected by the success or failure of these efforts, how, then, can Britain help? I think it is important not to exaggerate what we can, or should, attempt. Indeed, we should distinguish between what outside powers can and cannot realistically do.

Let me look back briefly at what we have already done. Throughout Lebanon's crisis we have spoken out in support of the restoration of Lebanese independence and sovereignty. These principles were endorsed again by the statement of the Foreign Ministers of the Ten on 27th March. We shall hold firm to those principles.

But we have also provided practical help. Your Lordships will recall that for a year, from February 1983 until February this year, we provided a contingent for the multi-national force in Beirut. The British contingent earned a high reputation for the courage and efficiency with which they carried out their tasks, which were to assist the Lebanese authorities by patrolling the streets of Beirut, and, at a later stage, by providing an impartial guard for the ceasefire talks between the Lebanese factions.

As your Lordships will recall, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced on 6th April in another place that Her Majesty has graciously approved the award of the General Service Medal 1962, with "Lebanon" clasp, in recognition of the outstanding service performed by the British contingent of the multi-national force and those supporting it.

The resumption of fighting in Beirut, which put an end to these tasks and greatly increased the risks to our men, led inevitably to the departure of the multinational force. The contributors to that force—the Americans, French, Italians and ourselves—hoped that it would provide a basis for political reconciliation. Unfortunately, this opportunity was not grasped.

Britain has also given further practical help in the form of humanitarian assistance to the victims of the conflict in Lebanon. We have contributed generously to the emergency appeals of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Relief and Works Agency—a total of over £750,000 in 1984. This is in addition to our regular contributions to the core budgets of both organisations. Part of the £5 million which we have contributed to UNRWA's budget this year will also be spent in Lebanon.

What neither we nor other outsiders can or should attempt is to interfere in Lebanon's internal affairs. And the truth which must be faced is that the foundation of any long-term settlement is likely to be concerned with the details of agreed reforms to the delicate structure of Lebanon's institutions and to the unwritten agreements governing the administration of the country. It is not for us to pronounce on whether any changes should take place or what those changes should be, still less to become involved in the necessary complex negotiations on these difficult points. All we can do is wish Lebanon's leaders well in this immensely difficult task.

We recognise, of course, that external factors are also crucial to the return of Lebanon to her former stability and prosperity. The Lebanese will not be able to regain their sovereignty and independence while the greater part of Lebanon remains under the occupation of foreign forces. We and our partners in the Ten, and others in the West, have consistently called for the early withdrawal of all such forces. In our view, national reconciliation and the withdrawal of forces should go hand in hand. It is for the Lebanese Government to address themselves to the question of when and under what conditions the withdrawals should take place. They can rely upon our support.

The Israeli Government have stated that they do not intend to retain a single inch of Lebanese territory. We welcome that very necessary assurance. This month is the unhappy second anniversary of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. This attempt by Israel to impose her will by force was profoundly mistaken and rightly condemned by the international community. The Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, now entering its third year, is a wearisome burden on the Lebanese people in these areas, who find their communications with the rest of the country severely restricted and the local economy disrupted. We recognise however that Israel's primary concern now is with security arrangements for her northern border, to prevent any recurrence of attacks launched from South Lebanon on Israel's northern towns and settlements. At the same time we have been concerned at the activities of the "South Lebanon Army", under General Lahad, a local Lebanese militia recruited and armed by Israel. We cannot believe that this force can do anything to contribute to greater security in South Lebanon. However, we naturally support the principle of security arrangements which ensure safety for citizens on both sides of the border. Peace on that border is clearly in the interests of all concerned, inhabitants of Israel and Lebanon alike.

Nor should we confine our attention to Israeli withdrawal. We hope that Syrian withdrawal too will be discussed soon between the Syrian and Lebanese Governments. Syria, like Israel, has security interests which must be protected. But the security concerns of Syria and Israel cannot be met at the expense of Lebanese independence and sovereignty.

Here too, Lebanon's friends in the West and elsewhere should be active. We shall continue to support the Lebanese Government's efforts in international fora and in our diplomatic contacts with those countries who have influence in Lebanon. We shall continue to urge the better use of international forces already in Lebanon. We voted in April for the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon—UNIFIL—and strongly favour the idea that the Secretary-General, who has just visited the Middle East should continue his consultations. We hope these consultations may eventually result in agreement by all parties concerned to a wider and more useful role for UNIFIL in helping the Lebanese Government to maintain security in Southern Lebanon. This will particularly be needed in the event of an Israeli withdrawal, to give added protection to Lebanese and Palestinian civilians who may be at risk.

Finally, we and our partners in the Ten and many others in the international community are pledged to help the Lebanese Government in the immense task of reconstruction, to repair the shattering effects of nine years of war. Much of the country's infrastructure is in ruins. The economy has been severely dislocated. We can rely on the skill and perseverance of the Lebanese people to make rapid progress in reconstruction, once the all-important foundation of a durable political settlement of both internal and external problems has been laid. But they cannot do it alone. They need—and deserve—a helping hand. We shall be ready to play our part, within the confines of our necessarily limited resources.

In brief, therefore, we shall continue to do all we can to help the new Lebanese Government in their efforts to move once more towards a peaceful settlement, to help preserve that peace, to relieve the suffering of the victims of the conflict and to contribute to the reconstruction of the country. The plight of the Lebanese people, and our own interests in a peaceful and stable Middle East, demand no less.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past three o'clock.